It’s a well-documented fact that cellphones find their way inside America’s prisons and, as it happens, inside America’s prisoners.
A fascinating story this week on prison gangs, published in The Atlantic magazine, provides a vivid portrait of the extraordinary efforts by inmates to conceal this cellular contraband.
Warning: This is not breakfast reading. Step away from the Wheaties.
In a story titled, “How Gangs Took Over Prisons,” writer Graeme Wood quotes David Skarbek, an academic whose studies of prisoner organizational systems produced a recently published book, “The Social Order of the Underworld.”
Here is an excerpt:
There are few places other than a prison where men’s desires are more consistently thwarted, and where men whose desires are thwarted have so much time to think up creative ways to circumvent their obstacles.
Because he is a gentleman, Skarbek waited until we’d finished our burgers to illustrate some of that ingenuity. “How can you tell what type of cellphone an inmate uses,” he asked, “based on what’s in his cell?” He let me think for about two seconds before cheerily giving me the answer: you examine the bar of soap on the prisoner’s sink. The safest place for an inmate to store anything is in his rectum, and to keep the orifice supple and sized for the (contraband) phone, inmates have been known to whittle their bars of soap and tuck them away as a placeholder while their phones are in use. So a short and stubby bar means a durable old dumbphone; broad and flat means a BlackBerry or an iPhone. Pity the poor guy whose bar of soap is the size and shape of a Samsung Galaxy Note.