Calling UP Hits: Cell Phones Used Behind Bars

Inmates sneak cell phones into prisons, breaching security.

ByABC News
December 31, 2010, 10:05 AM

Dec. 31, 2010— -- For most Americans, cell phones are a way to keep in touch. But for prison inmates, they're a way to call in a hit from behind bars. While it seems as if inmates will stop at nothing to keep in touch with life outside prison walls, Capt. Robert Johnson of the South Carolina Department of Corrections and his contraband squad are on the job.

Johnson has witnessed cell-phone-strapped bazookas being blasted over prison fences. He's even seen flying footballs with wireless surprises hidden inside. When Johnson's teams search the living and work areas of South Carolina State Prison inmates, they often recover cell phones.

A contraband cell phone almost cost Johnson his life -- an inmate used one to call up a hit on the captain.

"An inmate who had a cell phone called an ex-inmate and set-up a hit on myself," Johnson told "Good Morning America."

The hitman shot Johnson six times in the chest, but he managed to survive.

"I guess the Lord just said this guy is just too ornery to die," Johnson said. "I'm going to let him live. And I lived."

Johnson's story is unfortunately just one of many, as a long string of crimes has been traced to inmates possessing illegal cell phones.

In 2007, Patrick Byers, 25, ordered a hit on Carl Lackl a week before he was scheduled to testify against Byers in a murder trial. Byers used an illegal cell phone from inside a Baltimore jail to put out a hit on Lackl. One unsuspecting summer day, Lackl was gunned down outside his house during a drive-by shooting. Byers was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Convicted mass murderer Charles Manson was also caught with a cell phone in California.

And in Texas, Richard Tabler, an inmate on death row, got hold of a cell phone and used it to repeatedly threaten a state official. In California alone, 9,648 cell phones were taken from inmates in 2010.