1st Oct 04
How do inmates trade goods at SMU when they are never allowed out of their cells? The answer is by "fishing".
A fishing line consists of a long piece of string with a weight attached to one end. The string is usually obtained from bed sheets or prison attire. Weights can be made from combs, soap, plastic bags containing toothpaste, or the flat end of a toothpaste tube snapped off from the rest of the tube, the latter option being the most popular due to its efficiency. Using these items an adept fisherman can assemble a fishing line in excess of twenty-feet long.
To exchange goods with someone housed on the same floor, two inmates will first ascertain whether each of them have sufficient lengths of fishing line to meet each other. Every cell door has a two-centimeter gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. The possessor of the longest fishing line will slide his weight under his door in the direction of the room that he wishes to trade with. Depending upon his fishing skills, it may take several attempts to get the weight into the desired area. Following a failed attempt, the fisherman simply yanks the line back into his cell and tries again. When the weight is in a good spot, the second fisherman will slide his weight out, aiming to catch his weight on his trading partners line. Upon snagging the line, the second fisherman will then reel in both lines. The lines are then securely tied and store items can be transferred to and fro by attaching a large Manila envelope to the joint line, and filling it with the desired goods.
Passing flat items such as stamps, envelopes, newspapers, pen refills, and paper is easy. Larger items such as chips (crisps) or candy bars have to be squashed flat or crushed into fine particles. Coffee and stamps are the two most heavily-traded items.
How do inmates housed upstairs trade with inmates housed below them? This requires lengthy fishing lines and considerable talent. The upstairs inmate slides his weight directly out from under his cell door and over the balcony in the direction of the inmatel downstairs who he wishes to trade with. It may take several attempts to get the weight positioned in a good spot downstairs. The downstairs inmate then slides his weight out and when the two are connected he reels them both in. Items can be passed up and down, between the two floors, via the two joined lines using envelopes or plastic bags.
Sometimes, mishaps occur, lines may snap and loads may get stuck on the run. Fishing rods made out of newspaper can be used to retrieve lost items or lines when such accidents happen.
Fishing is banned and opportunistic guards will snatch fishing lines. Getting caught fishing after receiving a warning can result in a fisherman getter stripped out. Being stripped out consists of an invasive strip search followed by a rigorous cell search. Master fishermen will generally fish after the hourly guard walks, to minimise their chances of losing their lines.
When fishing traffic is in full flow, the run takes on a life of its own. Envelopes are rapidly sliding across the floor and plastic bags can be seen floating upwards as if they were balloons. Fishing lines are barely visible, so to an observer it looks as if ghosts are moving objects around. It is an amazing sight to first lay eyes on, and a credit to inmate ingenuity.