What’s a zip gun? You’ll get a detailed explanation if you go to work in Canada’s penitentiary system where a working zip gun – a homemade handgun – is a dreaded weapon behind bars. Small, lethal, easily concealed and assembled from common materials, a zip gun transforms any convict into a killer capable of murdering a prison worker, a fellow inmate or leading a riot, hostage taking or escape attempt. For these reasons, Corrections Canada offers new recruits a detailed explanation how zip guns can be manufactured and assembled by prisoners (after the jump, see the zip gun assembly photo montage that appears in a CSC training manual) and what the disassembled components look like.
Through my late teens and early 20s – in late 70s and 80s – heavy-duty plastic milk crates had one notable use, as containers/carriers for long-play, 33 rpm records. Albums fit perfectly into the rugged, square containers that were designed to transport jugs and plastic bags of milk and other products from dairies to retailers and restaurants. It turns out the crates have an entirely unexpected use inside a federal penitentiary, as the raw material for fabrication of a sturdy and lethal prison shank. I dug out of my personal archive a photo I snapped of one of these marvels of convict engineering (inset, in full after jump), after seeing a recent decision of a Federal Court judge who tossed out the internal prison conviction of an Ontario inmate after a five-inch long Fibreglas knife was found inside the convict’s cell.
Say “prison weapon,” and most people think of handcrafted knives – known in convict parlance as ‘shanks’ and ‘shivs.’ They’re the most plentiful illegal weapons found inside jails and prisons because they are easily crafted and concealed. Often, they are crude – sharpened butter knives or spoons that have been flattened and honed to a point, for instance. But some convicts combine equal portions ingenuity, resourcefulness and desperation to produce truly remarkable prison weaponry. Frighteningly deadly and destructive arms turn up every so often and fortunately, most such weapons are ferreted out by prison staff before they’re put to use. Such was the case in 1972 at medium-security Collins Bay Institution in Kingston, Ontario, where staff discovered that a convict or convicts had crafted a deadly, working shotgun (pic after the jump) using common bits of hardware.