"It's almost a big opportunity to do a lot of bragging and show off how tough they think they are."
That's Harris County, Texas prosecutor Bill Hawkins talking about the extreme measures some inmates are taking to smuggle smartphones into prisons so they can post selfies to Facebook. Houston's prudish KPRC NBC affiliate didn't elaborate beyond that comment, but they did post an x-ray photograph that made the implications clear as a colonoscopy: Prisoners are stuffing clunky, vibrating, rectangular blocks of silicon and glass up their butts. So they can use Facebook.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook kingpin and the world's biggest social media pusher, must be so pleased.
While the main motivation for prisoners seems to be posting photographs of themselves, investigators say many others use the phones to orchestrate all manner of crimes outside the prison walls—from stealing identities to ordering hits.
"Gangs use the cell phones not only to communicate with people in the free world and coordinate all types of activity, but often times they're talking to offenders on other units," an official told KPRC.
Meanwhile, victims' rights groups say the problem makes their healing process that much more difficult. Their tormentors are supposed to be behind bars, but thanks to the ubiquity of the social network, they can reach out and touch almost anyone in the world.
"It just opens the wounds," Tonya Hardin, member of the Houston-area Parents of Murdered Children group told KPRC.. "It's just another way to make us victims all over again."
Texas isn't alone. Across the United States, smartphones are becoming a hot piece of contraband, a small tool of extraordinary versatility. And while much of that activity is dangerous—say, filming officers as they make their rounds to show other inmates their patterns—inmates are just as often using Facebook for the type of self-aggrandizing fluff that typifies the social network. Just last week, 70 inmates (many of whom were murderers or rapists) in 14 prisons across Tennessee were disciplined after they were caught posting photos of themselves posing with piles of drugs and cash.
Illustration by Fernando Alfonso III