- The Washington Times - Friday, May 31, 2002

City prison officials yesterday gathered a small cache of homemade knives, pornographic magazines and other contraband during a shakedown of the more than 1,000 cells at the D.C. jail.

Corrections officers used the "annual spring-cleaning party" mainly to hunt for "shanks" daggerlike weapons fashioned secretly by inmates using makeshift materials.

"It could be anything, like a plastic spoon melted down or a nail or a sharpened broomstick. Anything capable of causing a puncture wound," said Marvin Brown, deputy director of the D.C. Central Detention facility.

"You'd be amazed at how creative these guys can be in making weapons," added Corrections Department spokesman Darryl Madden. "This one guy once melted down a shampoo bottle and reshaped it into a dagger."

No such imaginatively designed instruments turned up during yesterday's search conducted by three teams of correctional officers between 7 a.m. and noon.

But several more rudimentary weapons were discovered and jail officials insisted the search was necessary to ensure the safety of inmates and prison guards, and to prevent the pileup of trash and items such as extra bedsheets in inmates' cells, most of which are 8 feet by 12 feet and windowless.

During past shakedowns, prison officials have collected everything from dirty pictures to shanks and, occasionally, "tiny amounts of narcotics," Mr. Madden said.

Several inmates were upset that their magazines were confiscated yesterday along with other "possessions" that would take on a whole new degree of importance to the incarcerated.

"Man, take a look at what they did to our room," one prisoner, handcuffed to his cellmate during the shakedown, told a reporter from The Washington Times.

"They come in here and go through everything," said another. "They take our little plastic cups we use to drink water out of. It's nothing but a bunch of wickedness going on in here."

Asked why he was incarcerated, the inmate repeatedly professed his innocence and claimed mistreatment. "I'm being held illegally," he said. "I'm here on a false arrest in Virginia. The way this jail is ran [sic], it's ridiculous. It's inhumane. They only give you one lowly roll of toilet paper a week."

Deputy Warden Steve A. Smith a bearded, thickly built 6-footer who's on a first-name basis with dozens of the inmates and strolls past their cells like he's in his own living room felt vindicated yesterday with the discovery of seven metal shanks hidden throughout the jail.

"One of the shanks was found in an inmate's cell and the rest were found in common areas," Mr. Smith said. "We also found a lot of nuisance contraband and extra mattresses, jumpsuits, and linens and towels and those kinds of things."

In one inmate's cell, officials uncovered what apparently was a "store" of goods, including several pair of used sneakers and about 50 pair of unworn underpants.

Corrections officers said they didn't know how the inmate had acquired the goods, but it was likely he intended to sell them to other inmates for cigarettes, special snacks or possibly narcotics. "He basically had like a mini-Wal-Mart in there," said one officer.

The officers found a 14-inch-long steel shank, carefully hidden beneath the door of one of the few empty cells. Because of the prudent manner in which it was hidden, officials said identifying the weapon's creator won't be easy.

However, the inmate caught with a shank in his own cell will be duly prosecuted, Mr. Smith said. "He'll get 14 days in lockdown and the loss of privileges for 30 days."

Privileges include meetings with visitors and the freedom to purchase snacks at the jail's canteen. Lockdown consists of what prison officials call the "Seg" segregation.

The "Seg" cellblock is a dreary place where inmates are stripped of their few freedoms and spend 23 of 24 hours locked in a cell. During the one hour out of the cell, inmates are not allowed access to the outdoor recreation area, but are restricted to a series of small rooms, most equipped with worn-down picnic tables. One larger room, accessible only by passing through the small door of a chain-link fence, contains a basketball hoop without a net.

After the shakedown, three inmates were added to a group of 26 already doing hard time in the "Seg." The three will await an in-house disciplinary hearing at which jail officials will decide whether to press criminal charges.

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