For most of us, prison is a thing we understand through the prism of pop culture. We see it in movies and TV shows, and even on the news. We have a concept of how it’s supposed to work, and it’s weird to discover it doesn’t always follow the path we expect. But remember, these places are full of people who have been denied freedom. That denial can make a person extremely creative and motivated to do things they’re not supposed to do. And the end result of that is the extremely bizarre list of things that have been discovered behind prison walls.
10. Smuggle Cat
Animals have long been used to smuggle items into prisons. Typically, however, it’s birds. Birds can be used to smuggle drugs or cell phones. But what if a prisoner needs something more substantial? After all, a pigeon can only carry so much weight. But a cat? A cat could carry a lot of things.
In Brazil, officials found a cat sneaking onto the prison grounds that was loaded down with an impressive amount of gear with which someone could stage a prison break. The poor animal had been saddled with two saws, two concrete drills, a cell phone complete with charger, batteries and a headset. There was also a memory card.
Apparently, the cat had been seen on the grounds many times before heading in and out and they assumed one of the inmates had trained it. After the gear was removed, they took it to a shelter.
9. Pet Rabbit
Is everything smuggled into jail for nefarious purposes? Not necessarily. Just because it’s prohibited doesn’t always mean it’s something like drugs or weapons or cellphones. Some inmates just want to have a friend, like the guy who was discovered with a pet rabbit.
In the UK back in 2014, an inmate was discovered to be hiding a contraband rabbit that he was keeping as a pet. They even constructed a hutch for it to live in, which shows some commitment.
The domesticated rabbit had been found by prisoners who were working outside and decided to take it home with them. The experience was short lived and within several days, the rabbit was discovered and sent to an animal rescue.
8. Cigarette Roach
There’s a story that’s very nearly an urban legend now; a prison myth. It was even featured on an episode of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, and for that reason it’s hard to confirm it as anything more than a popular story. It’s the tale of a cockroach trained to smuggle cigarettes.
There does seem to be some truth to the tale, dating back to the 1930s in Texas. Word is an inmate at a prison in Amarillo trained a roach to come to him in solitary when he whistled, carrying a single cigarette and a match tied to his back, presumably arranged by a partner outside.
Now the story sounds a little sketchy at best, but a roach could certainly be strong enough to carry one cigarette. A roach can carry between 300 and 900 times, its own weight, which is a hell of a feat. And the idea of training cockroaches is also not impossible. With food as motivation, it could certainly be done. What else does a guy in prison in the 1930s have to do with his time? And even in the present people are training mice to carry drugs through prison, so it’s a thing that certainly could happen.
7. Karaoke Suite
Karaoke is one of those things that you’re either into or you’re not. But some people who are into it are really into it. So much so that even being in prison can’t stop them from busting out their best Drake impression.
Indonesia’s Artalyta Suryani was a businesswoman who got five years in prison for bribery charges. Whatever she had initially been charged with, she offered the prosecutor $600,000 to drop it. It didn’t work out. But lucky for her, she got to put that $600,000 to better use, which, in this case, meant a heck of a suite in prison.
Indonesia’s prison system is a little shadier than it should be, and that means officials are more open to bribes than they should be. When a TV crew accompanied officials on a surprise inspection, they discovered Suryani’s prison cell was basically a luxury apartment. She had sofas and a flatscreen TV and also a staff. There was a nanny working for her, taking care of the child that also lived in her prison cell. And while Suryani herself was in a different cell getting a laser beauty treatment, officials discovered she had an adjoining cell that had been converted into a karaoke suite.
6. Massive Pruno Haul
Are you really in prison if you don’t experience pruno at least once? This prison toilet wine has been around for years and is a testament to an inmate’s ingenuity and also a complete lack of self-preservation. It’s alcohol fermented from literally anything a prisoner can scrounge up that may or may not make you go blind when you drink it. The CDC also warns that maybe it contains botulism.
There’s no typical pruno recipe, but it can involve anything from apples and oranges to fruit cups and even ketchup packets. Basically, you need a fruit or vegetable base with some sugar and water and then slices of bread to provide some yeast to help the fermentation process. Let it sit in a bag for a while and it becomes alcoholic.
Finding it in prison isn’t all that rare. It’s contraband and not allowed, but it happens. However, prisoners at the Santa Rita jail in California went all out in 2020 ahead of a planned Super Bowl party. Officials confiscated bags and bags of the stuff, several hundred gallons of it, in fact. No word on if it was the biggest pruno haul ever, but it had to be up there.
5. A Homemade Computer
Prisoners have access to computers these days for things like learning and even writing correspondence if they so choose. They’re limited in what they can do, of course, and internet access is strictly controlled. Of course, that’s just when people follow the rules and it’s safe to assume you can’t always expect inmates to follow rules.
In 2017, officials in Ohio discovered that inmates had built their own computer and hidden it in the ceiling. The prison had a program that allowed inmates to break down old electronics for recycling. Two inmates working together had stolen bits and pieces while at work until they had enough to make a new computer.
Their toy was discovered when officials noticed that a computer on their network had exceeded a daily internet usage threshold. Not only had they built a computer, they got onto the prison’s network with it. When it was discovered, officials found recipes for drugs, pornography, applications for credit cards, and more.
4. Electric Guitar
Obviously most of the stuff that qualifies as crazy is also illegal. It’s mind blowing to see what prisoners can either smuggle or build. But every once in a while a perfectly legal and sanctioned item gets produced, and it’s so amazing it deserves some recognition. That’s the case with Norman Lockamy’s electric guitar.
Hand made in a prison wood shop, the guitar was named Lady and featured an oak body and a maple headstock. Apparently one or two items used to finish the guitar were perhaps not 100% prison approved, but it seems like he got away with it since the contraband items were just guitar parts used to make an actual guitar. The end result was an absolute piece of art that looks like something you’d see hanging on the wall of your local guitar shop. And it sounded amazing, too.
3. Paper Heads
In a historical context, these paper mache heads created by Frank Morris and John and Clarence Anglin are some of the most amazing things ever discovered in a prison. They were simple constructs made of toilet paper and soap. The prisoners crafted them in secret during their time in Alcatraz. They used paint from the prison maintenance shop and they even stole hair from the floor of the prison barber to make them as real as possible. And why would anyone do such a thing? To escape.
The three men plotted their escape back in 1962. Each one designed a head to put on the pillow of their prison bed. With the covers pulled up, a passing guard would glance in, see a head on the pillow, and assume each man was asleep as he should be. It was so stupid that it was brilliant.
The men escaped out of a utility door and used an improvised raft to leave the island. The men were never seen again, and the FBI concluded they probably drowned, but that’s never been proven either. The heads have begun to fall apart in recent years, so 3D scans were taken to preserve them as items of historical significance.
Of all the things you can smuggle into a prison, one of the hardest has to be an actual human. Those are super noticeable. But if you’re crafty enough, you can pull it off, and Florida (because of course it was Florida) learned this lesson the hard way when they discovered strippers in a maximum security facility. And it happened more than once.
So how does one get a stripper into prison without anyone noticing? That involved some lying. In this case, a lawyer for an inmate needs to show up with a paralegal to visit a client. So far, so legal. Things get shifty when it becomes clear that the lawyer is not being honest, and the paralegal is no paralegal at all.
Apparently, all a lawyer needs to do is sign a form to claim anyone as their assistant, and that’s perfectly legal. So they were bringing in women who had no legal training and were literally just there to entertain the inmates. They’d get a private room because of attorney-client privilege and the women would strip and give lap dances and such.
Several of the women were caught, one performing in solitary confinement while another was actually having sex with an inmate in a meeting room.
1. A Glider
It is an acknowledged duty of any prisoner of war to try to escape. Often, this is much easier said than done, especially for POWs who often face much harsher conditions than normal prisoners. But it has also led to some amazing efforts to accomplish that goal.
During the Second World War, British POWs being held at Oflag IV-C, otherwise known at Colditz Castle, were working on their own escape plan. The entire thing hinged on one of the most amazing creations ever to emerge from behind prison walls: a glider.
One of the prisoners realized that the roof of the chapel was obscured from sight on the ground. They could do anything up there without the Germans seeing them, and that included launching a glider to get them over the walls and past the river outside.
The library of the castle had a book on aircraft design, and the team set to work. They strapped it together from a variety of purloined parts, including floorboards, sheets and even porridge to seal holes.
The prison was actually liberated by American forces before the Brits got a chance to use the glider. Only one photo of the glider plus hand drawn plans survived. A replica was made years later and flown by remote control off of the roof. It worked like a charm and made it all the way across the river.