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Florida Update From The Inside: Twackers: The New Space Junky?

David M. Reutter, May 30, 2021.

Over my 33 years of imprisonment, I have been to the best and worst prisons Florida operates. I have seen some conscious-shocking things and some extremely kind acts perpetrated by prisoners. My time at the now-shuttered Glades Correctional Institution in the early ’90s was a real eye opener.

It was the most wide-open prison I’ve ever served time within. Almost anything went in that low-violence environment. Drugs and alcohol were rampant. It really kept the inside economy flowing. At the time, the worst drugs were cocaine. I’d heard rumors of the occasional heroin fix happening, but few can afford to be a junky in prison. On the streets, junkies can steal and go to jail, but in prison the act of stealing is severely punished with violence to one's person, and I've seen a few killings as a result of it.

Back in those days, marijuana was all the rage in prison. This was in the days before urinalysis. So, as long as you didn’t get caught with possession, you could smoke till your heart’s content. And we did. When urinalysis came to the fore and was punishable by 60 days confinement and 180 days loss of gain time in 1994, we had to be more careful.

Actually, if you were smoking weed, you had to be a fish. If you only smoke occasionally, you’ll be clean in three days, but if you do it several times a week it takes 30 days. There are variances in between. We beat urine tests by drinking so much water that your urine was clear. Guards started doing tests between 1 and 3 a.m. to catch us. I wasn’t a very good fish because I have been to confinement three times for dirty urines of marijuana. I was placed on Close Management 1, which resulted in six months solitary and six months confinement with a cellmate, in 2003 for my second dirty urine. I have been drug-free since 2009, so many details of drug effects that follows is based upon interviewing other prisoners.

Then, in about 2012, synthetic marijuana came to the market. It was reported as being a perfect match for the marijuana high, but it just didn’t last as long. The best part: you could smoke till your heart's content and test negative on a urinalysis. The federal government then started outlawing the active ingredients in synthetic marijuana, so the chemists adjusted.

The adjustments are turning out to be lethal. The Florida Department of Corrections reports that synthetic drugs are the biggest killer of prisoners. At my prison, we have had numerous prisoners die from twacking overdoses. A couple did a head first swan dive from their top bunk into the concrete floor. Several of these men were scheduled for release in just a few months.

For the previous eight years, I was in a program dorm as a facilitator for the criminal personality corrective class. We had a few “twackers” in our dorm over that time. Twacker is the chain gang name for a prisoner who regularly uses synthetic drugs.

My first encounter with a twacker was when a sixty-something man was face planted on his bed. We thought he was having a medical incident, so we rendered aid. Turned out that he was having a normal twacking incident. He got real upset when security got involved, so I now make sure the guy is not a twacker before I render aid.

About three months ago, I was moved to the worst complex on the compound. I’d heard stories about how bad the drug epidemic was, but the reality of my current environment still shocks me each day. As I said earlier, I’ve seen a lot over the years, but nothing like what I’m experiencing now. I find it truly mystifying and very sad.

All around me, prisoners are twacking all day and night. Literally, they get up in the middle of the night to get high. I conservatively estimate that 35% of my dorm consists of twackers. It’s easy to spot a twacker aside from the fact that you see them smoking. They are the ones who get stuck in one place looking lost in space, or they are gripping onto the toilet or sink to keep from falling.

I have an old friend who became a twacker for a few months. He got stuck regularly in the bathroom. He provided one the greatest laughs I’ve had in years. He was stuck holding onto the laundry cart in the bathroom. His bunky blew up a paper bag and popped it behind him. The echo in the bathroom made it sound like a gunshot, and he jumped into the air and landed on his feet in a defensive stance looking around trying to figure out what had just happened.

When asked about the high, he said, “It's terrible.” He said he continued to do it because it was addictive. Others report the same thing. Thus, they spend every moment of the day and every penny they have feeding this addiction. Unlike my friend, few quit and many of those who do soon turn back to it.

It seems to be a relatively cheap endeavor. For a few dollars a day, one can stay in space all day. I heard one prisoner say, “What else do I have to do?” He has a point; these places are nothing but human warehouses with few real jobs or programs.

What is the reaction of security? This report is based on my experience at Sumter Correctional Institution, but I hear it is similar at many other prisons due to the breadth of the epidemic. Mostly, guards just make sure they are responsive. They will call medical on occasion to cover themselves from liability or they will tire of a particular prisoner and lock them up.

A prisoner who was at Jefferson Correctional Institution says the response of guards to twackers is violence. He said that on three occasions he was twacked out and guards took him to a secluded area and “beat my ass.” Once he was knocked unconscious. Afterwards, he was given the option of returning to the dorm or going to confinement.

I miss the old days. When 60/180, as marijuana is known in Florida prisons, was the all the rage, the only thing that got hurt was a pack of cookies.