Prison inmates: The world’s least admirable hackers


One thing that always amazes us is the ingenuity displayed by prison inmates, as demonstrated in the tools and weapons they create while under the watchful eye of the law. Unlike most people however, these individuals have nothing but time on their side, which lends to the wide range of implements they inevitably dream up.

[Marc Steinmetz] took some time to photograph a handful of contraband items which were confiscated in various prisons. They range from the relatively benign bed sheet ladder to more sophisticated items such as battery-powered shotguns constructed from iron bedposts. While weaponry and escape aids are the most common prison yard creations, he also came across a DIY toaster, a hidden radio receiver, and one of our favorites – the surveillance bug pictured above, which was used to listen in on guards’ conversations.

While the use of any of these items in a controlled prison environment is questionable at best, it’s still interesting to see what people can hack together with limited resources and a heck of a lot of time.

[via Neatorama via Environmental Graffiti]

38 thoughts on “Prison inmates: The world’s least admirable hackers

  1. Next time I’m in jail I’m gonna have to try and do something constructive with my time instead of working out and playing spades.

    Seriously though, I love it.

    1. Been there, done most of that. Nerds don’t end up on that side of the fence often. It’s amazing how much power a little know-how, some copper wire and a radio can give you.

      Small AM bugs, 2 ways radios… it all went down. I would like to think I’m personally responsible for an improvement in the inmate tech level in the [state redacted] prison system.

  2. I recall reading about a telegraph system the inmates had set up in one prison. They used the prisons own AC wiring by cutting the ground wire and tapping it against the hot wire. The other end had a styrofoam cup with salt water and aluminum foil attached to the wires. When current flowed the foil would spark between the foil connected wires and by tapping the other end of the wires you could send a message.

    Definitely dangerous sending 120Volts ac like that but it worked for about a year.

  3. I remember that one inmate who was blinking a led with a piece of cheese and a coin to morse his status out of the window to have a friend outside update his facebook.

  4. @sawo thats pretty clever.

    I did read somewhere that prisoners have been known to repair the stuff they are given for good behaviour, as it sucks if your radio stops working in the middle of the football.

    I say if they have the technosavvy to fix stuff let them, under controlled conditions. Gives experience and allows them to have a sense of accomplishment which does wonders for morale.

  5. I wonder what the circuit is for the picture above the transmitter. Gotta love it. I used to make small fans for people. Also made some battery packs for the radios so they were somewhat louder and lasted longer or if you were trying to put AA in a AAA slot

  6. Have heard of people salvaging parts then using hot melt glue and twisted wire to hold them together.

    Looks ugly but usually works fine.
    Plus if it gets a bad joint it takes seconds to fix by heating the suspect glue+twist joint and squeezing it in a clothes peg covered with non stick paper until set.

      1. I didn’t see the comment, but I feel like you should take it easy on the censorship. Sure, nobody wants to read a flame-war, but sanitizing all the comments isn’t really in the hacker spirit.

  7. That is amazing, really admirable.
    I don’t know how a prision is, in the US, but here in Uruguay is actually HELL.

    Yep, it’s called “Penal de libertad”.

  8. Very interesting readup:

    “Transcript of a recording by Lieutenant Colonel R G Wells, on the construction of radio equipment whilst in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp after the fall of Singapore.”

    To quote some:

    So we hit upon the idea of taking some tin foil or aluminum foil from the lining of the tea chest from which the Japanese supplied with the rice rations, then by the well known equations for calculating capacity and the relationship of the surface area and spacing of the plates, we built a capacitor or, at least, I built a capacitor which according to calculations should have been about “.01 microfarad.”

  9. The local Ripley museum has a big selection of stuff made in prison…from shanks and ladders to miniature coin-op moving landscapes made from match sticks.

    The most dangerous thing ever made in a prison? The first copy of Mein Kampf.

    1. That book did nothing (mein kampf), it was the author who lead the way to bad things later, but the book itself is pretty meaningless.

      If you want to talk prison books, how about the translation of the bible to english? :)
      I hear that was also done by a prisoner in the old days.

  10. I’m surprised it took prison officials more than 2.5 seconds to figure out that the crucifixes were for weapons. Even without the metal insert, all someone has to do is whittle/sand down the long part to make a shiv.

    That said, my favorite is the heater/toaster. Nothing like a little live line voltage to keep you on your toes!

  11. …Shot out a pane of bullet proof glass….

    Yikes. That’s a little more explosive power (in a masking-taped kludge) than I would like to have tucked under my arm!

  12. hmmm, i’m impressed in these “gadgetry” made in jail, but also worried, how the hell did they get capacitors, resistors, wires, batteries…??
    @sawo, could you elaborate about leds and cheese?

  13. Over 1/2 of the people in US prisons are there on non-violent drug or copyright violation charges.

    1/3 of the convicted violent felons are not US citizens.

    1. There aren’t that many people at all in prison for copyright violation. Sure, lots for drug offenses, but the copyright reference is a bit melodramatic.

  14. Last year at ca. State prison l.a. county, (lancaster) staff found laptop computers inmates were useing to get staff home adress and phone numbers. Inmate had hacked into prison computer atteming to change his release date. The computerd were found in the cell door.

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