Often overlooked because of their seeming lack of danger, fasteners can pose a huge threat to prison safety
We can classify items that help in the distribution and manufacturing of contraband as secondary contraband. They are not end products, or primary contraband (like a razor melted into a pen barrel or a lock in a sock).
Secondary contraband is used to progress a contraband scheme makes them potentially perilous. Fastening agents fall into the category of secondary contraband. One can think of them as contraband’s little helpers.
Sometimes, we forget about fastening agents. While they are not necessarily contraband in and of themselves, they are tools that assist in concealment and, therefore, increase danger in the corrections setting. Anything that bonds something to a surface is a fastening agent.
A fastening agent could be:
1. Illegally acquired tools such as duct tape or velcro;
2. Legally acquired items from the commisary that can be adapted to stick - such as envelope flaps or labels from a deodorant container;
3. Naturally produced such as mucus or semen.
Whatever the origin, fastening agents can be used to stow weapons under tables. They can hold goods in plastic bags in place in an out-of-the-way corner. Pages can be glued in order to conceal a small, yet dangerous bit of information.
A common, yet overlooked adhesive is caulk or “window gunk.” This is the insulating, sticky material that bonds a pane of glass to a window frame. Window gunk is easily obtained: Every cell and pod that has a window is likely to have a large store of this evenly divided along the frame.
The most common use I have seen for this window gunk is page adhesion. Contrabandists use this to carefully conceal keys to codes, hit lists, by-laws, love letters and betting slips between pages. These are difficult to detect in a large book with many pages. Also, the neater the job is done, the more elusive it is.
Granted, a betting slip or a love note does not rank as high on the danger scale as a shank or narcotics. Still, instructions for a hit or a riot can easily be overlooked because of the neat application of window gunk in an unexpected place.
Handy household tips can be quite valuable inside a correctional facility. Many prisoners who endeavor to trade goods, services and information know this and use every item they can to their advantage.
I am sure that a book that lists 1,001 uses for common items would be a formidable (if not subtle) weapon in the hands of a contrabandist. It is amazing how seemingly useless items have a utility beyond what they appear. Window gunk falls neatly into this category.
About the author
Joe Bouchard writes and presents on many corrections topics. He is a Librarian at Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility within the Michigan Department of Corrections. He is also a member of the Board of Experts for The Corrections Professional, Editor of The Correctional Trainer and MCA Today, and an instructor of Corrections for Gogebic Community College. Bouchard also has online writing clips at www.corrections.com/joe_bouchard. You can reach him at (906) 353-7070 ext 1321. He is also the author of the book "Icebreakers III," the third in IACTP's series of training exercises books. Order now.
These are the opinions of Joe Bouchard, a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections. These are not necessarily the opinions of the Department. The MDOC is not responsible for the content or accuracy.