Wrong number: Contraband cellphones are major problem at Oklahoma prisons

An investigation by The Oklahoman found thousands of the state's prison inmates have access to smuggled cellphones. Dozens of the inmates use them to get on Facebook.
by Andrew Knittle and Nolan Clay Modified: September 22, 2013 at 11:00 pm •  Published: September 22, 2013

©Copyright 2013, The Oklahoman

Like a lot of guys their age, brothers Clifford and Cliffton Putman regularly get on Facebook to stay in touch with friends, flirt with women and publish thoughts on life.

“U like gangstas?” Clifford Putman, 26, wrote one woman in May who commented on his profile picture.

“Sorry got nuthin for gangs!” the woman responded. “nice body i might add!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Both brothers are convicted murderers, serving lengthy prison terms at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester for a fatal shooting. There, and across the state's prison system, it is against the rules to access social media sites.

An investigation by The Oklahoman found dozens of male state inmates have used smuggled cellphones to access Facebook from behind bars. The inmates blatantly post online personal photos taken with cellphone cameras. Many strip to the waist to show off tattoos. Some flash gang signs.

Some have made hundreds of online “friends,” mostly women. With their cellphones, inmates can access these friends' own Facebook pages. One of Cliffton Putman's recently added friends is a Miami, OK, strip club manager. Her Facebook page features dirty jokes and photos of the club's half-naked dancers on stripper poles.

Some inmates get caught — one when he sent a “friend” request to a corrections officer's Facebook page, prison records show.

Also ...

Oklahoma inmates access Facebook with smuggled cellphones

“He also sent one to one of my family members,” the officer wrote.

Other inmates are getting away with Facebook use, the newspaper's investigation found.

One inmate posted comments as recently as Saturday.

While seemingly innocuous, inmates on Facebook are the most visible examples of a growing problem that corrections officials have been powerless to stop.

How do they get access?

Cellphones are regularly being smuggled into the state's correctional facilities, allowing murderers, rapists, thieves and other criminals a direct and unmonitored connection to the outside world. Hundreds of contraband cellphones are seized each year.

Since Jan. 1, 2012, guards have caught inmates with cellphones or found evidence of illegal cellphone use more than 3,000 times, records show.

Two hundred of those inmates were murderers, the records show.

Inmates have used contraband cellphones to access pornography, operate drug rings, make threats and contact relatives and friends, prison and court records show.

Also ...

Hide and Seek: Places Oklahoma prison inmates hid cellphones

Last year, a thief was suspected of using a cellphone to extort money from another inmate's mother, the records show.

One inmate was suspected of using a cellphone in 2006 to order a “hit” on his own brother for being a snitch, court records show. The inmate was never charged in his brother's 2006 fatal shooting because of insufficient evidence.

One female inmate was caught in a prison shower making a cellphone video of another female inmate who was naked and speaking baby talk, the records show.

Often, a caught inmate would break the cellphone or flush it down a toilet, the records show.

Guards and inmates' relatives smuggle in many of the cellphones, officials say, but organized groups have become part of the growing problem. Sometimes, getting a cellphone inside a prison is as simple as throwing it over the fence.

Continue reading this story on the...

by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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