Inmates on Facebook: Social media posts reveal illegal drug use in Alabama prisons

Inmates on Facebook: Social media posts reveal illegal drug use in Alabama prisons
WBRC's ongoing investigation into Alabama prisons.

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - This report is part of WBRC's ongoing investigation into Alabama prisons. We've uncovered Facebook accounts connected to inmates that feature photos and videos of drug abuse behind bars.

Some prison inmates in the custody of the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) continue to post provocative content on Facebook using contraband cell phones, despite WBRC’s reporting that has exposed a convicted child killer using social media from death row and numerous other Facebook accounts from prison, including one in which an inmate posted a photo of another inmate, beaten over an alleged drug debt.

In a November 2017 email, an ADOC spokesperson said because of WBRC’s reporting, along with leads from the public, the agency’s Investigations and Intelligence Division shut down 137 illegal social media accounts. Cell phones are considered contraband in Alabama prisons and inmates are forbidden from using social media while they’re in ADOC custody. The prevalence of inmates on Facebook is perhaps a more visible problem to the free world, but less lethal than other pressing issues in our prisons, like widespread drug use and violence.
On January 25, WBRC reported three inmate Facebook accounts to ADOC. Since then, the accounts have been shut down, but not before we found dozens of pictures and videos taken inside various state prisons, some depicting illicit drugs and drug abuse. We reported an additional two inmate Facebook accounts on the day of this report. 
A 2016 video posted by an account with the username Jeff Forevertrill Hudson featured an inmate dressed in white, flailing around a cell block while other inmates laughed and egged him on. The caption with the video suggested the man was high on a synthetic drug, “tripping on fake weed.” In the three-minute video, the man, appearing incoherent and manic, was eventually led away by other inmates. No correctional officer was visible inside the cell block.
WBRC’s search of the ADOC inmate database turned up Jeffrey Hudson at St. Clair Correctional Facility, serving a 25-year sentence for robbery and assault. Hudson’s inmate mugshot matched the various photographs posted to the Facebook account, some taken in the cell block and others in the prison yard.
We showed the inmate Facebook activity to former ADOC warden David Wise, who retired in 2010 after 28 years as a correctional professional in Alabama. He said the chaos depicted in the video would not be allowed to happen if the proper number of correctional officers were in place. An open prison dormitory, according to Wise, should have at least two officers walking around, watching the inmates.
“That’s how you keep the peace, that’s how you keep people from getting killed,” Wise said, shaking his head in astonishment.
WBRC was tipped off about another inmate Facebook user with the profile name Lucky Stripes and later Luchi DaDon. The account posted a picture in November 2017 of what appeared to be two large bags of marijuana. The photo caption read “GAS GAS GAS GAS GAS.” A friend complimented the photo and the user responded “LOL, smoke one.”
The tip to WBRC about this Facebook account pointed us to inmate David Spearman, currently incarcerated at Ventress Prison. He’s been in ADOC custody since 2001 for robbery and murder. The inmate photographs on the Facebook accounts appeared to match the ADOC mugshot for Spearman.
Wise said when he was warden, controlling corrupt prison staff was a tougher challenge than managing inmates. He estimated that at least half the drugs coming into the prisons are brought in by staff, which is harder to combat with less officers. He also pointed out that because correctional officers are not paid what they deserve, they can be tempted to get involved in the prison drug trade.
“A guy can go in there and make $3000-$5000 a week toting stuff in and out,” Wise said.
ADOC has said drugs are routinely tossed over prison perimeter fences and with less officers, that's harder to catch.
WBRC studied prison staffing levels in monthly ADOC statistical reports and found for the last five years, Alabama’s major correctional facilities have consistently operated with less than half the needed correctional officers. As the prisons have hemorrhaged staff, violence has increased.
A retired ADOC correctional officer, who asked us to not use his name, described a chaotic and toxic prison environment that marked his last year on the job. In 2017, he retired after working more than 25 years inside medium security prisons. Over the years, he saw staffing shrink as the inmate population grew, and the result was huge amounts of undetected contraband. The prison’s practice of housing drug addicts and drug dealers together, he believed, was partly to blame for the exploding violence.
“We had over 100 stabbings my last full year and those were only the ones that we knew about,” he said.
The retired officer said marijuana and meth were always common prison drugs, but in recent years synthetic substances began coming in, with names like K2, Flakka and Spice. Inmate users seemed to not know how to handle the drugs, often getting so high they’d freak out and completely lose control. He saw inmates high on synthetics zigzag naked across the prison yard and try to escape, not seeming to care if they lived or died. Overdoses, he said, became a daily occurrence.
“It wouldn’t be anything to go into a dorm and see three or four inmates laying on the floor urinating and defecating on themselves,” he said. “They’d lost complete bodily function, just lying in their own filth. It was crazy.”
He said the prison infirmary was overwhelmed by the volume of inmates that needed medical attention due to drugs. Many were sent out to area hospitals via ambulance. It is unknown how many have died. Last week, WBRC submitted a records request for data from ADOC on drugs confiscated in prison security sweeps as well as the number of prison overdoses involving hospital transports and fatalities.
Another inmate Facebook account offered a revealing look at the way prison violence is treated casually, like an everyday event. An inmate with the Facebook username Buddah G Sylvester posted numerous photos from inside prison, some while wearing a blue bandana around his neck, a known gang symbol and an item that’s considered contraband. In one photo he’s posed in a common room, and a friend posted a question asking him when he’s getting out. He replied with “I can't act right aint no telling I'm bucking. I was to get out next year but I stabbed a n***** n**** got me to.”
A search on ADOC’s inmate database turned up a match in Reynold Sylvester, serving a 15-year sentence for robbery at the William E Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer.
After we showed the content posted by inmates to David Wise, he said he was appalled by what he’d seen. The way Alabama prisons are operating, Wise said, is extremely dangerous, with little accountability and structure for inmates.
“You can’t function and control a prison with that kind of disorder,” Wise said. “This should be unacceptable to any warden, it should be unacceptable to the (ADOC) commissioner. You’ve got to have some discipline and order to run a prison. And you’ve got to have some kind of meaningful thing for those convicts to do,” he said.
An ADOC spokesperson emailed a statement that said the department will continue to investigate reports of inmates using illegal cell phones and will pursue all available resources to mitigate the problem. ADOC has 25 agents dedicated to investigating prison contraband across the state, but last year less cell phones were confiscated than in the previous year. In 2016, 4241 phones were seized inside prisons. Last year, 3883 phones were confiscated.
The public can report inmate Facebook accounts or other illegal prison activity online by submitting a tip to ADOC here or calling 1-866-293-7799.
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