January 31, 2023
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An inmate at the Ozark Correctional Center says the prison is flooded with drugs.

Roughly three inmates in Missouri prisons have died every week for the past five months, an alarming number that is even more alarming because it coincides with a strict new postal policy to keep drugs like fentanyl and synthetic marijuana out of state correctional facilities.


A new postal policy, effective July 1, prohibits prisoners from receiving physical mail. Instead, the mail is sent to Florida, where it is scanned and an electronic copy sent to the prisoners on their tablets.

In the five months leading up to July 1, 48 inmates died at the Missouri State Penitentiary. But in the five months since then, there have been 60 deaths. Not all deaths are due to overdoses, but a quick look at those who die in custody reveals that many of these deaths cannot easily be attributed to natural causes.

Seven inmates at Licking prison died within a month of each other this autumn; their average age was 41 years. Three young people – two in their 30s and one in their 20s – died within a week of each other in Bonn-Terre prison in October. According to records from the Missouri Department of Corrections, the average age of 10 people who died in a Missouri state prison in the same month was about 45 years old.


One current MODOC prisoner spoke to RFT on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by prison staff. He said that despite being in the Ozark Correctional Center, a facility focused on helping inmates with alcohol and drug problems, drugs are pouring into him.

“I’m in a treatment camp and everyone here is smoking,” the prisoner says.

He says the two most popular drugs are fentanyl and a synthetic marijuana called K2. Methamphetamine ranks third. He goes on to say that in his years in the state prison system, he has seen synthetic marijuana become more potent, its effect on users more pronounced. What used to make weed high now sends users into what inmates at the Ozark Correctional Center call “episodes.”


In the morning this prisoner spoke to RFT, he saw a prisoner high on K2 walk out into the cold in his boxers and crash right into a concrete wall. Not so long ago, a prisoner who had an “episode” jumped from the second tier of an apartment building.

“That shit makes you stupid,” the prisoner says. “A person will wake up and find himself in a hole and will not remember what happened.”

In an email to RFTMODOC spokeswoman Karen Poymann stressed that the problem of drug overdoses is by no means exclusive to prisons and that drug problems in prisons cannot be separated from the wider epidemic.

“There is no possibility in a hermetically sealed bubble,” she says.

In addition to making people act irrationally, K2 also makes a lot of money from those who put him in jail.

According to an Ozark inmate, a small piece of K2-treated material about the size of a fingernail, called a “stick” in prison, costs $5. A stamp-sized piece soaked in K2 sells for $50, an ID-card-sized piece for $300, a half page for $750, and a whole sheet for about $1,200.

As expensive as K2 is, this prisoner says that fentanyl is something people will “get rich off of” and a gram costs between $300 and $400.

Poymann told RFT that “the demand for drugs drives the supply of drugs, and the demand comes from offenders who use drugs.”

Poymann adds that the department is expanding drug recovery services, as well as prisoner access to drug treatment and the availability of drug addiction.

The ease with which these drugs can be hidden makes it “virtually impossible to prevent something as small as a lethal dose of fentanyl from getting in without all food, medicine, legal mail and people getting into this facility,” Poyman. He speaks.

prisoner tells RFT that sometimes money is exchanged through items bought from the shop. In other cases, it happens through sexual favors. But most of the time, the money moves through CashApp when a prisoner buyer instructs his family on the side to send the money to an account linked to another prisoner or employee.

Among those who pay attention to MODOC, it was no secret to anyone that with the physical mail closed and the visitors to the prisoners being searched, the drugs mainly get through the prison staff. Both activists who closely follow MODOC, as well as the director of the Missouri Corrections Union, previously told RFT so many. Poymann recently confirmed to Fox’s Ozark affiliate that employees had recently been arrested and fired for smuggling.

In June, Michael L. Lonsky, 30, a correctional officer in Licking, was arrested on charges of smuggling drugs into the prison where he worked. lick the news reported that Lonsky told police that he met with the prisoner’s family and agreed to smuggle a sheet of paper soaked in “liquid drugs” in exchange for money from the family.

According to a Licking Police Department report, Lonsky said he smuggled drugs into the prison for five months, during which time he said he made about $30,000.

In a police statement, Lonsky said he was first approached by two inmates who threatened to kill his children. They said they knew his address, the cars his family drives, the age of his children, and the time his family would be home. Lonsky initially agreed to do drug smuggling to protect his family. However, Lonsky later said that he was paid $2,000 for shipping.

He met regularly with one of the mothers of the inmates at the local Jack in the Box store, where he collected K2-soaked birthday cards that Lonsky smuggled into the prison in his shoe. During routine cell checks, he slipped cards under the prisoners’ cots. A random search by corrections officers revealed a smuggling scheme. Lonxy is due to appear in court early next year.

But even after Lonsky’s arrest, the drugs continued to seep in. Since August, seven men have died in Licking, a month apart. Three of the men had fentanyl in their systems, and another had a combination of fentanyl and xylazine, an equine tranquilizer even more powerful than fentanyl.

In October 2020, a 39-year-old woman who worked as a cook at the Jefferson City Correctional Center was arrested in jail with 39 grams of methamphetamine and one pound of K2. Methamphetamine was packaged for distribution, and K2 was rolled up into bundles to be smuggled into the prison.

Although the case is two years old, a source at the Cole County Sheriff’s Office said it is still pending with prosecutors and no actual charges have been filed against her.

According to St. Louis Public Radio, employees found to be drug smugglers are routinely turned over to a warden and “fired,” meaning they lose their jobs but are not turned over to law enforcement.

Correctional officer Timothy Davis was harassed. Local police arrested him in Moberley Jail with six ounces of a “leaf substance” that had been sprayed with K2. He later said that he was paid $300 via CashApp for delivery. He pleaded guilty to delivering a controlled substance to prison and received a five-year sentence.

Correctional officers have long complained about being overworked and underpaid, so it’s no surprise that some of them find ways to make easy and illegal money. In a statement to the police, Davis stated that he was about to lose his house. Lonsky, the man who said he made $30,000 in drug smuggling in five months, received a salary of just under $35,000.

The woman who asked to be called only Ann often visits a loved one at Farmington Correctional Center. She says the prison has recently installed body-scanning machines for outside visitors.

We are talking about Tek84 Intercept scanners, the cost of which, according to various sources, ranges from 145,000 to 160,000 dollars each.

Like most people who pay attention to Missouri correctional facilities, Ann knows how drugs get into prisons and how dangerous they are. She says it bothers her and other patrons to be thoroughly searched when they see staff let through.

“I’m so confused as to why I have to take off my shoes, hand over my jacket and change bag to be looked at, but the staff walk right through the metal detector and don’t,” says Ann. RFT. “One of the employees turned on the metal detector and the employees monitoring this asked what caused it, and the employees who came in just said, ‘Oh, those are my boots’ and then they just walked in.”

This project was completed with the support of a grant from the Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights at Columbia University in conjunction with Arnold Ventures.

We welcome advice and feedback. Write to the author at [email protected] or follow Twitter at @RyanWKrull.

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