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Paul V. Coates -- Confidential File, June 4, 1959

June 4, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Dope Department's Busy in County Jail

Paul CoatesA kid from a "good family" came into my office yesterday.

He'd been out of County Jail for a few weeks. But something was gnawing at him.

"How come," he wanted to know, "it's so easy for guys on the inside to get narcotics?"

He himself landed in jail for possession of marijuana. But it was his first brush with the law. After two months' dead time, he got probation.

While he was behind bars, he got something else: an education. He learned that where there's an addict with a yen -- no matter how thick the walls or how high the bars -- there's going to be a source of supply.

The kid recited the ways by which he saw dope smuggled into jail.

The first instance happened only hours after he was picked up. He hadn't even been transferred over to County Jail yet. He was  in the hype tank at City Jail when another prisoner who'd just been booked retched up four balloons of heroin and shared them with his cellmates.

June 4, 1959, Mirror Cover At County, the kicks ran the gamut: marijuana, pills, hard stuff and inhalers.

"The guy who pushed the cigarette cart around -- he's a county employee -- brought in the inhalers," the young man told me.

The prisoners would break them open and chew the little Mephentermine-soaked cotton pads. They'd really get high.

In drugstores, the inhalers sell for 59 cents. In cell blocks, the price varies from $1 to $4.

"Marijuana," the kid continued. "I saw brought in a couple of times by other prisoners. Usually in their shoes. Under the soles."

That's an old trick. Dope taped inside of shoes or cached in false heels.

But a method he described of smuggling in heroin was a new one -- at least to me:

June 4, 1959, Jimmy Grier "A friend on the outside will cook, say, half a gram of heroin in a spoonful of water, dip the end of a sock into it until the sock absorbs it, and then have the family bring in the socks.

"Some prisoners cut up little squares of cloth from the socks, and peddle them to other addicts. But they say that won't work if you're in on a narcotics charge," he added. "They say that the guards soak hypes' clothes in water."

We talked in detail about the methods the junkies used to get their stuff into the jail. The kid was extremely articulate and, apparently, observing.

Never once, he said, did he get any indication that the guards were involved. But, he added, there were -- from what he could learn -- five hype outfits circulating inside the jail -- all kept in the trusties' section.

I told him that a lot of his information might be of interest to chief jailer Joe Gaalken, and , asked if he'd be willing to talk to him -- especially concerning the county employee peddling the inhalers.

He would, he said, so I called chief Gaalken and outlined the kid's story.

June 4, 1959, Sylvia Porter The chief listened attentively while I spoke. Then he told me, "That kid -- he's got good information.

"As a matter of fact, we nailed the man with the inhalers a couple of weeks ago. It must have been right after the boy was released.

"But, unfortunately," he added with a sigh, "we couldn't get the D.A.'s office to file a complaint. All we could do was fire him."

It was only days ago that a county prisoner died of an overdose of heroin. "We busted 20 other prisoners when that happened," Gaalken said. "We did get seven convictions out of it."

How Do the Junkies Operate?

Then he detailed the precautions against smuggling taken by the jail. They were sound precautions. They made sense. And they made me wonder how any narcotics could possibly get in.

"We have tons of supplies coming in every week," chief Gaalken said. "We just can't open every head of lettuce."

And, considering the desperate ingenuity of the dope addict, I'm afraid that's just about what he'd have to do.