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Stop calling!

If you look closely enough, you’ll notice nowadays that the inmates aren’t the only folks providing free labor for the South Carolina Department of Corrections.

Notoriously understaffed — not all that uncommon for jail and prison systems — SCDC has enlisted the help of state guardsmen in its effort to enhance security and keep contraband, especially cellphones, out of its facilities.

In his Feb. 27 executive order, Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency and deputized South Carolina State Guard members. The guardsmen, all volunteers, have been placed in prison watchtowers and along perimeters to monitor activity and, if need be, intercept any cellphones, drugs, weapons or other bootleg items that free-world ne’er-do-wells might try to toss into the waiting arms of their incarcerated smuggle buddies.

Bryan Stirling, an attorney and SCDC’s director, has done much campaigning for keeping phones out of his prisons. He has lobbied the Federal Communications Commission and the government, unsuccessfully so far, to jam cell signals inside prison walls. The agency recently installed nets around the outside of some institutions to ensnare any lobbed or drone-delivered contraband.

As long as there are prisons, and inmates with plenty of free time for plotting, the battle against contraband will likely wage on.

Just last week, a 68-year-old grandmother in Tennessee was jailed during a prison visit after slipping her grandson a Doritos bag full of drugs. A guard intercepted the bag, which was filled not with crunchy, cheesy goodness, but methamphetamine, marijuana, Xanax, Ecstasy, and heroin.

According to the grandmother, she believed the bag contained a cellphone.

Also last week, right here in South Carolina, two SCDC officers were arrested in separate incidents for smuggling illegal goods inside their respective institutions. One guard, authorities say, was on an Allendale inmate’s payroll, and the other apparently sold joints and cigarettes to the populace of Lieber Correctional Institution.

So, to the guardsmen volunteering to help secure South Carolina’s prisons: Distribute your vigilance wisely, for there is more to keep your eyes on than suspicious characters lurking outside the fenceline.

Indeed, the day has arrived where apparent tortilla chips are not what they seem, elderly grannies are disguised drug mules and unauthorized cellphone providers, and even the purported good guys have gone bad.

Heath Hamacher


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