With technology, we've lost control of our prisons


My name is Robert Johnson; many of you know me as the correctional captain shot six times in the chest and abdominal areas on the order of inmates. I have traveled to many parts of this country giving talks to police organizations, new FBI agents, churches and civic groups. Anywhere I can get a platform or a mic in front of my big mouth.

We live in a rapidly changing and evolving world. Whether we like it or not, technology has reached its tentacles into every part of our daily lives, even into places we do not need its encroachment. It has reached prison and is running out of control. It will cost us dearly to regain control. I think the cellphone is one of the most technological advances of our modern age. Ever since this wonder obtained a toehold in the life of locked-up criminals, it has become a necessary tool for the criminal mastermind, and they will fight to keep it. Just think of the many things your cellphone can perform. Well, they have some of the same phones with the same capabilities. The cellphone is a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) in the hands of locked-up criminals. It gives them capabilities far beyond what they normally could do.

During my time with the Department of Corrections (DOC), I was kicked, punched, knocked out, had a homemade knife pulled on me and shot six times with a .38 revolver, and each time, inmates with cellphones were involved. These cellphones are not primarily being used to call mother dear or grandma. The main use for these phones by locked-up criminals is to enable them to continue their criminal activity. Cellphones have been used to help inmates escape and are being used now to plan an escape. Cellphones were used in the planning and execution of the DOC director of Colorado.

These inmates literally have a cellphone directive of other inmates serving time in other statewide facilities, the federal system and other states. They reach out to each other and compare notes on what system works best in carrying out their evil plans. Just as movers and shakers network, so do the inmates.

Many of you have been contacted by people you think are telemarketers, policemen, IRS agents and bankers, but in actuality many of them are inmates using cellphones. Their intentions are to take every dollar they can scam out of you. They will try to convince you to buy a Green Dot Master or Visa card, which is a reloadable credit card. There is no limit to the amount of money that can be placed on these cards. I know of an inmate who had $85,000 on his card. Inmates have used these cards and cellphone(s) to buy homes, furniture, steel appliances, cars, pay rent for their girlfriends and families, run drug organizations from California to here, pay for hits on people ($6,000 for the hit on me), plan riots and work stoppages. Inmates have stolen money from the IRS by submitting phony tax forms and W2s for $5,000 or less in refunds, and if only one or two of the 10 submitted are paid, he and his accomplices are still ahead of the game. That same inmate told me he knew the IRS has a $5,000 threshold for audits.

The cellphone is an advanced technology, and it will take another advanced technology to fully defeat it, and that costs money. We can pay for the technology to defeat them or pay medical bills. I saw one bill from one of the hospitals that treated me, and it was almost $1 million. I have had to stay in seven different hospitals in five different counties, with more to come. My medical care, which you have had to pay for through workers' comp, would have paid for the installation and upkeep of a number of these systems at a few prisons.

One more thing. There are some, not many, prison staff members who are working for the inmates. They help them obtain cellphones, drugs and other contraband. These people need to go to jail, even if only for six months. They should not be eligible for probation until they have served some time. When I was working at the DOC, one correctional officer we caught working for the inmates told me he made over $50,000. The judge gave him no jail time, only probation. Probation is not a deterrence when dealing with the kind of money inmates can pay. I sat in on a trial where a lieutenant and sergeant were running a drug ring in the prison, and when they got caught, the judge only gave them probation. Those corrupt staff who want to work for the inmates must face real jail time. They are supposed to be the keepers, not helpers. Let your state representatives and senators know you want the laws changed.

It is up to us to take back the prison. If not, it will get far worse. Not every locked-up criminal is dumb. Law enforcement had to outsmart them. I have talked to doctors, lawyers, millionaires, a nuclear engineer, many very smart people, all serving time. All that brain power in one small place, now throw in cellphones and it is a recipe for disaster.

Editor's note: Robert Johnson of Sumter is a retired Department of Corrections captain who spent 15 years as a corrections officer at Lee Correctional Institution. Seven inmates died in a riot at Lee Correctional in April that began as part of a turf war between gangs over territory, money and contraband items such as drugs and cellphones.