10 Crazy, Improvised Prison Weapons


Prison can be an incredibly violent place and since the people who are locked up have plenty of time on their hands, they have come up with some pretty inventive ways to try to hurt each other and correction officers. All of these weapons were actually found in prisons throughout the world, and in some cases, they were even used.

10. Shiv Hidden in Cross

Shivs, which are handmade knives, are the most common type of weapon made in prison and they are most commonly made from toothbrushes. Toothbrushes are easy to get and they are either filed down to a point or something sharp, like a razor blade, is embedded in it.

However, this shiv hidden in a cross is a whole different story. It was found in the city prison in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, in 1994. At the time that it was found, making shivs concealed in crosses in the workshops was a bit of a cottage industry for the inmates. Eventually, the guards caught on and the cross weapons were confiscated.

9. Radio Bomb

One of the most inventive ways that someone thought of attacking a fellow inmate was dreamt up by South Carolinian serial killer Donald Henry “Peewee” Gaskins. Between 1953 and 1982, Gaskins killed at least eight people in South Carolina, but confessed to killing over 100 people. In May 1976, he was sentenced to death. However, later that year in November, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, so Gaskins’ sentence was commuted to life. However, Gaskins wouldn’t stay off death row for very long.

In 1982, a man named Tony Cimo contacted Gaskins in prison. Cimo wanted Gaskins to kill another prisoner, Rudolph Tyner. Tyner had been convicted of killing Cimo’s mother and stepfather in a botched robbery.

Over the next several weeks, Gaskins attempted to kill Tyner in several different ways, like poisoning his food, but then he somehow got hold of some C4. Gaskins put the C4 and a transmitter in a radio, and then he gave the radio to Tyner. He told Tyner that he had rigged the radio so that they could communicate through them, like Walkie-Talkies. Gaskins then told Tyner to put the radio close to his head at a specific time to talk. Tyner believed him, and Gaskins detonated the bomb from his cell, killing Tyner. Gaskins admitted to laughing so hard that it would have been the last thing that Tyner heard; well, besides the C4 detonating.

Gaskins was again found guilty of murder, and by this time the death penalty in South Carolina had been reinstated. Gaskins was sentenced to death again and “the Meanest Man in America,” as he was called in the press, was executed on September 6, 1991, at the age of 58 via the electric chair.

8. Razor Whip

This nasty piece of work isn’t so much clever as it is frightening. It was discovered in the Fuhlsbüttel Prison in Hamburg, Germany in 1996, in the cell of a drug addict. It was found after the inmate got into some trouble in the prison. He wanted more methadone and when he didn’t get it, he grabbed a knife and threatened a nurse.

After threatening the nurse, the inmate’s cell was searched and inside they found the whip. We know, surprise, surprise, the drug addicted prison inmate didn’t think things through. Had he threatened her with the whip, he might have been able to get more methadone, gotten high and then lost the whip. Instead, he got nothing, except for a few days in solitary confinement.

7. Nunchucks

On September 19, 2011, Lorenzo Pollard, who was doing time for theft and resisting arrest at a medium security prison in St. Louis, Missouri, showed that sometimes the simplest weapons can be the most effective. We’re also guessing that if he had to pick a favorite Ninja Turtle, he’d go with Michelangelo.

In his cell, Pollard made a set of nunchucks out of a bed sheet and a chair. Then, using his makeshift nunchucks, he managed to fight off about a dozen guards, scaled a fence, and escaped. He lasted on the lam for two days before he was arrested again.

6. Jolly Rancher Shiv

Being able to eat candies is probably one of the few small luxuries that people in prison get to experience. However, some inmates have jeopardized this luxury by making candy into weapons. Amazingly, this is such a common route to create a weapon that it was implemented into the plot of Orange is the New Black.

One candy that has been used to make a weapon is Jolly Ranchers, which are made into shivs. To make the shiv, inmates place the candies in a single file on aluminum foil, and then wrap it up. Then they heat the tinfoil wrapped candies and this melts them together into one long stick. Once it’s a single stick, then it’s just a matter of sharpening one end of it. This leaves the inmate with a sharp and durable weapon, and it is also easy to dispose of. An inmate can simply bite off the sharp end and dissolve it in his or her mouth. So prisoners can either stab someone or get some candy; talk about versatility!

5. Spear

Long spears were one of the earliest weapons used by humans and it’s also a popular choice in prison – if the inmates can hide them. The spears are several feet long and the handles are made of rolled up newspaper or magazines, and it is held together with strips of clothing. This makes the spear both light weight and sturdy.

As for the tip of the spear, it is a sharp piece of steel cut out of the bunk. Getting this piece of steel, which can also be used as a shiv, is a fairly time consuming process. If the prisoner is lucky and has a binder clip, they break the clip in half and this gives them a sharp edge. Then they just keep running the edge over the same track of steel bed posts. After a while, they eventually cut through the steel. If they don’t have a binder clip, then they can use dental floss and toothpaste to increase the friction. Of course, this takes a lot more time. But, if you’re doing life in prison, free time isn’t exactly something you’re lacking.

The spear has ultimately proved itself to be useful in at least one prison murder. For a few weeks in in 1985, several inmates at San Quentin counted how many steps it could take for a correctional officer to walk through the door and down the hallway. By counting the steps, they were able to figure out where the correctional officer was without even seeing him. Then, on June 8th, 1985, Sgt. Howell Burchfield was walking down the hallway, and the prisoners counted his steps. As soon as he got near, they stabbed him through the heart with the spear.

Three men were convicted of the murder; Andre Johnson for the stabbing, Lawrence Woodard for ordering the murder, and Jarvis Jay Masters for making the weapon. Johnson and Woodard were given life in prison while Masters was sentenced to death.

4. Zip Gun

Prison-made guns, known as zip guns, are one of the most dangerous weapons behind bars. In fact, they are so dangerous that the Correctional Services of Canada has a chapter about them in their manuals for new hires. Zip guns are popular in prison because they are easy to hide, small, and they are deadly.

When prisoners aren’t using the gun, they keep it disassembled and when it’s taken apart, the pieces look pretty innocuous. This makes it easy to hide the pieces around the cell in plain sight. Then, within minutes, the gun can be assembled.

As for their size, sometimes they are just the size of a pen. This makes the gun easy to move around and hide, even when it is assembled.

Finally, they are popular because they are effective. For example, a zip gun that was found in a penitentiary in Canada that was hidden among leather hobby-craft tools could fire .22 caliber bullets. Another .22 caliber handgun was found in Folsom State Prison, made from a staple gun.

3. Water Bombs

Unless you’re drowning, water doesn’t seem to be that dangerous. However, materials that “don’t seem to be that dangerous” are exactly what inmates make weapons out of.

What some inmates do is fill up plastic bags with water and this makes the bags really heavy. For example, one grocery bag can hold 10 to 20 liters of water, which is about 22 to 44 pounds. Just for some perspective, the heaviest regulation bowling ball is about 16 pounds. Then they drop them from high levels on to unsuspecting people below. If they were to drop a bag with 20 liters of water, which weighs as much as 2.75 bowling balls, from the fifth tier of the prison, it would hit someone at 77 miles per hour. This very thing actually happened to an inmate in October 2011. The man was hospitalized and he was lucky to be alive.

2. Bed Post Shotgun

This impressive feat of prison engineering was made by two inmates at a prison in Celle, Germany. The shotgun was made from iron bedposts and then the cocking handle is made using pieces of lead from curtain tape. Also, instead of gunpowder, they used match heads that were sparked by a broken light bulb and AA batteries.

Luckily for the prisoners, who clearly put a lot of time and effort in constructing it, this prison weapon was actually used. On May 21, 1984, two inmates used it to take a correction officer hostage. To show the power of the shotgun, they fired it at some bulletproof glass causing it to crack. The crack is on the bottom right hand corner of the picture. In the end, the shotgun worked and the two inmates escaped in a car. There was no information if they were ever apprehended again.

1. Crossbow

Stony Mountain Institution is a medium security prison in Manitoba, Canada. In 1998, in the segregation area where inmates are held for being punished, correctional officers found this rather ingenious crossbow.

Altogether, this contraption used 10 different types of materials. This included 10 toothbrushes, parts of a cigarette lighter, aluminum cafeteria tongs, and a piece of wire coat hanger. The arrows were made from tightly rolled paper, Q-tips, rolled up masking tape, aluminum foil used in cigarette packs, and pieces of wire. After the guards confiscated the crossbow, they tested it and found that it accurately shot up to 40 feet.

The crossbow was so impressive that it was housed in a museum at one of Canada’s maximum security prisons in Kingston, Ontario.

Robert Grimminck is a Canadian freelance writer. You can friend him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, follow him on Pinterest or visit his website, or his true crime YouTubechannel.

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