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Contraband and the horse and pug riddle
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 09/30/2019

Pug This article was originally published on Corrections.com in August 2014.

Everyone knows someone who has a knack for provoking thought. A friend of mine frequently asks me questions that are odd and interesting. Here is an installment: “Would you rather fight 100 pug-sized horses or one horse-sized pug?”

At the time, my mind was rather occupied with a particular contraband control issue. But the unusual images pulled me away from that stream of thought. What an odd concept. Yet, it seems that the chief issue is would you rather tackle one large and visible problem or many tiny problems?

I imagined the normally sedentary pug as a one ton carnivore, imposing because of its size. It is as big as a horse, after all. How could one tackle that colossal beast, arguably the largest terrestrial carnivore today? Then I thought of 100 horses at about 20 pounds each. A single horseling would be no problem to control. But the thought of one hundred of them brings its unique set of problems. How does one corral 100 miniature horses? Which particular horse does one target to maximize control? Do all tiny horses need to be subdued or merely swept from view?

This can be superimposed on contraband control.

100 pug-sized horses – One can think of this as a multitude of seemingly insignificant exchanges of bootleg. There are numerous trading and sales of betting slips, candy, and medication. These traders are not connected together and are often chaotic. If you catch one, many others gallop away.

Is this dangerous? Perhaps small items that are not obviously perilious can be dismissed. Yet, continued trade can weed out less cautious vendors and spawn an oligarchy of contrabandist who eventually specialize in more dangerous fare. It is like the fast growing weed that is not pulled until a shovel is needed.

Small problems, even if there are many, need to be addressed. Realistically there are only so many tiny contraband schemes that one can hinder. Time and many locations are limiting factors for staff. Still, the contraband that you stop and remove from the system may have otherwise grown into a bigger problem.

One horse-sized pug – This can be represented by one prolific weapons manufacturer. A virtual bayonet factory. This prisoner has supplied the highest bidder with metal and plastic blades. The contrabandist has many well paid eyes and ears as defense. He has paid others to act as diversions to thwart discovery by staff.

This is obviously more dangerous than the nuisance contraband described above. Order is directly at stake. Injury is more likely. The risk is higher and more imminent. And the problem is not likely to go away with just a few exchanges of good and services. The demand is high and the contrabandist is rewarded for production.

In both cases, recognizing the scope of the problem is key in maintain safety in our facilities. One size does not fit all. Yet, some common strategies can be employed. Here are some general ways to combat many little contraband problems or one large challenge to safety:
  • Communicate with colleagues. Do not let small observations go unreported;
  • Document what you find, who was involved, where and when the transaction took place;
  • Look for patterns;
  • Write the appropriate misconduct;
  • Vary your search pattern and rounds as possible;
  • Do not relax vigilance when some contraband is uncovered. Continue the campaign.
Contraband beasts come in all shapes and sizes. They may not always be large and obvious. In all cases, they are dangerous or potentially dangerous. No matter the size or scope of the problem, contraband should not be ignored.

In the end, we realize that we cannot choose our problems. If 100 little problems manifest, we need to address them. If one gargantuan problem looms, we have to adapt strategies to vanquish it. How we react to contraband will set the stage for the safety of staff, offenders, and he public.

Joe Bouchard is a retired corrections veteran and writer with 25 years of experience. At the time of his retirement, he was employed as a librarian by the Michigan Department of Corrections and was collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014” and "Operation Icebreakers: Shooting for Excellence" among others. The installments in this series include his opinions. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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