Naive? Judge Shocked that Drugs Are Available in Prison Gives Cameron Douglas a New Charge

After slapping additional time on Douglas' sentence, a clueless judge said he did not know drugs were available in prison. The author's own experience behind bars reveals reality.

When you thought it could not get worse for Cameron Douglas, the son of movie star, Michael Douglas -- it does. It was just reported that Cameron, who is serving a five-year sentence for drug dealing, now has pleaded guilty to drug possession while in prison.  He took a plea bargain and will be sentenced to an additional year to 18 months in prison. The judge in his case, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, was puzzled by the lack of security in the prisons.  The Associated Press reported that the judge assumed that prison facilities are safe and well-managed when he sends someone to prison. He was under the assumption “that these types of things don’t go on.”   With all due respect to the judge, I say that he is clueless.  It’s a well-known fact that drugs are easily obtainable in prisons.

You might wonder how I know this. I served a 15 to life sentence for a non-violent drug offense under the Rockefeller Drug Laws of New York State.   When I went to Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, NY, I was shocked to find the availability of almost any type of drug you wanted.  It was a simple process.  If you had the cash you could get the stash. There was even a prostitution and drug ring run by female officers there.  In my book “15 to Life” I discuss this in detail in a section titled “Swing Swing.”  

Some drugs were hidden in packages sent from the outside.  Peanut butter, for example, was excellent for smuggling drugs into the prison.  The peanut butter would be melted down in a microwave and scooped out to make room for the drugs.  It would then be replaced and the jar would be heat-sealed in the microwave.  Some people would actually have the container professionally shrink-wrapped before mailing it to the prison to give it a store-bought look.  Prisoners’ visitors also brought drugs into the prison.  They’d transport them in a body cavity.  I once knew a guy who smuggled drugs in his baby’s diaper – extracted them in the visiting room bathroom, and then passed them on to a prison mule, who’d clear security easily.

Corrupt guards and civilians who worked in the prison also brought in drugs.  Drug dealing was a lucrative way to supplement their low-paying state salaries, and since they weren’t subject to intrusive searches like prisoners, they could smuggle in much greater quantities. They didn’t have to rely on body cavities to conceal drugs. They’d simply bring them in their handbags or pockets.

For the right price, you could virtually get any type of drug you wanted.  Word of mouth usually advertised who had what.  The price of drugs varied, but the rule of thumb was four times the drug’s street value.  A ten-dollar bag of heroin on the street would cost forty dollars or the cash equivalent in cigarettes since currency was not allowed in prison. If you didn’t have smuggled-in cash or store-bought smokes, you could make payments through “send-outs,” essentially street –to-street transactions.

If you got hooked on drugs, you could count on paying with more than currency or cigarettes.  Some guys got in so deep they sold their bodies to get a fix.  Whether or not you used drugs on the outside, it was easy to get hooked on the inside.  It was said that if you didn’t have a habit when you came to Sing Sing, you could easily leave with one. Sing Sing was not special and reflects the reality of drugs and use of drugs in prisons. In “Breaking the Taboo,” a recently released film by Brazilian film maker, Fernando Grostein Andrade,  the failure of the war on drugs on a global scale is documented.  And one of the main points throughout the film is the availability of drugs in prisons across the world. I was honored by giving the closing line of the film in which I say “if you can’t control drug use in a maximum security prison, how can you control drug use in a free society”. 

So the Honorable Judge Berman I ask you to please go easy on Cameron Douglas, who has admitted that he is addicted to drugs, when you sentence him for his additional crime.  Cameron did what many drug-addicted prisoners do when they are imprisoned.  They seek to get high to escape the living hell they are in, even if it means breaking the law.

Anthony Papa, author of 15 To Life: How I Painted My Way To Freedom, is a communications specialist for the Drug Policy Alliance.
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