Throughout the Netflix show Jailbirds, female inmates use “fishing” as a means to share contraband with other inmates. They also talk to male inmates through their toilet bowls. But how, exactly, does it work?
Some of the female inmates who are in romantic relationships with male inmates, like Katrina Haslam and Daniel “Dolla” Carter, actually met through their toilet bowls.
Kites are also letters shared between inmates through the process of fishing.
Here’s how it works:
Fishing Through the Toilet Bowls, Explained
Dep. Durham, one of the deputies at Sacramento County Jail, explained how fishing works. He said, “Because we’re a tower, and the pipes run from the eighth floor all the way down to the ground, people are passing contraband through the toilets in a process called fishing.”
A series of inmates then go on to explain how fishing works: they use their white undershirts, ripped up and tied together, to make a line, and then they attach plastic spoons at the end. When both inmates are ready, the person on the top floor flushes their toilet, and the person in the floor below flushes their toilet too, and somehow, the spoons on the lines tangle, so that either inmate can now either pull the line up, or pull it down.
Inmates reveal to Netflix that they sent letters (in plastic bags), drugs, bags of chips, coffee, and more through the toilet.
In order to prevent inmates from passing contrabands through the toilet, deputies in the jail prevent the inmates from flushing their toilets more than four times an hour.
Talking Through the Toilet Bowls, Explained
On Jailbirds, the female and male inmates talk to one another through the toilet bowls, by emptying the water in each of their bowls and using the pipes as an amplifying system, of sorts.
Apparently, toilet bowl talk is a well-documented phenomenon within prison life. Per a writeup in The Post Gazette in 2007, communication through toilets and air vents is incredibly common, and very difficult for jail officials to prevent.
Still, people watching Jailbirds and hearing about fishing for the first time have shared their shock and repulsion at the strategy.
Still another wrote, “Ok I’m learning so much from Jailbirds. Fishing! TOILET TALKING! Some real creative souls here.”
Flooding the Toilet Bowls: How it Works, & Why Inmates do it
Though fishing can be an effective way for inmates to share contraband with each other, they also will occasionally use the plumbing system for a more malicious end. As is seen on episode four of Jailbirds, it’s possible for inmates to “flood” another floor with overflowing toilets by clogging their own toilets a certain way.
One jail worker explained that the inmates often do it as a form of revenge on one another. She said, “It’s just really gross because they use human feces and urine and food, and we as workers, we’ve got to clean it up.”