How a private prison brought jobs-and violence, corruption and scandal-to Burlington.

Tobacco smuggling has been a problem throughout the state's prisons ever since the DOC banned smoking by inmates earlier this year. The department declined to prohibit tobacco use by staff, though, making it virtually impossible to keep cigarettes out of the nicotine-stained hands of prisoners. Cans of tobacco and especially tailor-made smokes have become an underground currency in places like Kit Carson. A single cigarette can be chopped into three stubs that sell for three to five dollars each, and an entire pack can command between $180 and $300.

Inmates say the tobacco trade was sanctioned, in part, by upper management at Kit Carson, since informants who snitched on other prisoners' contraband operations were often rewarded with a pack of Marlboros, in violation of DOC policy. "You can get a cigarette any time you want in here," says Orduno. "You just tell on somebody."

Waller denies that his staff pays informants in any fashion. "If that was done, that's not the case now," he says. "I've told my staff that if I catch somebody doing that they will be severely disciplined." He's spent "an extensive amount of time," he adds, working on eradicating the contraband problem.

Cold storage: The Kit Carson Correctional Center emplys mostly local workers  --  with no prior corrections experience.
Cold storage: The Kit Carson Correctional Center emplys mostly local workers -- with no prior corrections experience.
Cold storage: The Kit Carson Correctional Center emplys mostly local workers  --  with no prior corrections experience.
Brett Amole
Cold storage: The Kit Carson Correctional Center emplys mostly local workers -- with no prior corrections experience.


Previous Westword article

"The Insiders"
A collection of Westword articles on Colorado prisons.

Several sources say that the tobacco business, like the sex trade, appears to be dwindling in the wake of the DOC's investigation, but it hasn't entirely disappeared. "A couple weeks ago they found two packs of Pall Malls in somebody's cell," says one staffer. "You can't get that through visitation. It's the staff."

Ironically, prisoners report that marijuana may now be easier to obtain at KCCC than tobacco. "On the street, if you buy a joint, you buy a half-gram of weed," says Carr. "In here it's a pinch, and it's five times the price. But you can buy it cheaper than cigarettes."

"I personally saw a pound of weed not too long ago," says another inmate. "For something like that to get in, it's got to be brought in by a guard."

It's possible that harder drugs were circulating freely in the prison in its first months of operation. One nurse recalls seeing what appeared to be needle tracks on the arms of an inmate whom she suspected of shooting heroin or coke, as well as others who wouldn't let her see their arms. Several of her patients reeked of tobacco or pot, she says.

Some of the prison's critics are pessimistic about CCA's ability to clean up the place. "The inmates are smarter than the staff," says one employee, who asked to remain anonymous. "Most of these people haven't been doing this for very long, and the inmates know how to get around the system. I think DOC should kick the company out and take it over."

Of all the blunders and follies in the brief history of Kit Carson, none have generated more outrage and bitterness from prisoners than the July lockdown. The official reason for the heavy-handed show of force, which lurched along for almost a week, was a rumor that someone had smuggled a gun into the prison, requiring a cell-by-cell search. But similar shakedowns in state prisons last only a day or two, and many inmates believe that the rumor was only a pretext to allow the SORT team, angered by the beating of a colleague, to humiliate and terrorize the entire inmate population.

The inmates' version of the affair, corroborated by several sources, is this:

After Lewis Simpson's failed escape attempt on Saturday, July 17, inmates were confined to their cells for the rest of the day. On Sunday, a corrections officer was attacked by an inmate after refusing his request for toilet paper. The prison was again locked down for a few hours, but the real trouble began the following day.

On Monday afternoon, inmates were hustled into their cells for a head count ten minutes early. They remained locked down for the next four days. A few were stripped to their boxers and escorted to the hole for the next 36 hours. Water was turned off in the cells, and no meals were served until almost midnight. Although a small cup of juice was provided with the meal, requests for drinking water were ignored.

On Tuesday, breakfast trays were left on the floor outside many cells for several hours before inmates were allowed to retrieve them. Hot water was restored to the cells that evening, but since the toilets still didn't flush, the occupants were confronted with a rising, inescapable stench. "Fortunately, we were both able to forgo defecating," reports one inmate, "although my cellie skipped several meals to forestall the inevitable as long as possible."

On Wednesday inmates were strip-searched and ordered into the corridor while the SORT team tossed their cells. The operation seemed to be designed not to uncover a weapon but to destroy as much inmate property as possible. Bulky bags that might contain contraband were undisturbed, some inmates say, while photos, legal papers, cassette players and other items were thrown into a pile in the middle of the floor.

"All my commissary was dumped on the floor," says Carr. "They stomped on it. Squeeze bottles of cheese all over the place, aftershave, hair cream -- everything."

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help