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How to avoid manipulation by wealthy inmates

If they know your weaknesses, they can exploit them – keep your distance and keep things discreet


Inmates with access to money not only buy protection by paying guardian fees to other inmates, but also look for staff members who are weak and in need of financial assistance.

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Money is a powerful motivator that can be used as a tool for manipulation. Most inmates already have manipulative tendencies they use to obtain what they want. An inmate from a wealthy family who has a hefty inmate bank account and people on the streets with money have more ammunition than inmates who are destitute.

Inmates with access to money not only buy protection by paying guardian fees to other inmates, but also look for staff members who are weak and in need of financial assistance. The inmate can then use the weakness and needs of the officer to obtain what they want. I have investigated incidents of this nature: officers who have fallen prey to the manipulative tactics of inmates with plenty of money and connections. Here is a real-life example of monetary manipulation by a wealthy inmate.

An officer in debt takes the bait

Inmate Cash (real name not used) is part owner of a food franchise. One afternoon in December, he heard two officers talking about their personal affairs. Officers should never talk about personal issues around inmates; however, too many times they do, thinking nothing of it. An inmate knowing about an officer’s personal life can lead to bribery, extortion, or even recruitment of the officer, which can lead to loss of job or criminal charges.

In this case, one officer was telling the other that he and his wife were having trouble paying their bills on time and were not able to buy Christmas gifts for their three children. The officer said it made him sick to not have anything for the kids, and his wife was taking it badly. The wife also worked as an officer at the prison.

Inmate Cash soaked up all this information and saved it for another day. A couple of days later he found the officer alone and asked to speak to him. He told the officer he’d overheard him talking about financial issues. He told the officer he could help him get back on track and get him some Christmas money for his children. The officer listened and did not get defensive or try to punish Cash for approaching him with a bribe. This let Cash know the officer was open to suggestions.

Cash told the officer he really missed two things being in prison: good home-cooked meals and whiskey. He told the officer if he had those two items once a week, he could handle his time in prison much easier. The officer nodded as if to say, “Yes, I understand.” Cash told the officer that to get things rolling he would give him and his wife $1,000 before Christmas. Every month after December he would pay them $500. The wife could take care of the weekly home-cooked meal, and the husband would take care of the whiskey. Once each month a shipment of Crown Royal would be provided when the officer received payment for his services.

The officer told Cash he would talk with his wife that evening and told Cash not to talk about their conversation with anyone else. Cash agreed, of course – he knew he was going to get what he wanted. The officer returned the next afternoon and found a suitable time to speak with Cash. He told him his wife agreed with the deal as long as she didn’t have to carry the items into the prison. Cash was happy and asked the officer when his next days off would be. The officer said the day after tomorrow. Cash instructed the officer to meet with him the next day for instructions on where to pick up his money and the whiskey.

What the investigation found

After a few months, the two married officers decided it was time to stop receiving money for contraband before they were discovered. As most inmates would do in such a situation, Cash would not stand for it. He reported the officers and provided a paper trail of payments and witnesses who worked for his family that delivered the whiskey and cashier’s checks to the male officer. The officers were arrested and terminated from their jobs. Both accepted plea deals for a year of probation. You never win when dealing with inmates. Administrative disciplinary action was taken on inmate Cash, and he was transferred. At the request of another agency using Cash as a witness, the state attorney did not criminally charge him.

Inmates may use these entrapment strategies

  • Weakness: Inmates look for weak links among prison staff – officers in desperate need of something, like the married couple in the above incident.
  • Vulnerability: Inmates look for officers or prison staff members who need physical, emotional or financial support. The inmate will then go to work with supportive conversation and slowly move toward providing a solution to the staff member’s problem.
  • Enticement: In the above example the inmate already learned of the officer’s problem, so he used money to lure him in.
  • Baiting or psychological manipulation: The inmate in the above case used the old “We can help each other” strategy. “All your financial problems will be fixed, and your children will have the wonderful Christmas they deserve! No one will ever know because I don’t want my family business reputation ruined, and you certainly don’t want your reputation ruined!”
  • Coercion: The inmate plays the sympathy game with the staff member and provides a solution through an agreement by both sides to solve mutual problems for each other.
  • Savior: The inmate plays the part of rescuer and portrays him- or herself as the only answer to the staff member’s problem.

Inmates have many ways to manipulate you if you allow them to get close enough. The wealthy inmates just have more weapons at their disposal. One more real-life example:

Furniture for cocaine

I had a case with an inmate who was part owner of a furniture chain. He not only paid inmates for protection but paid two officers as well. He also had the managers of one of his furniture stores supply complete home furnishings to the two officers in trade for smuggling cocaine into the facility for him. When his family found out, they reported the incident, feeling their incarcerated brother was being extorted. In the end, with documents signed by the officers and their family members for the free furniture and the inmate’s cooperation, arrests were made, and the officers pled to probation for accepting unauthorized compensation. We could not prove the cocaine allegations. Again in this case the inmate was transferred, and the state attorney would not charge him criminally.

How to prevent inmate manipulation

  • First and foremost, the individual officer must have enough self-respect not to get involved with inmates. We all know right from wrong.
  • Officers must receive training to recognize and immediately report inmate manipulation of any type at the very first attempt.
  • Officers must receive training and know if they have problems, inmates can’t solve them, and agencies may have programs that can help. Officers must know they never have to walk alone, and it is OK to ask for help from their agency.
  • Classes on prison corruption should be mandatory.
  • Classes on inmate manipulation should be mandatory.
  • Classes on ethics should be mandatory.
  • Last but not least, inmates involved in criminal activity with staff members should also be charged criminally and not used only as witnesses against officers.
  • Prison management and lawmakers must work closely with each other in the fight against corruption.

I leave you with one question to think about: Do wealthy inmates in your facility get away with more than inmates who are destitute?

NEXT: Why are some correctional employees corrupt?

Gary York, author of “Corruption Behind Bars” and “Inside The Inner Circle,” served in the United States Army from 1978 to 1987 and was honorably discharged at the rank of Staff Sergeant from the Military Police Corps. U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Gary York completed the 7th Army Non-Commissioned Officers Leadership Academy with a 96.6% in the Train to Train method of instruction. Gary received the Army Commendation Medal and Soldier of the Quarter Award while serving. Gary was a Military Police shift supervisor for five years.

Gary then began a career with the Department of Corrections as a correctional officer. Gary was promoted to probation officer, senior probation officer and senior prison inspector where for the next 12 years he conducted criminal, civil and administrative investigations in many state prisons. Gary was also assigned to the Inspector General Drug Interdiction Team conducting searches of staff and visitors entering the prisons for contraband during weekend prison visitation. Gary also received the Correctional Probation Officer Leadership Award for the Region V, Tampa, Florida, Correctional Probation and he won the Outstanding Merit Award for leadership in the Region V Correctional Officer awards Tampa, Florida.