“Dope is how I do my time,” Dale explained, after asking me about the availability of drugs in prisons I’d that he might be transferred. We were in a transfer unit at Michigan City — he was pending transfer out to New Castle, me newly arrived from Pendleton. I was waiting for placement to general population, and Dale assured me I’d soon see plenty of dope here. Not that I cared; but in Dale’s world, dope took center stage.
Since Dale liked doing drugs so much, I asked him why he wasn’t staying.
“Not enough hard drugs here”, he lamented. “Tons of weed. You could overdose on weed here, if that was medically possible. But I’m looking for a better high, like hashish, heroin, Oxycotin.”
Pendleton would be Dale’s dream destination. Not because Pendleton’s administration has a lax drug enforcement policy, as one might presume, but paradoxically because of a “zero tolerance” approach that’s been in effect since 2010. That’s right – in a tale of two prisons, alike in almost every respect, the one “tough” on dope is the one besieged by hardcore drugs, overdoses, and death.
Contrasting the drugs in prison at two different facilities can provide some lessons on drug abuse strategy, applicable both inside and outside prison.
Dope gets smuggled into every prison in America. Whether it’s plentiful or not depends upon the administration’s diligence in supervising the staff members that walk through the door every day. Oh sure, the big shots running the prison system would like the public to believe that most of the dope gets in through the visiting room or through the mail, and some does, but the bulk of the traffic is muled in by state employees. They’re underpaid, loosely supervised,and smuggling is easy and lucrative. One small package a month can double a guard’s income.
I’ve been propositioned to be a part of a smuggling enterprise numerous times. In ten years at Pendleton, I grew attentive to how a staff member would feel you out for your willingness to work with them. Innocent-sounding questions coupled with personal statements would be tossed at you, and they’d see if you could put it all together
“You have any idea how a Green Dot card works?”
“A new transmission’s gonna cost me two thousand dollars, and I don’t know where I’m gonna get the money.”
“Our retirement plan sucks. No pension!”
“It’s messed up how they give you guys so much time for dope, when everybody’s doing it out there.”
“I wish I could take my kids to Disney World.”
Or one of my favorites, an obvious plea spoken to me by a department supervisor just returned to work from bariatric surgery: “I’ve got more pain medication than I know what to do with,” she said, as she stared long and hard into my eyes.
They’re looking for the prisoner to respond with a more overt statement such as:
“If it was me walking through the gate every day, money would be the least of my worries.”
“I know people in here who’d pay top dollar for those extra pain meds.”
“Sure, I know how a Green Dot works! Let’s say you sold me an item. Then I’d give you this number and the money pops up on your card.”
There’s supply and there’s demand, and neither can be eliminated. Demand is too wide, so going after users is futile. Best you can do is tell them “Just Say No” and move on. Supply seems easier to target. Catching or deterring the dealers seems possible, so that’s the focus of most drug enforcement strategies. Stemming the flow of drugs, however, has other consequences.
For example, when the State of Indiana cracked down on Pendleton in 2010 most of the heat was rightfully directed at their own employees. The State Police had spent a few weeks inside the wall investigating, and on August 19, 2010, the facility went on a six-month lockdown. Next day, early-arriving officers were greeted with drug-sniffing dogs, urine tests, and trirough shakedowns similar to the intrusive shakedowns prisoners’ visitors must tolerate. Within a few weeks, Pendleton had lost 51 employees, roughly 20% of the staff. Drugs became virtually non-existent in early 2011, but they gradually made a comeback.
When the dope returned to Pendleton, the more deadly substances became common. The new anti-dope vigilance forced the mules to turn to smaller, less detectable, more potent drugs. Marijuana was out – too bulky, too much odor. A synthetic marijuana known as “spice” became popular, while heroin dominated the new market. Overdoses became weekly occurrences. Funny thing is, when a guy would absolutely freak out from spice, go psychotic, staff would put it down as a “seizure” and no discipline was meted out. Dozens of heroin overdoses were simply “medical emergencies”. The deaths, though, were unignorable. I was acquainted with two who died in 2014, Russell Yerden and Larry Kuhn.
In contrast to Pendleton, Michigan City’s administrators have a much more liberal policy on drugs. Weed and wine are everywhere, so plentiful and so obvious it has to be by design. Marijuana, as most of the world has figured out by now, isn’t the demonic problem drug the conservative crowd railed against in the 1960’s, nor is it a “gateway” to anything more than excessive idleness. My neighbors smoke weed daily, they lay down, they chill out, and that’s that. Nobody goes psychotic and nobody overdoses.
There is, and always will be, a percentage of the population that want to do drugs. When they don’t have access to one drug, they’ll find another. In lockup, desperate times compel prisoners to smoke dried banana peels, sage with egg whites, or coffee. They’d smoke the hair shaved off a skunk’s ass if they thought they’d get a buzz. On the outside, when the cocaine supply got squeezed, up popped crack and meth. Those two got heavy attention from law enforcement, so now it’s heroin, synthetics, and prescription drugs. Cut off the supply of any one drug and another drug fills the void.
Not all drug users are hardcore junkies, “two-percenters” like Dale. I don’t know Dale’s history, but he’d clearly tasted all 31 flavors in the pharmacy and now he would never settle for a mere marijuana high. Before he left Michigan City, he was already plotting a way to get transferred from New Castle to Pendleton. Shortly after speaking with Dale, a range runner came to warn me, “Don’t mess with that guy, he’s no good. Three times, he sold his TV for dope, and three times he told the man the TV got stolen.” In other words, like every junkie that ever existed, he was a totally untrustworthy, lying, scheming, piece of shit. I’m sure Dale will eventually weasel his way to wherever the best dope is. It’s how he does his time. And more will resort to doing their time that way if zero tolerance policies remain.
By Ty Evans #15829
INDIANA C. F.
One Park Row
Michigan City, IN
Submitted for publication to PrisonWriters com, October 16, 2015
Background Primary Source – observation by Ty Evans, at Pendleton Correctional Facility, 2-3-2006 to 9-4- 2015; at Michigan City, ISP, 9-4-2015 to present. Russell Yerden died in G-Cellhouse on 7-26- 2014. Larry Kuhn died in J-Cellhouse on 12-20-2014. “Dale” is a pseudonym.