Keeping up with inmate improvisation is an endless and thankless project. It seems nothing brings out the ingenuity in a person like an endless sea of days spent staring through bars and thinking about freedom.
Photographer Marc Steinmetz must have understood this when he set out to create the fantastic photo essay we've printed below, showing some of the most cunning and creative improvised weapons and tools built by inmates in his home country of Germany.
SHOTGUN - made from iron bedposts; charge made of pieces of lead from curtain tape and match-heads, to be ignited by AA batteries and a broken light bulb. On May 21, 1984 two inmates of a prison in Celle, Germany, took a jailer as a hostage, showed off their fire power by letting go at a pane of bullet-proof glass, and escaped by car.
SHIV - disguised as a wooden crucifix;found in an inmate’s cell in Wolfenbüttel prison, Germany, sometime around 1994; intended for use in an escape or as a general weapon. At that time a lot of crucifixes were fashioned in prison woodshops until jailers finally figured out their true purpose.
IMMERSION HEATER - made from razor blades; found in a cell in ‘Santa Fu’ jail in Hamburg, Germany. Jailbirds use these tools to distil alcoholic beverages forbidden in prisons. Your typical inmate’s moonshine still includes a plastic can containing fermented fruit mash or juice, an immersion coil of some sort, a rubber hose, and a plastic receptacle for the booze.
KNUCKLEDUSTER - with padded handle, made from a rasp that was presumably stolen from a prison workshop. The weapon was found in a cell in the prison of Wolfenbüttel, Germany, sometime around 1993.
HASH PIPE - fashioned from an empty horseradish tube; confiscated in ‘Santa Fu’ prison in Hamburg, Germany. Smoking implements are the most common illicit items in prisons. The range of materials they are made of mirrors the inmates’ great imagination.
DOUBLE-BARRELED PISTOL - This gun was found along with other homemade firearms in the cell of two Celle prison inmates on November 15, 1984. The weapons had been made in the prison’s metal workshop. They were loaded with pieces of steel and match-heads.
LADDER - made of steel rails from bookshelves. On October 10, 1994, inmates Gerhard Polak and Raimund Albert used this ladder during their successful escape from ‘Santa Fu’ prison in Hamburg, Germany.
MACE - This instrument was found in 1997 in the metal workshop of ‘Santa Fu’ prison in Hamburg, Germany, where an unknown inmate manufactured and hid it. It is either a weapon, or, attached to a pole, might have been designed to push away barbed wire from the top of a wall during an escape.
NARCOTICS CACHE - In a hollow space inside his artificial leg a prisoner in open detention frequently smuggled narcotics into ‘Santa Fu’ prison in Hamburg, Germany. Around 1984 his behaviour finally got the attention of the jailers who gave the prosthesis a check.
WHIP - with razor blades. The grisly weapon was found around 1996 in ‘Santa Fu’ jail in Hamburg, Germany, in the cell of a drug addicted inmate after his failed attempt to extort a higher Methadone ration by threatening a female prison officer with a knife.
DUMMY SUBMACHINE GUN - made from a grease injector, wood, a rubber sleeve, and tape. The mock weapon was found in 1994 in a prison workshop in Wolfenbüttel prison, Germany, after jailers were tipped off that an escape attempt was being planned.
RADIO TRANSMITTER/BUG - made of radio recorder parts by an inmate of Wolfenbüttel prison, Germany (battery is missing). Prisoners occasionally manage to install gizmos like this one in guard-rooms to be prepared for upcoming cell searches. Also suitable as a means of cell-to-cell communication among inmates. A standard radio serves as a receiver.
GRAPPLING HOOK - with segmented extension rod (13 segments, overall length: 4.5 meters); rope made of leather and string. This cleverly conceived tool assisted two inmates in their escape from Ludwigsburg prison, Germany, on August 19, 1987. The attached rod enabled them to place and retrieve the hook and thus negotiate two prison walls in succession.
DUMMY PISTOL - from blackened cardboard; found on June 23, 1988, in an inmate’s cell in Stammheim prison, Germany, after a fellow prisoner tipped off the jailers. The dummy was hidden in an empty milk pack and was most probably intended to be used for taking hostages in an escape attempt.
SAW - made from a wooden coathanger and a jagsaw blade. The tool was confiscated in the therapeutical section of Hohenasperg prison, Germany.