Deseret Book & Heroin? The Story Of a Non-Story

The Salt Lake Tribune's Rolly & Wells gossip column led with a headline of "Heroin smuggled into prison in Deseret Book cassettes" Friday1 The article reads:

A discovery by investigators at the Utah State Prison two weeks ago proves the adage: Don't judge a book by its cover.

The screeners found heroin being smuggled into the prison inside cassette tapes mailed to an inmate from LDS Church-owned Deseret Book Co. The tapes apparently had been taken out of their shrink-wrapped packages, opened up, stuffed with heroin, then reassembled and re-shrink-wrapped to appear as if they never had been opened.

Prison officials declined to discuss the matter because the investigation has not been completed, but they did confirm the discovery.

No word on whether the cassette tapes in question were of a spiritual nature.

Suppose you are a reporter, and you have a lead on a story about drugs being smuggled by the mail? Into prisons? Yawn. That story isn't very exciting. Drugs are routinely smuggled via the mail, both in the United States2 and abroad.3 Inspectors of the United States Postal Inspection Service arrested 1,662 people in 2001 for drug trafficing and money laundering via the US Mail.4 Stopping drugs coming in through "the mail is a full-time job for correctional facility staff. Inmates and others try every conceivable way to smuggle drugs into prisons and jails," according to a US National Institute of Justice report.5. Earlier this year prisoners in California were mailed postcards with heroin affixed behind the postage stamps.6

If it's a full-time job for corrections officials to screen incoming mail for drugs, what on earth makes it newsworthy, enough for someone in the Department of Corrections to want to call a reporter to leak the story? Presumably this is a news item because an attempt to smuggled drugs was made involving a product purchased at a Church-owned bookstore. It's not hard to imagine the Tribune reports expecting Deseret Book to be squirming in an uncomfortable situation, as if Deseret Book's slogan, "What Matters to You [the convicted drug addict] Matters to Us."

Quite the contrary. This is a moment for Deseret Book to be proud. Yes, a confederate of convicted criminal sought to hide behind Deseret Book's good name and reputation to sneak illegal narcotics in. They violated Deseret Book's trust. However, let's look at the other half of the story.

Deseret Book is cooperating fully with the authorities. No wrong-doing on the part of any Deseret Book employee has been alleged. That Deseret Book willingly ships books & talk-tapes to those in prison shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. We're taught by the Savior in the New Testament not to turn our backs on those imprisoned, and that we do so at our own eternal peril.7 Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have long fellowshipped and ministered to those in prison.8, 9 Deseret Book can proudly say that "what matters to families and parents struggling with a wayward child does matter to us." Deseret Book exists to publish and sell products that strengthen individuals and families and that promote and are in harmony with the teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

On the other hand, someone in the Department of Corrections should be ashamed of themselves for leaking this non-story to a newspaper that historically has been antagonistic to the Church and local culture. If the confederate of the convicted criminal who orchestrated this scheme to smuggle drugs is literate enough to read the Tribune, it would seem entirely probable that she might have skipped town already.

  1. Salt Lake Tribune, 7 November 2003, A-3
  2. "DEA Briefs & Background, Drugs and Drug Abuse, State Factsheets, Maine", United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
  3. "Trends in illicit drugs and firearms smuggling," 2002, Japanese Customs Service.
  4. "2001 Annual Report of Investigations," U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
  5. Turner, Allan and Lewis, Becky. "Stopping Drugs in the Mail", Corrections Today, American Correctional Association, July 2002.
  6. "Microgram Bulletin, Intelligence Alert," February 2003, United States Drug Enforcement Administration Office of Forensic Sciences.
  7. Matthew 25:34-45.
  8. Searle, Don L., "In Prison, and Ye Came Unto Me", Ensign, March 1991.
  9. Ashton, Marvin J., "You Can Get There From Here," Ensign, December 1971.
Note: I originally wrote this (on my own time) with the intent of submitting it to Deseret Book's Mormon Life. After writing a rough draft, I set it aside, and didn't return to it—eventually all but forgetting about it, until I decided to remodel my personal website & to begin blogging in November of 2004...

— Michael A. Cleverly

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