The Many Insane Flavours of Improvised Prison Weapons

By Brent Rose on at

Heading to the place where a prison's homicide evidence is kept, you might expect to see a few sharpened objects—maybe a bludgeon or two. You would be underprepared.

Officer Eric Patao works in the Investigative Services Unit, where all these weapons currently reside. He investigates the gangs that are constantly stirring up trouble in San Quentin; he does his best to keep them unarmed, but the weapons he showed us—a small samples of the ones he's confiscated—look like objects out of a horror movie.

"We discover these items on a weekly basis, especially after a large-scale incident," says Officer Patao. After a riot or an attempt on somebody's life, they find a lot of these. Inmates throw them down the cellblock's tiers to try to distance themselves from the weapon so they can't be tied to it.

Toothbrush weapons are the most common, because the stock is so readily available—everybody's got one, and you can make a toothbrush shiv in under a minute. "Inmates get word in the canteen the night before that something's going to happen," Patao says. "They can break the brush head off and sharpen the shaft in seconds." Some do it just to protect themselves in case they are attacked; some use them as weapons to assault others.

As a bonus we wanted to give you a quick look at the kinds of weapons the officers in San Quentin carry. On the ground, none of the guards have guns. Those are reserved for the guys up high, where the prisons wouldn't be able to get them. The multi-round launcher is capable not only of shooting those gargantuan rubber bullets you see in the video, but also of firing teargas grenades and other projectiles.

Lockdown is our bigger US brother's series on tech in one of the US' most notorious prisons. True, it may not bear too much relevance to our law-abiding Gizmodo UK readers, but we deem it to be a fascinating account on a prison we've all heard of (even if it's due to the Johnny Cash album and song of the same name.) Read the first part here.