Friday, May 16, 2014


Machines and Electronics

toaster or grill

Some low-security prisons allow the use of hot plates in cells, but in those that don’t, prisoners still find ways to cook their own food. This cell stove/grill was made by a prisoner in Germany using a broken heater, aluminum foil, and some wire.

mini lathe

Whether it was meant to be used for making art, tools or weapons is a mystery, but this mini-lathe is a great example of how prisoners use the items around them to make ingenious machines. A few discarded pieces of plastic, some batteries, wires, tape and rubber bands, and you’re in business.
still heater

Since alcohol isn’t allowed in prison, prisoners have been making jailhouse booze forever. An essential part of any inmate’s still is an immersion heater like this one. Razor blades and an electric cord make up the (presumably extremely dangerous) heater pictured.
bug or transmitter

Inmates – especially those with contraband to hide – are constantly on the lookout for cell shakedowns. They can more easily prepare for the searches if they have a device like this bug. Provided that they can somehow sneak it into the guard room, this tiny transmitter will allow a prisoner to listen to whatever is going down in the guards’ domain. Made from radio recorder parts, the little device can also be used to transmit from one cell to another, provided the second cell has a receiver like the one pictured above, hidden in an encyclopedia.
tattoo gun

Prison tattoos are made in a variety of ways: some inmates use razor blades to etch the skin before rubbing ink in, some use a paper clip or staple to embed the ink, and some find a way to make an improvised tattoo gun. All it takes is a power source (like batteries), a small motor (we hear the N64 rumble pack is popular), a sewing needle or piece of sharpened wire and a few miscellaneous pieces to hold it all together.

Home Comforts

salt and pepper shakers

When you’re cooking dinner on your cleverly engineered hot plate, chances are you’ll want to season your food. But since you aren’t allowed to take the cafeteria salt and pepper shakers back to your cell, these makeshift salt and pepper shakers are just as good.
chess set

Boredom sets in easily in prison, so prisoners are always coming up with ingenious ways to keep themselves busy. These dice and this beautiful chess set were made of paper mache, which in prison consists of toilet paper, water and glue.
dice or snack table

This little table, made from ramen noodle packages and masking tape, is perfect for playing dice on or enjoying a snack in your bunk. This is a perfect example of how prisoners recycle everything possible to make things that they want or need. Their never-ending inventiveness adds a touch of comfort, order and beauty to an otherwise barren and unpleasant environment.
prison candle 2

Candles aren’t allowed in prison for the obvious reasons that they can easily start a fire or be used as weapons. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be found, though. Prisoners use empty yogurt or applesauce containers, baby oil, and thread to make crude candles for seeing after lights-out, sterilizing needles, and whatever other activities might require an open flame.
prison pencil box

Many inmates use art as a way to cope with incarcerated life. These pencil boxes, cleverly made from discarded toothpaste boxes, can store the artistic prisoner’s colored pencils.
prison battery lighter

When an inmate needs to light a homemade candle or hard-earned cigarette, obviously he can’t just pull a lighter out of his pocket. There are many ways to get access to fire (or at least a spark) in prison, but this one is simple while boasting a pretty intelligent design. A wire is taped to the negative side of the battery; when you want a light, just touch the other side of the wire to the positive side of the battery and the exposed bit of wire in the middle heats up.
Prison pipe

If you manage to get hold of some weed in prison, finding a way to smoke it is the easy part. Prisoners have made pipes out of tons of different materials, but this one, made from an empty horseradish tube, is truly inventive. When rolled up, it looks completely innocent.
muff bag

Being locked up for long periods of time makes you miss a lot of things, not the least of which is sex. When you haven’t seen an actual woman in months or years, a rolled-up blanket with a plastic bag inside and a generous squirt of baby oil starts to look pretty good. This is one area in which both male and female prisoners seem to have an endless supply of creativity; prison sex toys have been made out of just about everything at one time or another.



Prison is a notoriously dangerous place. Weapons are, of course, not allowed, but that poses no problem for inmates determined to do some damage. The shiv on the left was made from a sharpened carriage return from a typewriter. The one on the right is a piece of Plexiglass with a tape-wrapped handle. When using a Plexiglass shiv, inmates will often score the Plexiglass so that it breaks off in the victim, leaving the fingerprint-containing handle in the attacker’s possession so he can dispose of it.
crucifix shiv

This terrifying-looking blade, concealed in a crucifix, was confiscated from an inmate in a German prison. It was made by the inmate in the prison workshop. This is a sophisticated example of a jailhouse shiv; most are made from primitive materials like chicken bones, sharpened toothbrush handles, and melted and hardened trash bags or Styrofoam cups. Some prisoners even coat their weapons in feces to increase the chance that the victim will develop a painful and dangerous infection.

Candy bars as a weapon? Yes – in prison, anything goes. Candy bars are melted down on hot plates and the molten mess thrown into the face of the victim. The chocolate and caramel are extremely hot and harden very quickly, making them painful when they hit and difficult to get off of the skin. This DIY weapon may be primitive, but it’s effective.
whip and rash knuckles

Prisoners tend to be pretty patient, given that most of them have plenty of time, so when they want to make something they are able to collect the pieces they need over time. The horrifying whip on the left is made from a shoelace and several razor blades. The “knuckleduster” on the right was made with a rasp probably stolen from the prison’s workshop.