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Amazing Ingenuity in Prisoners’ Inventions


Back in 2001, the artists’ collective Temporary Services started a project with a prison inmate named Angelo in which they asked him to document how inmates adapt to their surroundings while confined.

Prisoner's Invention: Tattoo Gun

The project, entitled Prisoners’ Inventions, resulted in this fascinating 119-page book of detailed drawings that explain exactly how prisoners build contrivances from all sorts of found materials.

The book documents everything from how to build an electric cigarette lighter out of paper clips, ice cream spoons and parts from a hot-pot, to an electric tattoo gun made from a bic pen, a walkman cassette player and a battery, to how to use your toilet to chill your soda.

This book, above all things, proves that necessity is truly the mother of invention. Maybe the best way to really get the most creative solution to technical problems would be to lock up engineers during the design phase of their projects.

The book can be ordered from the Giant Robot store for $12.00. is now out of print, but you might be able to get your hands on a used copy over on Amazon.

Comments (10):

  1. Dustin says:

    its a good idea for the prisoners to invent the tattoo gun because of the fact i have a tattoo also but if the person dosent know how to do tattoos then its a peice of shit job but most people dont drawl bad and most of the people can do good tattoo art work

  2. co says:

    I vote bad idea all the way around, as a c.o. i know the amount of disease in this place, i’ve seen a a tattoo gun that used a sharpened paperclip as a needle, to me thats insanity. might as well say, can someone pass the aids please.

    • jeff says:

      to the co only fucken idiots EVER use somebodies ink,barrel,or needle if you use your own shit and arent stupid you are more likely to get poisoned from the chow hall than from prison art!!

      • Hamm3r88 says:

        To the c.o u must be working in a juv hall… ive done time and never used a paper clip to run ink. and always used new needles inks and tip w/ tubes.. 90% do these days.. know what ur talking about….pig

  3. Emily says:

    MP3 Players for Inmates are now available through Right Track Media, Inc. This company has finally solved the problem where inmates get electronic devices with motors inside.

    This clear Mp3 Player has no moving motors, parts, or recording devices. There are many security features built into this program to prevent theft and mis-use.

    866-414-3855, ext. 3.

  4. grace says:

    I think the mind is an incredible thing and the ability to make anything from anything just proves that regardless of cercumstance

  5. Mike says:

    Much of the appeal of prison tattoos seems to be rebellion against authority. If prisons offered tattooing as a free service, it would soon lose its appeal. Tattoo services could use clean needles and safer, easier-to-remove inks.

    • justhome says:

      Nah bro, what it is, is that there is nothing to do “up top” but the same thing day in day out. So when a new opportunity presents itself it is considered much more out of boredom. Also when a artist inside knows what he is doing and is sterile + has good work that is much cheaper from getting tats done on the street why not get it.

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