15 Incredible Escape Tools Made By Prison Inmates


Sitting in a cell day after day with no tools and no access to the outside world would makes it very difficult to be creative, one might think. Yet there is no end to man’s creativity, and inmates in prison are no exception. Marc Steinmetz is a superb photographer who spent some time in the late ’90s photographing these tools that inmates many made for escapes.

15. Saw

Confiscated in the therapy section of Hohenasperg prison, this ingenious device was made using a coat hanger and a jigsaw blade to make a saw. Perhaps giving inmates jigsaws to work with is not the best idea. Or at least count all the blades at the end.

14. Ladder from Bedsheets

We’ve all heard about the escape ropes made from bed sheets, but few of us have ever seen the real thing. This one is 16 meters long and made with dish towels as well as sheets. It was used in an escape attempt from the ‘Santa Fu’ jail in Hamburg, Germany. One man fell and the other one got to the roof; its seems he was climbing the wrong direction!

13. Catapult

Not only was an inmate at Wolfenbuettel prison ingenious in the design of this catapult, he also had an ingenious excuse! It was a piece of art called the Dachsund! Needless to say, this was not believed and the device was confiscated in 1991.

12. Shotgun

This was more than just ingenious; it worked as well! A shotgun made of iron bedposts. The charge came from lead in curtain tape and was set off by AA batteries. Prisoners took a hostage, fired at a pane of glass and broke out into a waiting car on May 21, 1984.

11. Toaster/Griddle

Hopefully used just as a way to heat up clandestine food and drink and not a way to harm someone, this is a homemade toaster/grill and stove found in the mid ’80s and made from a broken heating rod, tinfoil and wire.

10. Grappling Hook

A grappling hook with an overall length of four and half meters, it had 13 segments and was made from extension rods and leather rope. It facilitated an escape in Ludwigsburg prison on August 19, 1987, with the prisoners getting over two walls.

9. False Leg Stash

If you ever want to stash contraband, there aren’t many better places than a hollowed out part of your false leg. A prisoner in ‘Santa Fu’ prison in Germany used it to smuggle narcotics in and out until the guards took a look in 1984.

8. Mace

This extremely nasty looking implement was found in 1997 in ‘Santa Fu’. Either a weapon like a mace or made to use to push barbed wire off a wall, it was discovered in a metal workshop in the prison.

7. Ladder

Gerhardt Polk and Raimund Albert used this ladder made from steel shelves for books to escape ‘Santa Fu’ prison in Hamburg on October 10, 1994.

6. Chess Piece Rope Ladder

Along the same lines but far more ingenious in scope was this rope ladder made from homemade rungs disguised as chess pieces and confiscated in 1993 in Wolfenbuettel prison.

5. Whip

A drug addicted prisoner in Santa Fu prison held a female guard hostage with this evil looking implement to get a higher methadone ration. Needless to say it was confiscated.

4. Knuckle Duster

Inmates are also known to get into serious gang and other territorial fights. One of the nastier recycled toys here is a knuckle duster made from a rasp and padded on one side, found in 1993 in Wolfenbuettel prison.

3. Hash Pipe

A prisoner looking to escape the reality of his situation, if not the bricks and mortar themselves, made a hash pipe out of an empty tube of horseradish. Marc Steinmetz points out that the range of smoking implements made by prisoners is equal only to their creative imaginations.

2. Immersion Heater

Alcohol is rarely served by the powers that be in prisons but that doesn’t stop inmates from finding ways to make their own! This was an immersion heater used with mashed fermented fruit to make moonshine.

1. Crucifix

One of the most horrifying implements out of this group, it was a weapon hidden in a home made wooden crucifix. The shiv (homemade knife) was clearly a weapon either for a hostage taking or to be used against another inmate. Crucifixes were common in wood working prison shops until it was realized that they hid some very unpleasant surprises.