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Piñata Regatta
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 02/26/2018

Blindfold women The following is an installment in "Icebreakers 101: Hello, My Name is Problem", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

Are there many things more fun than busting a piñata and scrambling for the candy and small toys? This is a delight not only for children but also for adults. Perhaps it is the wonder of what is inside, that wonderful anticipation that makes this a favorite of almost everyone.

For this exercise, the facilitator needs:
  • One piñata;
  • A stick to break the piñata (rules of caution apply);
  • A blindfold;
  • Candy and little toys to fill the piñata;
  • Small envelopes. The facilitator puts one slip of paper in each envelope. Before the exercise, the facilitator writes on the slip of paper a certain type of contraband with number value (gum – 10 points, cell phone – 20 points, narcotics – 30 points, machete – 100 points, and so on). The facilitator places these in the piñata;
  • A contraband control quiz. (see below)
The facilitator displays the piñata and fills it and asks, “What is typically in a piñata?”

Once those answers are recorded, the facilitator asks, “What could one hide in a piñata?” This is where the corrections knowledge comes into the discussion.

Next the facilitator asks, “How can we determine what is inside the piñata without opening it?”

Then the instructor tells a tale of ingenious hidden contraband. These stories are easily located through the internet or by asking seasoned corrections staff. The story I would tell concerns a talented prisoner who made realistic and comical soap sculptures. However, they were hollow. What did he hide in these?

Then the class is divided into teams. With a flip of the coin, the winning team gets a chance to answer a question from the contraband test. Each time a team answers correctly, that team gets one swing at piñata. The team may choose who gets the one swing, but that person must be blindfolded.

The first team to crack open the candy-filled piñata gets to scramble for goodies. When they pick up the envelopes with description of contraband, they are to be given no explanation. They are instructed, however, that they may not open the envelopes. Whoever has the greatest number of points has found the most valuable contraband and removed it from the system, making it safer. That person could be awarded prize by the facilitator.

Here is a true or false test with the answers. You may also create your own test.
  1. Contraband is no longer a major problem in corrections (F)
  2. Contraband exists only in maximum security facilities (F)
  3. Contraband in a prison or jail setting can be almost anything (T)
  4. Monitoring and observing patterns are good tools to hinder contraband (T)
  5. It is realistic to assert that staff can stop all contraband (F)
  6. It is realistic to assert that contraband is power (T)
  7. Contraband has to be a solid, tangible item to be contraband (F)
  8. Three groups that suffer from contraband wars are staff, offenders, and the public (T)
  9. The contraband nerd has a deep focus in the study and mitigation of bootleg (T)
  10. An advanced contraband nerd may have mechanical reasoning and economic sense (T)
  11. You do not gain a thing if you find out who has the contraband: Finding the bootleg items is enough (F)
  12. There are five categories of the illicit inmate economy (T)
  13. The Chaotic is a patient, invisible contrabandist (F)
  14. The monopolist is almost always flashy and impetuous (F)
  15. Maintenance of the process is an important component for the total contraband control process (T)
  16. Disgusting as it seems, some prisoners will use body fluids to adhere items to other things, like a note under a table (T)
  17. Toothpaste can be an excellent fastener (T)
  18. If a prisoner finds duct tape or Velcro, they have struck gold (T)
  19. Velcro pant seams to have facilitated sexual incidents between rouge staff and inmates (T)
  20. Medicine is supposed to help inmates, but it can be abused and sold to others (T)
  21. Medicine is not dangerous contraband because it is not a weapon (F)
  22. Staff often underestimate the lure of contraband power on inmates (T)
  23. Writing tickets on contraband traders will always extinguish the entrepreneurial fire of the trader (F)
  24. When an old trick has played out, staff should expect never to see it again (F)
  25. A few small betting slips can be the tip of the contraband enterprise iceberg (T)
  26. It is usually a buyer’s market (F)
  27. Hiding in plain sight is an obvious hiding space once one discovers it (T)
  28. Sacrifice contraband is when a prisoner ‘gives up’ small contraband and continues to conceal more valuable wares (T)
  29. Inside trader is a contrabandist in the form of a rouge staff member (T)
  30. Supplying a prisoner with a weapon is a misdemeanor (F) (it is often a felony)
  31. Conservative, quiet traders usually have a longer run of trading success (T)
  32. A jealous prisoner will never snitch on another when contraband enterprises are concerned (F)
  33. To prisoners, contraband equals comfort (T)
  34. Cell phones, a coveted contraband item, keep getting bigger and bigger and dumber and dumber (F)
  35. Foiling unauthorized commerce enhances safety (T)
The joys of piñatas should not be limited the youngest generation. In fact, corrections professionals of all ages can learn a great deal from this exercise. At the very least, the excitement of getting some unexpected candy is worthwhile. So, load up the piñata with toys, candy, and envelopes that contain one paper each with point values.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014” and "Operation Icebreakers: Shooting for Excellence" among others. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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