Guerrilla Radio: How some prison inmates hack, rewire, and retool their radios to create walkie-talkies

Guerrilla Radio: How some prison inmates hack, rewire, and retool their radios to create walkie-talkies

Take notes from this Marshall Project post: you’ll want to retool your radio too come the Apocalypse:

Prisoners face numerous restrictions when communicating with one another or the outside world. But where there is a rule, there is often a workaround. At Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California, inmates have yelled to one another through drainpipes under their cells; inmates in Texas talk through cans connected with twine; and in facilities throughout the country, little paper notes — known as “kites” — are literally handed off. As technology has developed, so have the communication methods; cell phones and iPods are regularly smuggled to inmates by visitors and guards. And occasionally, the technology is already inside the prison. Some inmates have learned how to transform their radios into devices that allow them to talk to each other and even eavesdrop on guards.

Once an inmate has purchased an analog radio from the prison commissary (they usually cost less than $30), he can open it up and pull apart a coil, which changes the range of frequency that the radio can access. All the inmate needs to do next is find the frequency that the staff uses on their walkie-talkies. Modifying a radio for two-way communication requires reversing an electrical current to turn a speaker into a microphone. As Ruth Massingill and Ardyth Broadrick wrote in their 2007 book, Prison City, about prison conditions in Huntsville, Texas, “Transforming a radio into a vocal transmitter-receiver requires only a basic knowledge of electronics, a skill readily found within prisons.”

An Insider’s Perspective

In 1976, John Draper, known among hackers as Captain Crunch, was incarcerated at a low security federal prison in Lompoc, California (for phone fraud, incidentally). Upon arrival, he bought a radio from the commissary and re-wired it in the electrical shop so that he could hear walkie-talkie chatter among guards. Because the guards were required to report their movements, Draper was able to know when the coast was clear for other activities — like teaching other prisoners how to modify their own radios. Nobody, as far as Draper knows, was ever caught. “The guards are so clueless,” he says.

That’s less the case today. A correctional officer at the Goree Unit, near Huntsville, Texas, who asked not to be named said staff recently sent a prisoner to solitary confinement after they found that his radio had been doctored. “He could hear our radios and he could transmit out,” she says…

[continues at the Marshall Project]

majestic

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