What paper means in prison

"The vast majority of altered paper is harmless. Some officials tend to look the other way when toilet paper is crafted into chess pieces (using an age-old prison paper mâchè recipe of toilet paper and water: wetted, molded, dried and wetted again). But where a rook and a knight have an innocuous purpose, the same manipulation of toilet paper can be used to make a deadly knife, called a "shank," which, it is said, can disappear with a flush" — Katy Bolger for The Awl.


  1. Nice Sensationalism there.
    The next lines are “The vast majority of shanks are made from toothbrushes and the rest from found metal, glass and hardened plastic. The paper shank, while it exists, is mostly mythological, a page out of prison lore, and it might be that one toilet paper shank spawned a thousand metaphorical cuts. “

    1. The point of this post is to encourage you to go and read said article. It’s really very easy to strap down that bouncing knee and accept that you are being invited to read something and are expected and encouraged to do your own thinking about it, rather than assume that blog posts are interpretive summaries intended to make that unnecessary.

      1. I think Vogie’s point was that he expected the pull-quote used in the post to be accurate and not pulled out of context in a way that readers might find misleading.

  2. the same manipulation of toilet paper can be used to make a deadly knife, called a “shank,” which, it is said, can disappear with a flush

    Along with the credibility of this article.

  3. Prison is the perfect breeding ground for the security-state mentality.

    “I heard that someone made a weapon out of toilet paper once”=restrict all toilet paper forever

      1. Yes, I suppose they are lucky we have laws prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.

  4. The Mythbusters TV show did an episode where they successfully made a fairly functional *crossbow* out of paper and underwear elastic.

  5. Milwall brick ftw!

    That’s a hell of a teaser to get us to read the link.  they don’t even tell us how to make one or show a pic!  the rest of the  internet failed me on my search for a paper shank, although http://www.correctionsone.com/news/1843779-Alert-Toilet-paper-shank-found/ avers that at least one existed at some point.  the text was uploaded minus the pics.  this was 2009 btw.

    when I was in the bing for a week and a half, I scored a bunch of commissary using paper to draw portraits of inmates’ wives and designing letters for tattoos:  “only god can judge me” (tupac) and gang initials, as I recall.  so, yeah, paper served me pretty well in terms of trade, but it also gave me something to occupy my mind, which was far more valuable.

  6. McGuirk: I’ve been to the can a few times, Brendon. That’s what we call it, the can. So when you’re there, you call it the can, all right?
    Brendon: What do you call cans in prison?
    McGuirk: You mean, actual cans
    Brendon: Yeah.
    McGuirk: Like food? Cans of food?
    Brendon: Yeah.
    McGuirk: Those are still cans.

    McGuirk: And here’s another thing: make a shiv.
    Brendon: Yeah? How do you do that.
    McGuirk: I don’t know. You find stuff, you make it. You can stab someone with anything.
    Brendon: Yeah.
    McGuirk: You wear glasses?
    Brendon: No.
    McGuirk: You wear contacts?
    Brendon: No.
    McGuirk: You can make a knife out of contacts.
    Brendon: Really?
    McGuirk: That’s where I learned.
    Brendon: Wow.
    McGuirk: I killed a man with contacts.
    Brendon: In the can?
    McGuirk: Yeah.
    Brendon: Wow.

    McGuirk: And the other thing is that you can make a knife out of tags from T-shirts.
    Brendon: Like, the clothes tags?
    McGuirk: Yeah. Because they’re a little harder than the material.
    Brendon: And that’s enough to…
    McGuirk: To penetrate skin.
    Brendon: Wow.
    McGuirk: You just got to find the right spot. 

  7. I would suspect a paper shiv is rolled up into a rounded cone and then the tip is wetted and dried a number of times and then sharpened by grinding.

    After that you just cover then point in feces and stab away (aiming for the kidneys or lower body cavity in the hopes of causing some sort of massive infection.  Adding wood splinters and or other organic materials to the “payload” might also help the infection along.

  8. I am an advocate for a federal prisoner, a childhood baseball buddy who protected me from neighborhood bullies.  Now it is my turn and I try and protect him from the BOP.  He is currently in Lompoc right now where staff feels like they can do whatever they want, including false charges.  If inmates are to follow the rules, so should the guards.  They also have no work for them at all, and severely substandard medical care.  Country club prisons are a myth.  Maybe there are a handful of places for the white collar big whigs, but for the average person, prison is living hell!  And watch out! We already have the highest number of incarcerated people in the world.  For profit prisons are lobbying the puppets in Washington for a 100% occupancy rate.  It could be you or your loved ones next!

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