This Is My Jail

Where gang members and their female guards set the rules.

On January 5, 2013, Tavon White, an inmate at the Baltimore City Detention Center, had a cell-phone conversation that was intercepted on an F.B.I. wiretap. “This is my jail, you understand that,” White told an unidentified friend. “I’m dead serious. I make every final call in this jail. . . . Everything come to me. Before a motherfucker hit a nigga in the mouth, guess what they do—they gotta run it through me. I tell them whether it’s a go ahead and they can do it or whether they hold back. Before a motherfucker stab somebody, they gotta run it through me.” White was a leader of a gang called the Black Guerrilla Family. The gang had such control over inmates in the facility that, as White put it in another phone call, “I got elevated to the seat where as though nobody in the jail could outrank me. . . . Like, I am the law. . . . So if I told any motherfucking body they had to do this, hit a police, do this, kill a motherfucker, anything, it got to be done. Period.”

White, who was facing trial for the attempted murder of a fellow gang member in a dispute over drug turf, controlled B.C.D.C. inmates by directing an underground economy, based principally on the sale of drugs. The B.C.D.C. holds between two thousand and twenty-three hundred inmates at a time, and the authorities estimate that about half are addicts of one kind or another. White and his gang supplied the demand by smuggling and selling tobacco, marijuana, prescription drugs, and food. Most important, though, was the Black Guerrilla Family’s control of cell phones inside the jail, because money changed hands through the use of the phones. Inmates paid for drugs and other contraband by texting fourteen-digit numbers to load money onto Green Dot MoneyPak cards belonging to Black Guerrilla Family members inside and outside the facility. Gang leaders, in turn, used the Green Dot cards to pay their suppliers and enjoy their profits. White bought a BMW and a Mercedes-Benz while he was an inmate.

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