Far too often in our public discourse, individuals and institutions cling reflexively to bad ideas – trying to rationalize them or explain them away. Or, suddenly they morph into a new way of thinking without any explanation – hoping people will forget what they originally stood for.
That’s no way to build trust with an audience in the marketplace of ideas.
Nobody’s perfect. It’s important to acknowledge when we make mistakes – or when new information causes us to rethink our prior positions. Hopefully, people are smart enough to distinguish between real conversions and rank opportunism – when something genuinely changes their mind versus ignoble shape-shifting in the name of self-interest.
For example, for years I was a staunch opponent of Voter ID laws – believing them to be partisan attempts to suppress participation in our representative form of government. Over time, however, I have come to recognize the inherent indispensability of unus civis, una suffragium – a.k.a. “one citizen, one vote” – and how our current system utterly fails to uphold this vital ideal.
Similarly, I once opposed jamming cell phones around Palmetto State prisons – until I realized purported public safety objections voiced by wireless providers paled in comparison to the legitimate public safety threat posed by violent inmates with these devices in their possession. The truth is prepaid phones and prepaid phone minutes constitute a multi-billion dollar annual industry – one that encompasses virtually all extra-legal prison usage. Wireless providers simply do not want to part with that money.
This week, federal authorities in South Carolina announced the imposition of a life sentence for 43-year-old Daniel Allen Shannon of Lexington in connection with a prison cell phone incident. Shannon is currently in the custody of the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC) – and is ineligible for parole following his conviction in connection with the 2001 kidnapping, robbery, and murder of a Lexington restaurant manager.
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Shannon has tried to escape SCDC custody on multiple occasions – and was found with a weapon in his possession as recently as last month, according to his jailhouse rap sheet. In January of 2020 and again in December of 2021, he was cited for “possessing or attempting to possess a cell phone.”
Why is that a big deal? Because according to federal prosecutors, Shannon previously “used contraband cellphones to coordinate the distribution of large quantities of methamphetamine throughout Lancaster and Kershaw counties.”
Not only that, he called in a hit from behind bars …
“After coming to believe that one of his drug couriers had been robbed, Shannon sent his associates to retaliate, and a Kershaw man was shot and killed in September of 2019,” a news release from the office of U.S. attorney Adair Ford Boroughs noted. “Shannon then ordered his co-conspirators to burn the residence where the murder occurred and dispose of the victim, whose body was discovered discarded alongside a highway in Westville, South Carolina.”
“This case illustrates the extreme danger posed by the presence of contraband cellphones in our prisons,” Boroughs said in a statement. “We will not sit by as inmates use these phones to perpetrate violence, drug trafficking, sex crimes, and fraud, and will work with our federal and state partners to vigorously prosecute these offenders and protect the public.”
Shannon was indicted on federal charges in February of 2022 and pleaded guilty in February of 2023. He was sentenced to life in prison this month by U.S. district court judge Sherri Lydon, however that sentence would only take effect “if and when he is ever released from custody in SCDC.”
And Shannon is ineligible for parole as it relates to his many state-level convictions.
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“This is yet another example of prisoners using contraband cellphones from behind state prison fences to continue committing crimes,” Stirling said in response to Shannon’s conviction.
Cell phone jamming is the exclusive purview of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – which is operating under a 1934 law which restricts any unauthorized interference in radio waves. The agency is not keen on relinquishing this authority, either. According to an April 2020 FCC alert, “signal jamming devices can prevent you and others from making 9-1-1 and other emergency calls and pose serious risks to public safety communications, as well as interfere with other forms of day-to-day communications.”
State lawmakers attempted to create a new statute criminalizing the possession of these devices – while providing penalties for inmates found with cell phones on their persons.
The bill – H. 4002 – was sponsored by S.C. speaker Murrell Smith. According to its language, SCDC inmates would be banned from possessing any “telecommunications device” without express authorization. Anyone found to be in violation of the new statute would be “guilty of a felony” and subject to fines ranging from at least $1,000 to $10,000 – and additional prison time ranging from at least one year up to a full decade.
Correctional officials support the law, which they believe will enhance their ability to enforce the current ban.
Not surprisingly, Smith’s bill cleared his own chamber – by an overwhelming 106-0 margin. The legislation is currently residing in the S.C. Senate, where it will hopefully make some progress in 2024.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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