Inmate says gangs, not officers control Lee Correctional

(Source: WIS)
(Source: WIS)

LEE COUNTY, SC (WIS) - An inmate at Lee Correctional Institution said gang members inside the level three facility control the day-to-day activity, not the corrections officers.

South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling said Monday the hours-long prison riot that resulted in the death of seven inmates and injuring 22 more on Sunday night was a result of rival gangs fighting over cell phones and territory.

The inmate, who spoke to WIS on condition of anonymity, said even those not affiliated with gang activity can become victimized.

"I might get into it with your homeboy, something like that," he said. "The homeboy may not be a gang member, but his roommate is a gang member and he'll go tell his roommate. The first thing they do is grab their knife and come looking for the person they arguing with."

He said gangs use intimidation and extortion to gain control of a dorm, even taking money from the family of prisoners not in a gang in exchange for protection inside prison walls.

According to members of the Midlands Gang Task Force, gangs are constantly evolving.

"Today's groups are all about making more money and influencing themselves and unfortunately they'll go the extra mile or effort to take a life, or to rob or do whatever it takes," Lt. Rafael Gonzalez, with the task force, said. "The best thing to do is catch this behavior early when these people are kids."

The Richland County Sheriff's Department offers resources to parents to help them combat gang-related activity or tendencies at home.

"Parents need to be watching their kid's social media accounts," Lt. Gonzalez, said. "That's how these gangs are communicating now."

As for the inmate at Lee Correctional, he said contraband cell phones are easy to come by. He also said they can often come from an unlikely source.

"The officers are the ones bringing them in," he said. "All for what, $1,000 or $1,500 to bring a phone in? If you can bring it in, you're going to bring it in."

The investigation into Sunday's deadly riots is still ongoing.

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