Sneakers and kisses: Two ways that illegal drugs have been smuggled into the Baltimore City Detention Center and the Maryland Penitentiary.
The sneakers were Nike Airs laced with heroin; the kisses hid mouth-to-mouth exchanges of drug-filled balloons between inmates and girlfriends who visited them in prison. They were the conduits for a bustling drug trade from the outside world to inmates inside the prison walls.
Baltimore police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration recorded dozens of the not-so-secret deals on wiretap tapes that have been a key part of law enforcement cases in Baltimore Circuit Court against drug dealer Ronald Mitchell and his "enforcer," Andre "Arnie" Jordan.
The tapes, submitted as evidence during Mitchell's and Jordan's trials, recently were made available to The Sun. Those recordings -- and the testimony of Mitchell's girlfriend, Taikecha Wade -- tell how drugs passed through the gates and eluded officers of Baltimore's jail and a state prison.
LaMont W. Flanagan, commissioner of Pretrial Detention Services, said that officials are taking steps to block the flow of drugs into the detention center by adding more drug detection dogs. But he said someone will always find a way to get drugs into a jail or prison.
"It's impossible to eliminate drugs in the workplace, the community or behind these walls," Flanagan said.
Mitchell is accused of leading a drug ring that included at least 29 other adults and is believed to have been responsible for 30 shootings in the Baltimore area.
All 29 have been convicted of the conspiracy charges, the Baltimore state's attorney's office said. Several have other charges pending, ranging from drug trafficking to murder.
The ring dealt mainly in the Harford Road corridor of the city, but a door into the prison system opened after Jordan was arrested in July 1995. Mitchell began supplying drugs to his friend and others in prison.
In one case, Nike Airs were stolen from inmates inside the jail and then given to a visitor who hid drugs in the sole of the shoes. Most often, sneakers were purchased and delivered to inmates with drugs in them.
"Nike Airs, you can cut between the sole," said Wade, Mitchell's girlfriend, on the witness stand May 21, neatly dressed in a business suit. They would place the drugs in a "piece of paper or aluminum foil and seal the sole with glue," she said.
Wade's testimony was a key for prosecutors in understanding the cryptic exchanges in the recordings, taken from wiretap conversations at her home. The tapes are part of a series of taps between April 30 and July 10, 1996, the state's attorney's office said.
The tapes give a detailed and sometimes lurid picture of prison life:
Jordan: What's up dude. Do you got a pair of shoes for me?
Mitchell: I got to get them.
Jordan: You ain't got to get none. Look, I just now robbed four [men] of their Nike Airs.
They went on to discuss how a woman would pick up the sneakers from Jordan and deliver them to Mitchell. Mitchell would make a drug purchase to fill the soles of the shoes.
Mitchell: I'm going to go up there now. You know they got like, they got like, I guess they probably got like 20, 30 in a pack. I'm going to get the whole pack and tell them I'll give them the $60.
Mitchell and Jordan had been working together for as long as Wade had known them. She was introduced to Mitchell in December 1994 by a couple of friends, and they quickly fell in love.
About six months into their relationship, they were discussing marriage, Wade said on the witness stand. Her life was changing fast.
Wade had started college but never finished. Instead, she was mixed up in a drug ring with Mitchell.
"He didn't have a legal job," Wade said on the stand. "He sold drugs. I saw the drugs cocaine, heroin, crack."
Business was good. Mitchell and Jordan would make runs to New York to purchase a kilogram -- 35 ounces -- of powder cocaine, for which they paid $20,000 to $23,000, Wade testified. It would be sold on the streets of Baltimore for $1,400 an ounce, she said.
But the drug trade started going bad after Jordan's arrest in July 1995.
Mitchell kept supplying drugs to Jordan in the Baltimore jail and later when he was moved to the Maryland Penitentiary.
Unlike the jail, the penitentiary allowed visitors to have physical contact with inmates. A woman would bring two or three grams of heroin in "a little balloon and kiss him," Wade testified.
As Mitchell continued to supply Jordan, other inmates -- apparently friends -- wanted the same deal. That's when tension started to arise in the Mitchell-Wade home.
Mitchell: There's just too, too much going on. And the [inmates] keep having their hands out.
Wade: I told you. You've got kids, bills and a life. We need a whole week of work to pay our bills.
But the problems didn't end, and their troubles grew worse -- even after Mitchell appeared to have found religion. A recorded exchange between Mitchell and an inmate at the Maryland Penitentiary went like this: