Among piles of confiscated cell phones, four Nerf footballs and a large device made out of pipe tubing stand out. South Carolina Department of Corrections spokesman Josh Gelinas points to them.
What you see here are vessels that have been used to get these cell phones over prison fences. They’ll take a Nerf football, cut it open, stuff the phone into it, then go deep.
Moving over to the pneumatic tube, which he identifies as a “potato gun,” he explains how phone smugglers pump air into the tube, then shoot jars containing the phones over prison walls.
You may only be able to throw the football 20 yards. You can shoot this 150 yards.
It’s a battle of wits between inmates and guards, as smugglers try to sneak cell phones into prisons across the state. It’s a practice state officials are hoping they can end by jamming phone signals inside prison walls.
In a press conference Wednesday at the Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia, Governor Mark Sanford told reporters that any attempt to jam the prison airwaves would require special permission from the Federal Communications Commission. At issue is the 1934 Federal Communications Act, which bans state and local governments from “interfering” with the airwaves. Sanford criticized the FCC, saying the agency is ignoring a severe problem.
If we leave things the way they are, the federal government is fundamentally perpetuating an injustice on the people of this state and, frankly, the people of this nation.
The issue emerged into the spotlight after a March attack on a corrections officer. Robert Johnson was shot six times in his Sumter home during an assault the Corrections Department says was organized by an inmate. Johnson survived the attack and spoke to reporters about it Wednesday.
All my blood went out, but (the doctor) said I was too ornery to die. And I should be dead, because for two weeks, they looked for me to die. But the prayers of people have been with me and I can feel those prayers, because I made a miraculous recovery.
He also slammed the federal government for not moving quickly enough to prevent inmates from using smuggled phones.
I would not have this cane, my shirt would not be out, hiding something that I don’t want you to see. I wouldn’t be walking the way I’m walking now. I wouldn’t have a wheelchair in my house. I would not have those things, if it had not been for cell phones… I don’t want someone else to go through what I’ve gone through. I have not enjoyed myself.
Department of Corrections director Jon Ozmint also spoke Wednesday. He said he first filed a request with the FCC in December 2008, but never heard back.
SLED Director Reggie Lloyd and State Senator Mike Fair (R-Greenville) also spoke. Fair chairs the Senate’s Corrections & Penology Committee.
Until any jamming begins, though, Gelinas expects the creative smuggling methods to continue. He gestures at the confiscated phones, piled high on a nearby table.
These have been collected from all 28 of our prisons over the previous few months. As you can see, we’ve got a lot of them.