Hello, lock pickers.
THIS IS FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY. DO NOT MAKE YOUR OWN TATTOO GUN. IT CAN BE DANGEROUS, AND HOMEMADE INK CAN BE POISONOUS
You may be a bit curious how some prisoners got their prison tattoo (or presumably you do, after having typed “how to make prison tattoo gun” in Google’s search bar).
You know that awful beard trimmer your aunt got you for Christmas that you never use because it rips hair more than cut it off from your face? Well, therein lies the main part of your good old prison tattoo gun: the motor. In years gone by you'd use a Walkman motor, but since they are no longer made (and honestly, being seen wearing a Walkman cassette player in a modern prison is going to get you big-time humiliated), the beard trimmer motor is the one you want for your own tattoo gun.
On top of that, you're going to need a Bic Biro or Sharpie—this will make the chamber. Then an adjustable finger rest, some tape, a battery, some nail clippers for cutting (scissors may be harder to come by), and you're pretty much done building your prison tattoo machine. Pretty much. But what about prison tattoo needles?
And this is the bit that makes me feel weak. I'm not great with needles at the best of times, and the prison tattoo pen is not the best of times, in terms of the needle at least—it's the worst of times. The tattoo needle is made from the spring out of a lighter. Yup. That coiled compression spring is heated over a candle, stretched and straightened out, and that there is your needle for your prison tattoo gun. Attach a piece of sandpaper to the motor preassembly to sharpen the tattoo “needle,” strap a battery on with some tape, string, anything, and you've got your motorized tattoo device. Ouch.
A selection of prison tattoo guns—while clearly remarkably resourceful, not for the squeamish.
Ask anyone who's done any time in prison, and the overriding response is boredom. It doesn't fit the narrative, but time drags when you can't distract yourself, which is what the rest of us—those on the outside—spend most of our hard-earned money on, doing things. So while these tattoo guns are without doubt crude, almost barbaric, getting and doing tattoos takes time, and as such, they remain popular although forbidden in prisons across the world.
And a prison tattoo gun, in the hands of a pro, can produce remarkable works of art. Some of the prison tattoos, with all their encrypted meanings and for all the lack of “actual” tattoo kit, are some of the most impressive tattoos around. Though it’s still made with permanent black ink, these tattoos lack the clarity of others, but they have their own aesthetic, which some people on the outside actually try and recreate.
Here are some prison tattoos, almost certainly made with the prison tattoo gun I have explained. And take into account most prison tattoo ink is made by putting a wick in a tin of hair grease and collecting the soot on a piece of card. Yeah, that prison ink, pushed into your skin with a lighter spring…
So where am I going with all this? Well, as a lock picker, I have always thought if ever I got locked up for life (and I hope this rather flippant comment never comes back to haunt me as some accidental prediction), I would like to think I would plan some kind of escape. I would earn my place in the escape team based on my lock-picking abilities. (Come on! Cut me some slack—we all have our fantasies!)
I would be able to somehow make some picks, whether for handcuffs, leg irons, a door or two, a padlock on some kit, anything. I would at least like to think, given a couple of years in a cell, I'd have time and the resourcefulness to make some kind of pick or bypass tool to get me out—even though modern prisons are all electric locks and automated doors. Let me have my dreams!
Now, let's be honest. This is based on watching far too many movies and not having been locked up for life. It's kind of immature and unrealistic. But plenty of people have bodged picks out of items they had laying around. If you can make a tattoo machine, you can make some picks!
And a tattoo machine isn’t the only thing they make. Check out this selection of prison handiwork:
A cell hob.
A saw—quite nice too!
A shotgun. A SHOTGUN!
If you can make a shotgun in prison you can make some picks with stuff around the house. I mean, people have been making very nice lock picks from hacksaw blades for years. And remember, before the internet, it was hard to find lock picks, and what do you think people did to get lock picks? Most people made them—that was your option. Where do you think most of the designs we use today come from? People were making their own lock picks at home for decades, long before there were professional pick manufacturers got hold of the designs.
Here's a selection of crude but arguably effective homebrew lock picks:
Classic hacksaw blade lock picks.
Incredible ingenuity—handles here made from a fork handle, circuit boards, a pin vice, and a sharpened ballpoint pen. Wouldn't be out of place in the prison tools photos.
Incredible set here, made entirely from hacksaw blades, the entire kit folds up (see pic bottom left) and slips into the case.
A hook, half diamond, king and queen rake, and a B rake with handles made from pin-vices.
How things used to be. Luckily, today, we don't need to glue a hacksaw blade to a spoon handle, just as we don't need to burn off hair grease to get soot for a tattoo. Having been around pre-internet (yes, I am ancient), I remember the absolute lack of not only lock picks but everything! Wow, I have no idea how we got anything now I think about it.
But I also remember the early internet, the many, many shops selling lock picks, a rough selection, mainly Chinese imports, terrible customer service, awful websites, no technical assistance, nothing. Thank the Lord that today we have the beautiful selection of picks we have. Wonderful and ingenious designs, expertly packed and professionally conceived by experts who pick locks and who love lock picking.
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