- The A&E documentary series “60 Days In” sends regular, law-abiding citizens to jail as undercover inmates.
- Violence is a common theme throughout the show, and some of the participants learned that fights are often directed by gang members on the outside.
- Inmates could communicate with leaders of their gang with smuggled cell phones and letters written in secret code.
In jail, violence always seems to be lurking around the corner.
On the A&E documentary series “60 Days In,” which sends seven ordinary people to jail as undercover inmates for two months, law-abiding citizens found out just how bad the beatings can get.
A recurring theme throughout the show’s five seasons is how inmates use the threat of violence to enforce their unwritten rules and keep social order. Bloody brawls erupt out of seemingly trivial disputes, like when an inmate went back on a deal to give someone his hash browns, or when another inmate was rumored to have gossiped behind someone else’s back.
Fights depicted on the show are usually organized by “pod bosses,” the most veteran inmates who govern their respective cliques and often have gang affiliations outside of jail.
But as some of the undercover inmates discovered, even pod bosses don’t always have the final word. In some cases, violence that took place inside the jail had been coordinated by gang members on the outside.
The practice was especially common in Atlanta’s Fulton County Jail, where the show’s third and fourth seasons were filmed. About 500 of the jail’s 2,500 inmates had gang affiliations, chief jailer Mark Adger told Business Insider. Gang members from different sets, neighborhood offshoots of the same gang, had to get word from outside before they could settle a score on the inside.
“It was very interesting,” an undercover inmate at Fulton County Jail named Nate told Business Insider (participants did not use their last names on the show for their safety). “If two individuals wanted to fight, and they’re in the same gang, they’d have to call out in the real world and get it approved to fight another person from another set.”
Fights could be coordinated any number of ways – through in-house phone calls, contraband cell phones that had been smuggled in, family visits, or even letters written in secret code.
Once a fight between members of the same gang was approved, Burrell said, members of the gang would hold a secret meeting in a cell, where the inmates could brawl behind closed doors. Fights generally lasted 20 to 30 seconds depending on the gang, he said.
Another participant named Ryan, who spent two months undercover at southern Indiana’s Clark County Jail for the show’s second season, said the transient population of the jail allowed for local gangs to establish presences there.
“Gangs are set up a lot like businesses. They are organized to conduct business both inside and outside the facility,” he told Business Insider.
In correctional facilities, inmates who have top status within their gang are said to have the “keys to the yard,” Ryan said, and frequently interact with their bosses on the outside.
“Think of them as business managers,” he said. “If a guy has keys to the yard, he is likely in communications with outside officials for the gang. You can think of the outside contacts as regional or corporate offices.”
But communication with the outside world isn’t easy with corrections officers and jail administrators monitoring phone calls and mail that inmates receive. Inmates must often resort to “flying kites,” or discreetly sending notes to other wings of the jail, in order to establish contact with gang members on the outside.
That system doesn’t always result in the most trustworthy information, Secord said.
“Just imagine orders to beat a guy into a coma because of secondhand information,” he said. “The disturbing part isn’t the fact that they could get information, it is the way information is dealt with. There is no calm, rational discourse, no empirical analysis or collection of evidence.”
The latest episode of the fifth season of “60 Days In,” filmed at Arizona’s Pinal County Adult Detention Center, airs Thursday at 10 p.m.