My entire family has tested positive

By Bev Draper

My brother, Larry Cullum, is confined in a Beaumont, Texas low security federal prison. He was transferred from Florence, Colorado to Beaumont about a year ago. Before Florence, he was held at USP Terre Haute in Indiana. The reason why he was sent to Terre Haute and to Florence, both high security prisons, was the length of sentence he was given, not because he was violent in any way. In the 11 years he served in the FCI system (the medium level of custody), he earned enough good points to be downgraded to the lowest security rating possible with his sentence, and was sent to Beaumont at his request last year.

When Larry was in Florence, our 75-year-old mom was denied access the second day of our visit because she did not pass the drug screen test. We were able to visit Larry for an hour on Friday evening when we got to Florence from Dallas. I spent over $1,000 on tickets, hotels and rental car, and she was denied access for the remainder of our time in Colorado. We were upset, but did nothing about it, even though we are innocent of any crime.

In October 2000 my mom and my niece visited my brother, and neither passed the drug screen test the first time, but did pass the second time. When the guard was asked how can the machine test positive the first time and negative the second time, they were told, "The machine must have sucked the drug off." This is a crock.

Even though we have never taken any illegal drugs, or have been around people using illegal drugs, my mom, niece and I have now tested positive at least once for some kind of drug. Never at the same time, although we have always been together while visiting my brother at different prisons. On many occasions, from what I've seen, people test positive and then negative within less than two or three minutes. On other occasions, they test positive twice within the same extremely short time span and then are denied access for 48 hours, which means they have spent money and time in vain and are denied their visits.

On Mother's Day 2001 my 77-year-old mom, my niece and I flew to Beaumont to see my brother because he had been unable to spend Mother's Day with our mom for the past 11 years. We visited him on Saturday, but on Sunday morning I did not pass the drug screen test. I did something else for Mother's Day. While my mother and niece visited at the prison, I traveled to Port Arthur to have a drug test taken at a hospital, to prove I had taken no illegal drugs.

In Florence, when my mother tested positive, the only thing my mom did differently from what I did, was pay for our breakfast with cash. The previous day we went directly to the FCI from the plane/hotel, and neither of us handled any cash. The day before Mother's Day, I paid for our breakfast by credit card and we all passed. On Mother's day, I paid cash for breakfast. Could handling cash be enough to activate the "residue" machine? Both of us got the cash for the trip either through normal retail transactions or, most likely for me, from the bank before I left on each trip.

Apparently these drug testing machines are not calibrated accurately if they can have both a positive and a negative result on the same person within two or three minutes of each sample test. Or, they may be calibrated so sensitively as to detect any unintentional contact with any controlled substance, no matter how small. In either case this is improper denial of our rights to due process as U.S. citizens.

What troubles me now is that we are registered with the Bureau of Prisons as having been denied access for testing positive for a controlled substance. When I asked what drug my test revealed, they told me I tested positive for LSD. Believe me when I say, I wouldn't know it if I saw it.

I have never condoned the fact that my brother broke the law, but I have always and will always love him. While these two incidents were hurtful and inconveniencing, the end result did not pose a severe financial impact for me. But this is likely not the case for many other families with no or low incomes. Money spent trying to visit could hinge on whether they eat well that month or just get by.

What is most personally troubling is that, even though we are innocent of any crime, we feel deterred from planning future visits. Prison officials have taught us to never be sure you will be able to visit once you get there. Usually the prisons are located in areas where there is little to do other than go to the prison.

Frequently published stories based on legal documents show that guards and prison vendors are often the main conduit for drug trafficking into the prisons, yet it is family visitors who are targeted by so-called drug detecting machines. I can only conclude that the ultimate goal of this type of testing is not to deter drugs from entering the prison - but to deter family and friends from attempting to visit their imprisoned loved ones.