*Wow. Any family getting a text with a photo like the one above attached has got to be heartbroken to see their relative in this vulnerable position. But where there’s a will, there is a way, and prisoners have found a way to blackmail their peers in this situation and use it to get money from families.
The submissive prisoner in the photo has been identified by officials at Burruss Correctional Training Center in Forsyth, Ga. as 18-year-old Cortez Berry. The photo was taken behind bars by a contraband cell phone.
Berry is seen in a submissive squat in the photo, while two gang members stand over him in a prison bathroom. His left eye and face is swollen as the result of a savage beating. And one of the men holds a noose of some sort around his neck while throwing a hand sign. The other man points at the camera as if his hand is a gun.
All 3 men are shirtless.
The photo was sent via text to Berry’s “friends and family,” who then forwarded it to radio host Austin Rhodes in Augusta. After Austin posted the picture on his Facebook page on Friday it went viral.
“My heart sank when I saw the picture,” said Berry’s mother, Demetria Harris. “I was yelling, hollering and screaming. I got on the phone immediately and called down there.”
Harris told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution there was no attempt to extort money from her family.
Berry’s aunt, Shavondria Wright of Jonesboro, dropped everything and drove to Forsyth to see about Berry, who is serving an 8-year sentence for aggravated assault.
“When I saw him, I was just so hurt,” Wright said. “I was in tears to see his face like that.”
Wright said her nephew told her he was jumped by 10 other prisoners after he refused to join their gang. “What I don’t understand is why they put the leash around his neck,” said Wright.
“Cell phones are often used to commit and plan crimes outside of prison, but also to incite violence and to extort family members who are incarcerated,” attorney Sarah Geraghty told the AJC. “We hear from family members all the time that they will receive a text picture of their loved ones, who have been beaten with the message, ‘pay us money or something will happen.’ There is a crisis in security in the Georgia prison system. Every prisoner has or had access to a cell phone.”
Prison officials are struggling to contain the flow of cell phones into the prisons, and according to NBC News, 13,500 cellphones have been confiscated from Georgia prisons since 2012 . Prison officials have installed equipment to scan visitors for cell phones and other electronics.
But most of the time it is the guards who are smuggling the contraband into the prisons in exchange for cash or sex.
“The problem plaguing the corrections system nationwide is one that the [Georgia DOC] is aware of and continuously works to utilize extensive resources to combat this issue,” said Gwendolyn Hogan, a spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Corrections.
Meanwhile, Cortez Berry has been placed in protective custody for his own safety.
“It is hard to see [the photo] on the Internet,” Wright said. “But in this situation, I am kind of grateful that they had contraband, or we wouldn’t have known about this.”