The Drug-Testing Regime in US Prisons

The Drug-Testing Regime in US Prisons

By Seth Ferranti 08/23/12

From 5 am onwards, you're always subject to urine tests inside, prisoners say—especially if you're on the "hot list."

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Typically around 1500 prisoners reside on any prison compound in the country, and—as casualties of the War on Drugs—most of them are addicts and alcoholics, who will do whatever they can to get high inside. So drug testing and breathalyzers are frequently employed by prison authorities. "They select prisoners randomly for piss tests," a prisoner tells The Fix. "But you can also be on the hot list—and then it's a sure bet you're getting pissed every month, whenever they want." Officers can put you on the hot list if they have any reason to suspect you're using. Usually, compound officers will conduct the urinalysis and collect the samples. They do this at different times—often waking prisoners up early in the morning after the 5 am count, to get what they consider a good, undiluted urine sample. But they also conduct the tests throughout the day and after the 4 pm stand-up count.

"When you here your name called over the PA system with a bunch of others and you're all told to report to the Lieutenant's office, you know what's up," the prisoner says. "It's a piss test for sure." Prisoners have two hours from the time when their name is called to urinate in the cup. If not, they can be thrown in the hole for refusal to take the test. "They got those fancy cups too," the prisoner says. "The ones that register right away and tell what drugs you're dirty for. But there're a lot of false positives." The guards wear gloves and keep everything sealed until the prisoner is ready to urinate, but still, it's not a perfect system. "One of my homeboys got locked up on a false positive, but when they sent it out to the lab, he beat it," the prisoner says. "There're ways to beat them too, but that's another story."

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at sethferranti.com. You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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