No one in prison likes a thief. They target those they perceive as weak or look for targets of opportunity. When lockers are open there are always eyes watching to see what you’ve got. Being inattentive even for a few seconds can cost you. Not padlocking your locker or footlocker even for a brief time and leaving it unattended will provide an opening for theft. While a thief may run up into a cube and open a predetermined locker for a predetermined item in a snatch and grab, most theft is conducted by a cubemate. They will even come up to you later and lie to your face pretending to empathize with you and your loss.
Some steal for the thrill, some are hungry, some as a passive aggressive way of expressing hatred for an individual, and some are desperate to pay their debts. Given the culture in prison, the others living in the cube may know who did it and condone the action. On rare occasions they don’t and then things become interesting. Theft is premeditated and sometimes conducted by a crew. Locks may be enough to slow them down but generally once their minds are made up, they will keep trying until they succeed. In the end if you are marked as a target your property is as good as gone.
Lockers used in prison housing units look like any locker you’ve seen in a locker room at the gym. A little over a foot wide and about six feet tall and about 20 inches deep. In Level II and above the lockers are bolted to the wall. In most Level I cubicle settings they are free standing. In every housing unit that I lived in, the majority of the lockers exhibited damage from years of abuse. Due to security concerns, lockers with internal rods used to secure the top and bottom of the door had the rods removed to prevent their use as weapons. This means that the only point at which the door was secured was the middle. This left the top and bottom corners susceptible to leverage that could be used to pry them open sufficiently to reach inside and grab whatever was in reach. At my last Level I the maintenance department was delivering a replacement locker to my housing unit on a weekly basis. The old lockers were being repaired and the corners of the doors reinforced with steel bar welded into them. They were then returned to the unit when the next locker was broken into. Too bad they weren’t being proactive and simply replace all the lockers with refurbished ones. Just goes to show how little concern they had for the inmates
The footlockers used to be fairly secure. They were made from ply-wood with metal trim adjoining all the corner seams and a rugged clasp for the padlock. Over the years the quality of the footlockers decreased to keep the cost down. One time an older style footlocker was stolen in my Level I housing unit by throwing it over the wall from the back hall to the front. Late at night you could hear the thin wood box being broken up into small enough pieces that they could be disposed of in the trash to get rid of the evidence. At least 10 years ago a switch was made to an all metal style with a piano hinge lid with a weak clasp and no internal support to strengthen the corners of the lid. These were easy to pry open. I had one that was so forcefully pried open by a thief that the clasp broken off at the weld. When I was moved to a different facility the footlocker was deemed to be damaged and the Property Room would not let me have it back. I had to order another footlocker to replace it. The cost was about $100 including tax and delivery. If you had more property than could fit in a duffle bag you had no choice but to buy a footlocker. There is a mechanism by which you can try to get the state to reimburse you for damage to a foot locker if you can prove it is the result of staff actions, which they will deny since it was by their inattention and not direct action that the damage occurred.
When unit security is lax the thief will steal repeatedly being emboldened by his success. A favorite time for theft is during meal times when the majority of inmates are out of the unit for 15-25 minutes. During that time if the unit officers are not making their presence known then larger items like footlockers will be broken into or TVs stolen. To avoid the cameras that are positioned to look down the hallways, people and goods are transferred over the walls that separate the cubicles. Because this problem was so bad the MDOC was forced to erect a metal fencing barrier to separate the front and back hallway cubicles, but not the side by side cubicles. You can’t identify suspects if you can’t find them on camera with goods in their hands. When it is an inside job it is even more difficult. Even eyewitnesses will not say anything because being a snitch in prison is not a healthy vocation. It is safer to not get involved unless the cubemates act as a group to deal with the situation since none of them wants to be the next victim.
There are a lot of people in prison who made a living by stealing out in the world and old habits die hard. Most people in prison will continue on living how they lived in the world and even embellish on it. But thieves are the worst. They have no moral sense of conscience to dissuade them. Only the threat of physical violence by getting caught by another inmate will slow them down. They don’t even worry about getting caught by staff since the odds are so strongly in their favor. When caught there is usually only a slap on the wrist for punishment. Officers may write tickets, but only in extraordinary cases will theft between inmates result in restitution. In contrast if the theft is against the state, they will charge exorbitant replacement costs.
When a thief is identified in the housing unit, he is a marked man. Generally speaking, the only recourse is violence, and that only feeds into the dysfunctional prison culture. If you don’t have anything to lose and feel like you have a chance to win you might try to seek revenge or have others help you. If you don’t have acquaintances or accomplices to do this or can’t risk losing a parole, you may have to simply accept it. It certainly helps to put things in proper perspective. Nothing is more important than freedom, it is after all only stuff. But for those who have little or nothing and everything they do have is hard won with scant resources and no ability to replace the stolen items then the stakes can be much higher. People have died in prison in disputes over a single Raman noodle which costs $0.34.