Crushed methadone was wrapped in plastic and placed in the bottom seal of an 8-inch-by-11-inch envelope, which was meticulously peeled open and reglued to hide the drugs.
The envelope then was sent, under a fake name and return address, to Penobscot County Jail inmate Sheila Badger, 41, of Brewer, who was in jail for drug trafficking, court documents state.
Jail officials, working with agents from the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, found the drugs and charged both Badger and the man they believe sent the envelope, Bernard “Allen” Landry, 35, of Brewer, with felony trafficking in prison contraband.
The recent contraband arrests demonstrate what officials at PCJ, and other facilities in the state and around the nation, deal with daily, Penobscot County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Troy Morton said recently.
“You would not believe the things people will do,” he said.
Inmates have hidden drugs, weapons and other items in and on their bodies, in shoes and clothes, in books and mail and even on toddlers who come to visit them behind bars, Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross said.
“Mostly it’s drugs,” Morton said. “It demonstrates the impact drugs have on people … desperate people.”
PCJ handles more than 5,000 arrests annually, and while a good number of those arrested are booked and then released, the average stay is seven to 14 days, Ross said.
Jails, more than prisons, deal daily with contraband problems because of the nature of the people coming and going, he said.
“We all expect it,” Ross said.
Contraband drugs, especially pills, are by far the biggest problem jails have to deal with, both Morton and Ross said.
“We constantly are trying to keep drugs out of the facility,” Ross said. “It comes in a lot of different ways.”
In the worst case that he could think of, Ross said, “We’ve had some people who have tried to smuggle so much in their body cavities that they’ve had ruptures of the bags with real serious consequences.”
He added that prescription drug addiction wasn’t always a problem in the jail. “This became a problem when society let it become a problem on the outside. We have those problems magnified.”
Because pills are small and can be hidden easily, jail officials are vigilant to keep them out of the inmates’ hands. Women arriving at the jail to begin their sentence, because of their anatomy, are caught more often smuggling items in their bodies, “but we do have several people to deal with that,” Ross said.
Women also have been caught smuggling drugs into the jail by sewing them into their bras and underwear, said Linda Golden, assistant jail administrator.
“They’ll break a seam apart and resew it,” she said. To prevent drugs from entering the jail, “we do a clothing search. We feel the waistband of the underwear and the bra itself, especially padded bras.”
Underwire bras are prohibited for inmates, Golden said, because “they can remove the underwire and it can be used as a weapon or a pick.”
Whenever jail officials think “they’ve seen it all” something new shows up, she said.
Penobscot County Jail has taken several steps to combat contraband.
Efforts have been made to prevent outsiders from bringing items into the jail, prescriptions doled out on the inside by medical staff are closely monitored, and everything is recorded with video and audio surveillance equipment.
Cameras record all visits — everyone who comes and goes, and all inmate phone calls are recorded.
Recorded phone calls were used in the Badger-Landry case, court documents from Landry’s conviction show. In one call, Badger tells Landry that she has not received the envelope. In another, Badger is upset about not receiving the envelope and tells Landry that “evidently, you didn’t seal the envelope very well.”
In another call to a family member, Badger is told that Landry has been arrested and that is why she didn’t get “the envelope.”
The envelope, which contained 2 grams of crushed white powder methadone, was delivered to the jail, but was confiscated before it reached Badger. “Good, old-fashioned police work” was used to determine Landry sent the package, MDEA Investigator Rick Canarr said.
In addition to video and audio recordings of visits, visitors must leave all personal items, including purses and wallets, in lockers, and they are not allowed to touch inmates. This means they cannot hold hands or hug, because of the possibility of passing items, and this includes visiting children, Ross said.
This is because “we had cases where people were hiding drugs on their toddlers,” he said.
A kiss at the end of the visit is allowed, but is made in front of a jail official to ensure nothing is passed by mouth, Ross said, adding that “there is pressure to stop that kiss.”
Everyone in jail wears provided canvas shoes because outside shoes could be modified. Mail is checked, stamps are removed, and seals are examined to prevent drugs from being hidden behind them. All books delivered must come from the publisher.
All prescription drugs that are administered in the jail are crushed to prevent inmates from pretending to swallow them or regurgitating them so they can be sold to others. Inmates are made to drink water afterward and to show medical staff an empty mouth to ensure they have swallowed their pill or liquid prescription drugs.
“We are probably the largest [detoxification] unit in the county and probably the state,” Ross said. “We are a default mental health institute.”
All inmate helpers, sometimes known as trusties, are tested for drug use before being allowed to do outside work such as wash cruisers or landscaping, and every inmate is patted down before being readmitted to the jail.
The inmate helper program is successful with “very few problems” because “for every two days they work, they earn a day off their sentence,” Ross said. “They have a lot to lose.”
That incentive is sometimes not enough. Two weeks ago, Ross had to take away the privileges of three trusties for failing drug tests.
Penobscot County Jail, which was designed to house 132 inmates, has been allowed to house 182 inmates for the past two years because of a statewide shortage of jail cells and a subsequent variance from the Department of Corrections.
Deferred sentences, where people are allowed to turn themselves in at a later date to serve sentences, are good for some who work, but offer an opportunity to those addicted to drugs, Ross said.
“The unanticipated consequence of that is it allows the inmate to think up ways to smuggle in drugs,” he said.
Corrections officers Becki Scarce and Sgt. Kenny Williams donned rubber gloves last week to show off boxes of items confiscated from PCJ. Williams pulled out a bag full of dirty pipes used to smoke marijuana, crack and other drugs.
In another plastic bag was a roll-on deodorant container used to smuggle in tobacco and matches. Another had what looked like regurgitated pills, and another held a toothpaste tube that had been cut and made into a pipe.
“We don’t use that brand anymore,” Williams said of the toothpaste. “If it’s not used for its intended purpose, it’s contraband and it’s confiscated.”
Another confiscated item pulled from the boxes was a shank, or homemade knife, made from a black plastic comb, with teeth missing and one end sharpened to a point.
Informants recently called to let jail officials know that an inmate was hiding a weapon in a body orifice. The male inmate was placed in a dry cell and eventually a 6-inch homemade knife and a handcuff key turned up and were confiscated, Williams said.
Anyone who is suspected of hiding items in body cavities is put into a dry cell where “we isolate them and watch their excrement,” Ross said. In other cases, the jail’s X-ray equipment is used, he said.
Those who have been arrested for drugs, or who are returning inmates, are closely scrutinized before they are allowed into the facility, Ross said.
To keep inmates on their toes, the jail also holds random shakedowns where drug-sniffing dogs are brought in and go through the entire building.
“The end result is we are aggressive in investigating [contraband], and we charge people with felonies when we are able to prove a case,” Ross said.
With so many people coming and going daily, contraband is “something we deal with every day,” he said, and added: “Do we get it all? No.”
But jail officials also never stop searching and fighting the contraband battle, he said.
After being confronted with the recorded phone calls, Badger “told us she had arranged for the methadone to be crushed up and placed into the seam of an envelope and mailed to her at the jail,” court documents state.
Badger, who is serving time in the Maine Correctional Center in Windham for dealing drugs, will face a Penobscot County Superior Court judge in Bangor for the trafficking in prison contraband charge on Oct. 9.
Landry pleaded guilty to the contraband charges against him for sending the methadone package, and was sentenced to 42 months, with all but six months suspended.
He is now serving his sentence at PCJ.