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Print Shop Radio
by Robert McCandless

Featured Article

    I always love these stories how some guy works for months with dental floss and tooth-paste to saw through bars in order to make an escape. The prison is full of these stories of genius coupled with patience and purpose for a goal. It has always eluded me as to why these men seem to use this talent, if you will, to break the law rather than live by it. This is such a story.

    Five of us worked in the cut and paste room at the prison print shop. The publisher of the prison newspaper and four others who laid out publications such as the annual report and various forms the prison used. We all worked in harmony with the very little friction.

    The print shop was in the lower yard of the Huntsville Unit (Walls) in Huntsville, Texas and that meant we had to get in a group and be let through the tunnel by security. Going from our cells to the lower yard was not so much of a security problem but coming back, we were subject to pat downs and sometimes strip searches. Their fear of us taking stuff from work back to our cells was obvious. We could have made guns and knives in our cells and carried them to the lower yard with no problems, but we had neither the equipment not the materials to do so. On the other hand, the industry in the lower yard contained a machine, sheet-metal, mechanics and other various shops. 

   We worked upstairs in an old two-story building about 100 feet wide and 250 feet long. Our area was an enclosed 20 by 20 with air conditioning and large glass windows overlooking the paper cutters and a couple of presses. We were under constant surveillance at all times.

    Policy was that there were no radios allowed at the print shop. If you let one guy or group of guys have one the rest were sure to complain so the shop boss just said, no radios. Goo was smarter than the average bear. Taking advantage of the free pass into the lower yard, he began to disassemble the radio he had in his cell and within a week he had the whole thing reassembled at the shop. We had trouble keeping watch for the guard in order to turn it off in time without arousing suspicion. Off to the mechanics shop to find a switch. Goo began carving out a hole in the door jamb to insert the push button switch. He then ran wire under molding and found a way of disguising the radio and speakers in some boxes that had been around on a shelf for years. Testing was done. The switch was set to cut power to the radio as soon as the door was opened. Adjustments were made to ensure that it switched soon enough that no one could hear it as the door opened. It had to be reset when the visitor left. 

    The old guard who worked on the second floor with us suspected something. His main job was to see that work got done in the area outside our confines. He was over us too, but we were the elite and not bothered much by the authorities. Now and then the guard would walk slowly by our space, and you could see a quizzical look on his face as if he were hearing music but as soon as he opened the door to find it, it disappeared. He asked once if we had a radio and all of us looked at him as if he were losing his mind and said, "radios are not allowed in the print shop." Goo suggested to him that he may have just had some tune he couldn't get out of his head. His anxiety grew as he looked through the large glass windows and saw us playing air guitars, but his attempts to bust us went nowhere. I often wonder if the old guard still hears music at times. 

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