Photo of Ohio inmate's homemade chip wallet goes viral on Facebook
Officials say the find is just one of a long list of items inmates are not allowed to have in the jail but find unique ways to invent
By Lauren Pack
HAMILTON, Ohio — A recent light-hearted social media post by the Butler County Sheriff's Office hinted at a very real issue for jail officials who are seeing inmate population again grow after decreases early in the coronavirus pandemic.
The sheriff's office posted about an inmate wallet crafted from chip bags found during a cell inspection on Thursday. The wallet with several pockets for cash is made from Fritos and Cheetos bags, likely purchased in the jail commissary.
"While inspecting cells today in the jail we came across a homemade wallet made of Fritos and Cheetos bags ... the ingenuity is pretty impressive," the post said.
Officials say the find is just one of a long list of items inmates not allowed in the jail but that inmates find unique ways to invent.
While most envision contraband as drugs, weapons and items that can be fashioned into weapons, inmates use other creative items, such as a chip bag wallet, to barter or for gambling. That causes problems in a facility of 900-plus people at least accused of breaking the law.
"For instance, they like to make necklaces, we actually sell a necklace in the commissary for religious purposes. But it breaks if you pull it. I can be used as a (strangulation tool) or a weapon in any way," said Chief Deputy Anthony Dwyer. "It also creates animus among other inmates that don't have it."
Dwyer said some talented and creative inmates are paid for drawings or paintings fashioned from a piece of sheet.
"They will barter their commissary for things, and that creates bigger issues," Dwyer said. "That wallet is not a major security issue, but it becomes an issue between inmates — want you have and I don't have — and then fighting when the commissary isn't paid for something they made for another inmate."
Since the coronavirus pandemic, the Butler County Jail has worked with judges to limit the number of inmates in the facility. That is still occurring, Dwyer said. On Friday, there were 927 inmates. Before the pandemic, there were more than 1,000.
Dwyer said corrections officers are told to search at least some cells daily for contraband. Thunder, a drug and electronic sniffing dog, is assigned to the jail to find more overt violations.
Dwyer has a collection of some more creative contraband items in his office, including a banjo made of Tupperware and a shampoo bottle and signed by the inmate, drawings and a colorful cross necklace.
He said there is some discretion, such as when an inmate has made an item that is obviously intended for a loved one, a corrections officer can put it with his property for pickup when he leaves.
"But you have to stand with the rules of this is what's allow and this is what's not allowed," Dwyer said. "We can't have hording, bartering, selling and gambling with things they have made."
(c)2020 the Journal-News (Hamilton, Ohio)