Regular people went undercover in an Atlanta jail as part of an experiment — and found one of the scariest aspects of life behind bars comes from the guards

  • On A&E’s “60 Days In,” nine law-abiding citizens went undercover in Atlanta’s Fulton County Jail.
  • They found one of the scariest, and most dehumanizing, elements of life behind bars is raids by the guards, who are searching for weapons or contraband.
  • The raids also serve as a demonstration of power — showing prisoners that they’re at the institution’s mercy.

At Atlanta’s Fulton County Jail, inmates make weapons out of just about anything — plastic shards, e-cigarettes, even toothbrushes.

If word gets to jail staff that one of the inmates has a contraband item, it could prompt security guards to carry out a raid of their cells. During a raid, officers with the jail’s Direct Action Response Team clear out inmates from sections of the jail, frisk them, and turn over their cells in search of the contraband.

Such a raid was depicted on “60 Days In,” the A&E documentary series that follows nine law-abiding citizens who went undercover at Fulton County Jail for two months to expose problems from within the system.

While raids are often effective in rooting out deadly weapons, the participants said, they can leave inmates feeling dehumanized and demoralized.

“It was quite intimidating and disorienting to be reminded again that I am at this jail’s mercy, that they can essentially do with me whatever they please,” one participant, a student named Andrew, said on the show.

Here’s how a raid goes down at Fulton County Jail:

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Chief Jailer Mark Adger authorized a raid when he learned that one of the inmates had fashioned a shank out of shards from a plastic cup.

Chief Jailer Mark Adger authorized a raid when he learned that one of the inmates had fashioned a shank out of shards from a plastic cup.

A&E

Raids happen without warning. Moments before the raid, officers with the Direct Action Response Team waited outside the section of the jail in question for the signal to proceed.

Raids happen without warning. Moments before the raid, officers with the Direct Action Response Team waited outside the section of the jail in question for the signal to proceed.

A&E

Inmates at Fulton County Jail spend 16 hours a day locked in their cells with their cellmates. The inmates only caught wind of the raid when the doors to their cells were suddenly unlocked.

Inmates at Fulton County Jail spend 16 hours a day locked in their cells with their cellmates. The inmates only caught wind of the raid when the doors to their cells were suddenly unlocked.

A&E

The officers ordered all the inmates in Zone 500 to exit their cells and line up against the walls for pat-downs. The officers didn’t know which inmate had the shank, so they treated everyone as a suspect.

The officers ordered all the inmates in Zone 500 to exit their cells and line up against the walls for pat-downs. The officers didn't know which inmate had the shank, so they treated everyone as a suspect.

A&E

“Their pat-down methods were kind of intrusive,” an undercover inmate named Alan said. “They checked inside your shoes, checked inside your pants — it was a pretty thorough pat-down.” Andrew agreed: “They basically just started frisking people, searching their crotches, which is always, you know, unpleasant,” he said.

"Their pat-down methods were kind of intrusive," an undercover inmate named Alan said. "They checked inside your shoes, checked inside your pants — it was a pretty thorough pat-down." Andrew agreed: "They basically just started frisking people, searching their crotches, which is always, you know, unpleasant," he said.

A&E

The officers then led the inmates to the rec room to wait while they searched their cells.

The officers then led the inmates to the rec room to wait while they searched their cells.

A&E

The officers began searching every corner of the inmates’ cells, overturning everything.

The officers began searching every corner of the inmates' cells, overturning everything.

A&E

They rummaged through the inmates’ personal belongings and flipped over their mattresses — “I’m looking everywhere,” one officer said. Even the toilets were fair game.

They rummaged through the inmates' personal belongings and flipped over their mattresses — "I'm looking everywhere," one officer said. Even the toilets were fair game.

A&E

Inmates can get creative with where they hide weapons. In an earlier season of the show, filmed in Indiana, guards once found a shank stashed away in a light fixture.

Inmates can get creative with where they hide weapons. In an earlier season of the show, filmed in Indiana, guards once found a shank stashed away in a light fixture.

A&E

Another weapon was hidden in plain sight.

Another weapon was hidden in plain sight.

A&E

This time, however, the guards came up empty-handed.

This time, however, the guards came up empty-handed.

A&E

The inmates returned to their cells to find them in complete disarray. “Every dorm looks like… a tornado hit it,” Alan said.

The inmates returned to their cells to find them in complete disarray. "Every dorm looks like… a tornado hit it," Alan said.

A&E

Alan knew it was his roommate who had the shank, but couldn’t tell the guards for fear of retribution. “I’m scared of something going down. My worst case scenario would be sleeping and getting shanked at night,” he said.

Alan knew it was his roommate who had the shank, but couldn't tell the guards for fear of retribution. "I'm scared of something going down. My worst case scenario would be sleeping and getting shanked at night," he said.

A&E

For Andrew, the experience was a sobering reminder of how little freedom inmates have: “It was quite intimidating and disorienting to be reminded again that I am at this jail’s mercy, that they can essentially do with me whatever they please,” he said.

For Andrew, the experience was a sobering reminder of how little freedom inmates have: "It was quite intimidating and disorienting to be reminded again that I am at this jail's mercy, that they can essentially do with me whatever they please," he said.

A&E

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