Law of the Jungle: Protection and Extortion in Federal Prison

The prison showers are a popular place where they get you if you don't kick up.
The prison showers are a popular place where they get you if you don't kick up.

Richard Luthmann

By Richard Luthmann

A few days ago, I published the article: Prisoners Are Not Human, But They Are Profitable. There were excellent reader comments and questions.

I liked this one  the best:

__________

Comment by Curious Prison Guy

Richard-
Will you address the protection and extortion rackets that the prison gangs, individual inmates, and guards run? Please.
These rackets exist in all prisons, even minimum security lockups.
I’m sure they got you for whatever you could afford.
I’m aware of the fact if you have nothing, they’ll force you to write family and friends for money. How much did you pay, roughly $200 a month or over $500 a month?
On the other hand…..The protection is worth it, so you don’t get your commissary stolen, receive beatings, get ass raped, or be forced to break prison rules and add to your jail time.
I support you. I’m not your biggest fan, BUT I respect the fact that you are trying to help people and standing up to a somewhat corrupt system.
___________

The Law of the Jungle

Here is my answer to Curious Prison Guy.

Prison is governed by the law of the jungle. That’s how it’s been since prison was invented in Ancient Mesopotamia. It’s never going to change.

In prison, extortion isn’t a crime. It is a fundamental prison reality, and if you allow yourself to be taken, you will be a victim.

I saw the gangs and individuals run rackets. I wasn’t involved with the guards, but you know that some people dealt with them: that’s how the guns, the drugs, and the other contraband gets into the prison. But gangsters will be gangsters. But if you’re weak, you’re a RAT, or you’re a CHOMO, expect to be paying up or “checking in” to protective custody.

Keith Raniere is in the SHU. And there he will stay unless they allow him to "pay up" to stay on the compound.

Keith Raniere is in the SHU. And there he will stay unless they allow him to “pay up” to remain on the compound.

Keith Raniere, for example, will have to pay for protection wherever he goes. That’s just a fact of prison life. His stint in the SHU looks like USP Tucson retaliation directed by the guards.

But, you can’t discount that maybe the run-in with the Adonis dude who cracked him at chow was an extortion play that went bad and landed Raniere in the SHU, and the BOP just seized the opportunity to keep him there with his tranny cellie Toni Fly.

Raniere may be there “for his protection.”

Making Moves and Getting Entrepreneurial

I found that “protection” is more important, the higher the security level.

If you’re going to be entrepreneurial, expect to get affiliated or kick up. For example, one of the biggest things people do in prison is bet. You bet on all the games, because you have nothing better to do. Making book is big business in prison. But you have to be affiliated. That means you had to have the backing of a “car,” meaning a gang or powerful crew. If you weren’t kicking up, you would get eaten up. Someone would stop by to extort you by the end of the week.

I was in several prisons: MDC-Brooklyn, FMC-Devens, USP Caanan (for a few days), and LSCI-Allenwood.

At MDC-Brooklyn (where I spent most of my time), the Bloods controlled the book, at least in my unit.

At LSCI-Allenwood, it was a little looser because it was a Low-Security.

My bookie was unaffiliated, but kicked up, so he was protected.

Devens was a bit of a joke. That’s where I ran into Anthony Weiner (CHOMO). There were so many CHOMOs running around, the place was ass-backwards, and there was no real book. Anywhere else, Carlos Danger would have been kicking up.

Anthony Weiner aka Carlos Danger was a resident of FMC-Devens.

CHOMO Anthony Weiner, aka Carlos Danger, was a resident of FMC-Devens.

I got entrepreneurial at the MDC-Brooklyn. The facility operates under USP protocols, and you’re locked down a lot. Part of that is to “break” the pre-trial detainees. But part of it is to accommodate the fact that you have all security levels at a Detention Center – from Camp up to USP. That is why Detention Centers are the most dangerous places in the BOP.

When you have a white-collar criminal with money, he is easy pickings for the prison gangs.

Jailhouse Attorney at Law

I survived because I got muscle on day 1. I set up a jail law office, and my partner was “Rus the Russian” from Brighton Beach. We got clients, and we split everything 50-50. It was a great deal for me.

I just did legal work.

Rus (short for Ruslan) also used his specific talents – he did “client management and collections.” It was a match made in heaven.

If I could have operated like this out on the street, I probably would have been too busy making money practicing law ever to piss off enough politicians to get sent to prison.

At MDC, I had additional muscle from the Bloods. They were good dudes, at least the ones I got to know. Very respectful and honorable, but don’t cross them. The U.S. Attorneys tried to screw the Bloods (and all the other gangsters) at every corner.

I had my first Bloods’ client show me his Plea Agreement after we got to talking at a Spades game. He was about to sign the plea deal.

I told him it was a “dummy plea” because only a dummy would sign it. And thus began the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

“Expanded Relevant Conduct,” aka Government Bullshit

The SDNY under Geoffrey Berman had (and maybe they still have) a provision in their Plea Agreements, where the Defendant agreed to the application of the Sentencing Guidelines before Trump’s First Step Act (FSA) Amendments. The FSA reduced mandatory minimums on drug weights, which was significant because most MDC-Brooklyn detainees I ran into were there for drug cases.

Geoffrey Berman served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2018 to 2020.

Geoffrey Berman served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2018 to 2020.

The U.S. Attorneys tried to fool these kids (because most were all pretty young) into waiving the benefits of the First Step Act so they could stack on additional YEARS to the sentences based on drug weight and the amorphous (bullshit) concept of “expanded relevant conduct.”

Here’s the deal on that:

You do a buy with a federal undercover. You sell him 10 grams of a substance in a controlled purchase. The Feds also staked you out for two months selling on your corner.

There were no other controlled buys. What’s your drug weight at sentencing?

For the Feds, you sold AT LEAST 600 grams of the substance.

They have you for 10 grams. And then, they use the “expanded relevant conduct” to estimate your drug weight at 10 grams x 60 days of stakeout = 600 grams.

That gets you some STAR WARS NUMBERS at sentencing.

Enhanced Relevant Conduct is some absolute bullshit, and it was even worse before Trump blew up the mandatory minimums of drug weight under the FSA.

Once I pointed this out to the the young Bloods member first guy, he lost his shit. He went to court the next day, told his AUSA to shove the plea, fired his public defender, and told everyone off – in open court.

Enhanced Relevant Conduct allows the Government to hang serious weight on corner drug dealers.

Enhanced Relevant Conduct allows the Government to hang serious weight on corner drug dealers.

A few weeks later (after serious counseling over spades and pinochle), he got a new lawyer and a new plea that preserved his benefits under the First Step Act.

I saved the guy about five years in prison.

After that, every one of the Bloods was at my door when they got their Plea Agreements. I gave them all a “professional courtesy” and took a look for free so when I needed to, later on, I could “cash in” on my goodwill when necessary.

Plea Agreement review became big business for me. Because I had the Bloods and Rus’ protection, I could charge the MS-13, the Puerto Ricans, unaffiliated folks, and others for review and other legal needs.

I wouldn’t help CHOMOs or RATs, which is a good general principle in life.

My most high-profile “client” was Roger Thomas Clark from the Silk Road, but that is a story for another day.

We’re All Paying For Protection

Was I “paying” for protection? I guess, but I saw it as the cost of doing business. There is a prison order. Everyone kicks up to somebody, and things go smoothly. There is something to be said about having an order. Everyone benefits. The cops aren’t there to protect you. Everything went more smoothly when the cops stayed in their bubbles.

Was I worried about an ass rape? Not really. If I was in a U.S. Penitentiary, maybe. But I did get into a couple of run-ins, and I had to take a couple of beatings. That’s prison life. If they come for you, you can’t be afraid of the SHU, and you have to fight back even if you lose.

Because if they know you will fight back, they will find someone weaker to prey on the next time, someone who won’t fight back—the law of the jungle.

The prison showers are a popular place where they get you if you don't kick up.

The prison showers are a popular place where they get you if you don’t kick up.

I hope I answered some of your questions.

About the author

Richard Luthmann

Richard Luthmann is a writer, commentator, satirist, and investigative journalist with degrees from Columbia University and the University of Miami. Once a fixture in New York City and State politics, Luthmann is a recovering attorney who lives in Southwest Florida and a proud member of the National Writers Union. 

For Article Ideas, Tips, or Help: richard.luthmann@protonmail.com or call 239-287-6352.

6 Comments

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  • I think it’s too painful and sickening for most of America to consider. Anyone. can land in prison- anyone can land in prison on false charges. So many in prison are innocent and still, the public is controlled and dominated by the abuse of government power.

    Why does the BOP get a pass when everyone knows they are abusing their power and treating our family, friends, and U.S. citizens as animals? This will never improve society but only cause needless pain. It’s barbaric.

  • Richard-

    Thanks for taking so much time to address my question. I appreciate it.

    I know of 2 men who were shaken down by the prison protection rackets.

    Both men had trouble paying. One man was so desperate that he was writing letters to extended family, friends and even acquaintances pleading for money.

    The other man’s parents made protection payments via putting money on commissary accounts or making dead-drop cash payments in envelopes. This particular man purposely got himself thrown in the SHU sometimes to avoid beatings for late payments.
    In addition he was forced to hide contraband and received extra prison time.

    Most former inmates are reluctant to talk about the shakedowns. You are one of the few.

    The public should be made aware of the prison extortion rackets so the politicians finally do something.

    Thanks again!

    • SHAKEDOWN! God those shakedown sucked. Gaurds destroyed everything and left us all on the yard with our bra and panties.

  • It’s great you were an attorney and got protection right away. It’s also good that your role allowed others from being taken by the government.

    What options do other people have if they don’t have legal skills to earn protection?

    What other skills are of benefit to the prison population?

    • You have to affiliate. You have to join a prison “car.” When you’re not an apex predator, you have to stick together as a herd to survive. That’s the zebra’s strategy against the lion.

      • I would have to find a bunch of zebra’s for sure. Good for you for surviving this atrocity of justice that we call “serving time.” It’s Sadistic Torture

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