A former Mt Eden inmate reveals tobacco and drugs are regularly available, and shows David Fisher how they are smuggled in.
Welcome to the jungle - the Mt Eden Correctional Facility.
In this private universe violence is a part of daily life and drugs are freely available. Mt Eden prison has its own bizarre codes of conduct and even its own jailhouse economy.
Former inmates gave the Weekend Herald the benefit of their experiences, showing how far from the outside world the Serco-managed prison had drifted.
Footage of prison "contender" fights put a spotlight on Mt Eden prison and questions over safety intensified when Labour Party MP Kelvin Davis alleged former inmate Nick Evans had died from injuries after being "dropped" off a balcony.
The jury is still out on the death of Evans.
As more details emerge, it seems increasingly likely he survived the extraordinary jungle of the Mt Eden Correctional Facility in the same way most other inmates do - with bruises and a drug addiction.
Evans spent about three months among almost 1000 men under the care and management of multinational prison operator Serco.
Those men - many waiting on their day in court - are citizens of an incredible world.
Take tobacco - a banned substance in prisons since July 2011.
On the outside it costs $40 for a 30g pouch of tobacco. On the inside, according to a former inmate we will call The Smuggler, the same amount sells for $300.
It's so easy, he offered to show the Weekend Herald how it was done.
The Smuggler starts with a pair of trainers. Colour is important - black or white are safe colours with blue, red or yellow associated with particular gangs.
Lifting out the inner sole, The Smuggler shows how the sole of the shoe can be gouged out with a craft knife to make more room for contraband.
In this demonstration, he uses tobacco but says marijuana, methamphetamine or anything of value on the inside can be sent by the same route.
"If you hack enough out, you can fit a cellphone in there."
Whatever is being sent needs to be protected from the dogs which will sniff at mail arriving at the prison. To do this, The Smuggler uses plastic which is clipped in the shape of the inner sole then completely sealed, aside from a small space at the heel.
With scales carefully measuring out equal amounts, the 30g pouch of tobacco is split into two piles and fed into the gap.
It's important not to let it clump - "it's got to be consistent" - so The Smuggler carefully smooths it out then smashes it flat. Having done so, it is mechanically sucked flat and then sealed at the end.
The contraband is fed back into the shoe and the inner sole fixed on top with glue.
The shoes are weighed again to ensure they balance perfectly. "You imagine how much meth you can fit in there," he says.
At the other end of the process, prisoners are able to request certain items. The Smuggler said the contraband-laden shoes would be sent in response to such requests with the end product designed to look as if the shoe had never been tampered with.
"If it doesn't come away from the shoe then it belongs (on the shoe). They can't just f*** your shoe up."
This demonstration for the Weekend Herald did not result in contraband being smuggled. And it's not the only road into the prison. There is, for instance, a prisoner known for his ability to carry significant amounts internally.
Tobacco is sold inside at the rate of $5 for each thinly rolled cigarette.
Oddly, tobacco costs about as much as marijuana, which is also available. Even nicotine patches had a disproportionate value. A full-strength patch would sell for $40. Tea from a tea bag would be folded inside patches and steeped in hot water and then dried to be used as a tobacco alternative.
And despite the cost there is a demand. "What else are you going to do," asks one former inmate.
Methamphetamine is available and can sell for much the same as it does on the outside. At other times, says one prisoner, a $100 "point" can sell at up to $500.
The inmate says he entered prison on violence charges with a P habit and spent two weeks in solitary confinement drying out only to find his release into the main area put him in the middle of a drugs bazaar.
"You could score pretty much anything you wanted. Mostly weed, a fair amount of meth. People even had acid (LSD)."
The former prisoner did admit being baffled as to the appeal a hallucinogenic would have while trapped inside.
The drugs aren't free and there's no money inside. Instead, the currency takes the form of phone cards, transfers to prisoners' P19 internal canteen accounts or payments in the outside world between family or friends.
Alcohol is also available and - like every inmate workaround - is ingenious. Prisoners brew their own using bread, water, sugar and fruit. It is fermented in plastic bags with heat generated by warm water in plastic bottles packed around the outside.
It's obvious to anyone looking, says the inmate. Only the outrageous would tumble prisoners. One inmate was busted doing a massive brew up in a full-sized rubbish bag. "There were searches but they weren't really searches," says the inmate.
And it is this lax attitude which inmates say distinguishes Serco-run institutes from other prisons.
The inmate who served time on violence charges says the worst beating he received in prison was as he woke in his cell. He says it was far worse than the attacks which he had dished out resulting in his convictions and his time in prison.
He could barely see out of pulped eyes, had a broken nose and a jaw which is still out of shape many months later.
He found himself in the medical centre bloody and vomiting, with staff debating how they could keep him out of hospital. He claims he was told by a senior prison official that "nothing is going to happen" so there was no point in complaining.
"It was swept under the carpet."
He was then sent to have his face x-rayed and found himself alongside his attacker, who was having his fist checked out, with only one staff member between them.
That assault halfway through his time was a violent ambush and quite different from the "Contender" fights faced when entering the mainstream population. He was quickly told on entering "if you're going to stay in here you have to fight".
"It was right outside the guard's office. I had to defend myself. They had a clock on the wall. It was just one three-minute, bare-knuckle round.
"If you don't throw a punch you're a bitch. If you fall you're a bitch. I got a few punches in. My eyes were black and my nose was bleeding. From there, the next week was actually all right."
The talk of "dropping" last week was dismissed by a number of former inmates. One said it had been "blown out of proportion" while others doubted the practice existed.
All agreed there was far worse inside Mt Eden prison without stories being made up.
It's a jungle, and inside are animals.
But for the inmate forced to detox, forced to fight and then beaten bloody, his finest moment came when segregated from the mainstream population and presented with courses on preventing violence and parenting. The presence of mental health patients meant the presence of health workers.
It reminded him there were also people in the jungle. "It was good to be treated like a human again."