Prisoners on the Eight Rules of Dealing Drugs Behind Bars

It seems like nothing can stop narcotics from getting inside the walls, and that’s thanks to some ingenious strategies and more than a bit of corruption.

Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero/ The Daily Beast

Every other day it seems we’re bombarded with another news headline lambasting the fact that illegal and contraband drugs like heroin, cocaine, opiates, marijuana, and tobacco are being smuggled into prisons nationwide. From inmates bribing prison workers to bring in drugs to ministers smuggling in contraband items to friends and relatives passing off drugs during visits to drones dropping off illicit packages. Drugs are so prevalent in prison that Death Row inmates in California can obtain them.

With all the hoopla The Daily Beast reached out to some ex-cons to find out how prisoners set up shop, get the drugs in, sell to other prisoners, and convert prison money to real world funds. Although schemes differ from prison to prison, they usually follow the same pattern and principles. Doing life in the penitentiary isn’t pretty and with nothing but time on their hands convicts have perfected the art of the ruse. Here are eight steps that every prison drug smuggling venture operates by.

Determine the Market

The first thing I noticed about drugs in prison was price inflation. A gram of heroin in Los Angeles is currently running at about $80 and the price of a gram of heroin in prison is $400. Heroin makes its way within the prison walls in three ways: contact visits, mail scams, and guards smuggling it in. I knew a dealer that was bringing 9 grams of heroin in a week. His girlfriend brought the dope in by stuffing a tampon and taping it under the visitation room seat. Then an inmate assigned to cleaning the visit room would recover the stuffed tampon and take a spilt for helping to smuggle it in.

RL, a California white boy from LA who did time in federal prison for distributing heroin.

Find a Mule

Once I get a woman interested enough to come visit, I start slipping a piece of candy in her mouth when I kiss her. After a couple of visits this becomes routine. Then one day at visiting I’ll concoct a story, I owe a debt. I need you to bring some weed in that my brother has for me. When she asks how I just remind her how I’ve been slipping the candy into her mouth when we kiss. She nods in understanding and I tell her that my brother is going to wrap up the weed in little balloons and when we kiss she can slip the balloons into my mouth and then I’ll swallow the balloons. Once I get her to agree I’ll convince her to start bringing in more profitable drugs like heroin.

—Stone, a Black Guerrilla Family member who’s done time in the California state system for robbery and assault.

Establish a More Sophisticated Operation

Every prison has a weakness; it’s just a matter of finding it and exposing it. I knew a Mafia guy that used to bribe the guards at Rikers Island. It would involve a simple payoff on the outside by the Mafia guy’s associates and the hack would bring in heroin, weed, Vodka, razors, cigarettes, and even Chinese food, whatever he wanted. One of my friends filled tennis balls up with black tar heroin and threw them over the walls of the prison to me in the exercise yard. Prisoners also smuggle packages in through Food Service in frozen food or other boxed items that come in through the warehouse. I’ve even seen dudes get stuff in through religious services from Chaplains. But the big thing nowadays is drones. A drone will drop a package on the recreation yard; an inmate wearing a hoodie grabs it and blends into a group of convicts right before a recall for count when everyone is going back to their cells.

— Andrie, a Russian gangster who’s been in and out of the New York state system since the 1980s for drug-related crimes.

Build a Clientele for Retail Sales

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!

Daily Digest

Start and finish your day with the top stories from The Daily Beast.

Cheat Sheet

A speedy, smart summary of all the news you need to know (and nothing you don't).

By clicking “Subscribe,” you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.

In federal prison, I was making as much as $5k per month. I dealt off and on for years. It's pure profit in there. I used to get a gram of good Mexican tar for $50-60 bucks. I would get 12 to 15 papers out of that and each paper would sell for $50 a pop. I had a lot of customers at every prison I was at. A prison without drugs is a deserted and dry place. I turned every prison I was at into a big party and fun place. Later in my bid tobacco became a big money-generating business too. In non-smoking jails I had tons of customers, everybody smokes, and I could sell one Newport cigarette for $25.

Bumperhead, a Mexican Mafia associate who served time in federal prison for guns and drugs.

Make Sure you Get Paid

Drug debts get paid by Paypal, Moneygram, Wal-mart or similar schemes. If you’re paying cash then you use stamps or commissary. I knew a guy who owed money to a Border Brother for some K2. While waiting for the money to come in, he had to clean the Border Brother’s cell every day. He was totally this guy’s bitch. If you ask me, some guys got preyed upon due to their stupidity. Imagine every day having to be somebody's gopher. His slave. His bitch. Fuck that. Kick the habit already. Do something to make your time go faster. Don't get owned. The dude got no respect. The Border Brother eventually sold him to one of his homeboys. All for a high? No thanks.

— Q, a hardcore white boy from Nebraska who did time in federal prison for a bank robbery.

Turn Prison Money into Free World Money

The currency used to buy pretty much anything in prison is a book of stamps, which equals six dollars. But convicts would also send the money out from their commissary account or get their girl to do a street to street transaction. Money was also passed in the visiting room. Guys would keister the bills. To do this they had to make a plug. A plug, for those who’ve never heard the jail slang, is normally wrapped in Saran wrap and inserted into a condom and then lubed up, and you guessed it, up the back door until you are in the visiting room where you can remove it and pass it off to your visitor.

— Danny, a dead head who did time in both U.S. and Canadian prisons for LSD.

Keep your Business off Front Street

In L.A. County this Asian gangster had the place sowed up with weed. No one knew how they were getting the buds in. Everyone thought they had a deputy in their pocket. They’d constantly get their lockers searched and still the deputies couldn't find the stash. In the county your family can bring you a pair of tennis shoes every month. The Asian gangster’s mother was a seamstress who owned a shoe store at the local swap meet. Turns out she'd been taking out the sole of the shoes, filling them up with weed, and then sewing them back up. When officers would inspect the shoes, they’d never see a thing. But one day two deputy sheriffs walked in the visiting room and arrested the gangster’s mother. A different officer was working that day, a real yankee doodle, by the book type of C/O. He must have searched and found some tear in the seam, which resulted in taking the sole apart and finding the drugs. The Asian gangster didn’t have much to lose, he was facing life, but unfortunately, now his mother would be joining him.

Goose, Mexican gangbanger who’s served numerous bids in California and federal prison for drug conspiracies.

Don’t Get High on Your own Supply

I was a junkie before I ever landed on a prison yard, so it was only natural that I’d be indoctrinated into the heroin culture once I was confined within the walls of a federal prison. Drugs are incredibly ubiquitous in prison—marijuana, alcohol, and heroin seem to be the drugs of choice amongst the prisoners—surely because of their escapism properties. But you can’t get high on your own supply. Anyone that has ever served a significant amount of time knows that getting out of your head is an indispensable part of keeping your sanity. But if you’re selling you have to be careful and have some willpower or you’ll use up all the drugs you’re supposed to sell getting high with your celly. This could be the downfall of your whole operation.

Biggie, an Aryan Nations member who served time in federal prison for cocaine conspiracy.