DRAPER — Mail workers at the Utah State Prison received an award for excelling their work of examining all letters and finding contraband mailed to inmates — including drugs mixed with crayon.
For 22 years, Petty Schwimmer has been ripping open envelopes just to peek at what's inside.
"You can't see if you just go like this," said Schwimmer, holding the envelope down on her desk. "Sometimes you can see like that," she said as she held the envelope up to a light.
Normally, opening mail that doesn't belong to you would be considered illegal. However, Schwimmer is doing it because the person receiving the mail has already done something illegal.
Schwimmer is one of eight mail workers at the Utah State Prison in Draper. Their job is to go through every single one of the roughly 10,000 pieces of mail coming into the prison every week. The crew looks for drugs that people on the outside try to get to people in prison.
"They try to put the drugs in any place they can. On, in, or outside the envelopes." Schwimmer said. "I know what I'm looking for. We've been trained real well."
Schwimmer said some people try to hide drugs in the seam of an envelope, and others try to hide them behind stamps. A few will even try to slice a thick page of a card in half to hide drugs in there.
Workers said they find something illegal at least every couple of days.
"We have to be very careful when we open envelopes because we never know what we're going to find," Schwimmer said.
Sometimes, workers find body fluids, but they said they didn't want to elaborate.
"Body fluids on the envelope coming in and out. Yeah. You can't even imagine what they have to deal with each and every day," said Lt. Ericson Smith, who oversees the mail facility at the prison.
The workers also said that beginning November 1, crayon colorings mailed to inmates will no longer be allowed. Workers said some people have melted a drug into a paste and mixed it with water before taking the substance and mixing it with crayon wax.
An inmate can then lick the coloring to get a quick drug fix.
"So now it affects the kids not being able to color their little picture for daddy," Lt. Smith said. "It's sad. We have inmates' family and friends sending them narcotics and substances and we're trying to change their behavior down inside the prison so when they do get out, they'll be able to be good citizens in society."
Utah State Prison mail workers receive Unit Award of Excellence from the Department of Corrections Workers also read letters, looking for words and phrases that could be a sign something bad is being planned.
We have to be very careful when we open envelopes because we never know what we're going to find.
"We have to look for escape plans. We have to look for executions, which have happened in the past," Schwimmer said.
"Different words promoting gang affiliation or gang activity going on out on the street to the inside," Lt. Smith said.
On Wednesday, the mail workers were given the Unit Award of Excellence from the Department of Corrections. It is a trophy they will get to keep for the quarter.
"We feel very privileged to receive this award and be recognized," Schwimmer said. "I mean, they pay us to do our job. They pay us to find these things, but to have recognition? We all feel like we're doing a good job, at least."
The State Prison in Draper has about 4,000 inmates.