Our correspondent “Leather” is currently serving a sentence because of charges related to a family dispute, subsequent warrants, and the labyrinthian carceral state in general. Leather was previously incarcerated at the Orleans Parish Prison but has recently been transferred to a facility in Ferriday. The following has been transcribed (with minimal edits for clarity and format) from handwritten letters. Because of barriers that restrict and complicate communication with people in prison, we are unable to independently corroborate claims herein.
In prison there’s all kinds of ways to make money, and one of the most important jobs on almost any prison compound is the runner. The runner is loved by everybody, why? Because the runner is the inmate who runs that pack: any person who carries contraband from one place to another. Contraband is anything illegal in a penal institution: phones, phone chargers, mojo, meth, cigs, etc. Everybody respects a good runner. A good runner never loses a pack. A good runner is an inmate known for “going up.” “Going up” is when an inmate goes up his butt cavity. A good runner can “go up” with two cell phones, a small phone charger, an ounce of mojo, ½ oz. cocaine, ½ oz. meth, Subox strips, or whatever. The saying in prison is, “if you ain’t pluggin’, you ain’t thuggin’.”
There’s inmates who can take two cell phones and go up their butt in seconds. It’s crazy because they can make a phone disappear up their butt so fast it’s unbelievable. Inmates pay good money for top notch runners. Every time there’s a shakedown (when the deputies search every inch of the dorm with dogs and everything), the runners will take all contraband and “go up.” And the guards will never find it because in a prison like Concordia Parish, there’s no x-ray machine, no metal detectors to detect what’s up your butt, so this prison is what they call “free”: you can get away with anything without getting caught up. In this jail, if you’re caught with a knife they won’t punish you. If you stab somebody you won’t even go to the hole.
In small jails like this one there’s lots of money to be made. There’s more drugs in this jail than there is on the streets, if you ask me. The people who run this prison allow drugs to enter the jail. They also allow certain inmates to do whatever they want. You see, the guards here in this jail don’t make much money, so it’s easy to bribe them. Tell any guard here, “Hey you want to make some extra money?” You can tell if they’re ‘bout it. Just tell any guard here, “Hey wanta make a thousand bucks to bring me that pack?” The guards know who is hot, who’s making moves, who’s selling drugs. It’s funny because everybody knows who’s making moves. Even the guards have runners, but nobody knows who the runners are.
OK here’s kinda how it works. Let’s say I want to buy a carton of cigs from an inmate on the other side of the compound. First I find out his Cash App info, send them the money, then the next step is to go to a call-out—church call-out, Muslim call-out, medical call-out, or school call-out—meet the other runner, get the smokes, hide them on my person, and bring them back to whoever sent me. And that’s how money moves around the jail all day, every day. There’s so much money moving in the prison system you wouldn’t believe. There’s guys locked up in this jail who take care of their families from inside the jail. Good runners can earn good money.
For example, if I make a run and pick up, say, 10 packs of cigs I’ll get one pack of cigs and $25 and I can sell each cig for $10 a piece. That’s $200 off a pack. That’s good money in jail. Now just think if I make three runs a week that’s $675 a week. That’s almost $2500 a month. So just imagine how much money a guard makes off selling contraband and phones to inmates in say, six months. This is why the system is so corrupt. And part of the reason is they don’t pay guards enough money for the job they do. It really burns me up at the fact that we refuse to pay our teachers, police, nurses, and our deputies a fair amount of money for risking their lives every day. These are the people who put their life on the line every day for our safety. So it don’t surprise me that the guards buy cell phones for around $100 and bring it in the jail for $500 or $600. It’s easy, fast money that hardly gets noticed. Runners in big jails make a lot more money, but they also take a much bigger risk. On bigger units they get most of their contraband during visitation. There’s been people sneaking contraband in prison ever since prison was open. Back in the day, it was a whole lot easier to get contraband into places like Angola, because back in the day you pack the contraband inside tennis shoes to go visit, and change shoes with the inmate, and now you got the contraband in the prison. Now all you gotta do is make it down the walk with your drugs, get to your cell, and do whatcha do with your drugs. If you sell them, bag up and start selling, and if you get high, sit back, relax, and get high.
Being a runner is also a very dangerous job because if you get caught with 10 packs of smokes that cost $500, you going straight to the hole, you’re getting re-booked, and you’re gonna lose good time. And on top of that, when you get out of the hole, you’re going back to the same dorm that you were in with the guy whose pack you lost, and guess what? That guy expects his $500 back, and if you don’t pay him back you’re gonna have to fight. To me that’s crazy because you lose everything, and if you get re-booked, you’re gonna get more time added to your sentence.
So before you take that job as a runner you better know what you’re doing because in jail, you could get hurt real bad behind trying to run that pack. So if you ever come to jail, please don’t try to get in the game if you don’t know how to play. There’s a lot of runners who spend months learning how to “go up,” runners practice going up with vaseline and bars of soap. They spend countless hours working their butt muscles so they can go up without any trouble. This is just one of the many ways contraband is brought into prison. So if you’re getting high you better know where it came from and how it got there.