(WKRG, ATMORE, ALABAMA)
Holman Prison captured the state’s attention this month after rioting inmates easily communicated with the outside world through cellular telephones. Inmates claimed they paid corrections officer to smuggle phones in. Some former CO’s said very few take part in the underground economy. Even if you wear a badge, Holman can be a frightening place.
“Anyone that comes in there that walks in that gate that says they’re not scared there’s something wrong with them,” said a former Corrections Officer we’re calling Bill. These two former corrections officers would only talk to me if I agreed to hide their faces and disguise voices. After the first riot two weeks ago the Alabama department of corrections claimed they seized 30 cell phones.
“30 cell phones, they didn’t even scratch the surface, there’s probably more than 100 cell phones at any given time in there or more,” said Bill. An inmate recently told us a cell phone can be worth $500 in prison. Another former Corrections Officer said inmates aren’t eager to fight back if drugs or cigarettes are seized because they’re not very expensive. A CO we’re calling “Joe” said inmates are willing to put up a fight if an officer swipes their cell.
“You confiscate a cell phone now, you’re going to have a physical altercation, that’s worth a lot of money in prison,” said Joe. They said most corrections officers don’t take the risk as smugglers and follow the law. They’ve seen former officers get in trouble before.
“And I’ve seen officers come in their state uniform and leave in county orange and handcuffs,” said Joe. Stories about corrections officers getting cell phones to inmates get the most attention but these former CO’s I spoke with say the most common way any contraband gets into the prison itself is simply somebody from the outside over or through the fence. They believe most contraband gets through the fence, corrections officers are second. They believe the third most common method is through inmate family members. Family members roll the dice trying to smuggle stuff in on a visit and try not to get caught during a search.
These two anonymous CO’s also dispute claims of mistreatment made by inmates or inmate relatives during the riots. They say CO’s treat inmates better than homeless people are treated and they work hard to keep the peace behind bars.