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Contraband: Mini bow-and-arrow from pen

Corrections staff who have family that listen to them are very fortunate. Not only is this a release from the pressures of the job, the empathy is refreshing. I have family members who not only listen to me about contraband control; they take it a step farther. Sometimes they make weapons out of common items for my assessment.

In fact, the following is based on my wife saying, “Look what I made! I saw it on Pinterest.” The post was a tribute to school days and funny things that students make. She saw that this was more than a student’s diversion. This could be a threat in a corrections setting.

She showed me a mini bow and arrow made of an altered standard pen and a rubber band. The ink insert served as the arrow.


It was exceedingly easy to make. One need only bore a hole in the center of the plastic barrel and insert the pen’s finger rest. That serves as a guide for the projectile. The rubber band serves as a string. Below is the dismantled weapon.


Before this is dismissed as a toy or a curiosity, I offer this information. I tested the arrow. The ink cartridge/arrow flew 25 feet and hit the back wall hard, leaving an ink mark.

With help, I tested the potency of this weapon with a firm tomato to see how the weapon may be used to puncture soft tissue. From a distance of over a foot away, the weapon was used ten times. About half of those arrows stuck. In one successful instance, the arrow plunged four inches into the test fruit. Pictured below, the pen tip is buried about an inch and a half into the tomato. This image was captured as the first time the arrow pierced the target.


There are some associated dangers with a weapon like this:

  • Stronger rubber bands can be used to launch the projectile further. Also, standard rubber bands can be doubled up to increase range.
  • The arrow can be switched out. It does not need to be the ink core. Other arrows can be sharpened wood, needles, or a pointed piece of metal from an oven shelf. A modified paper clip or a thumb tack can make the arrow more dangerous.
  • The rubber band can be secured by making niches in the top and bottom of the pen barrel.
  • It is portable and easy to hide.
  • The pen is a common item that general population prisoners may possess. Even if a facility restricts all but clear barrel pens, they still function.
  • The test range of 25 feet is useful inside a prison. Not too many rooms in a correctional facility are larger than that.
  • Aimed at a soft spot with accuracy can buy time for the assailant and create an effective diversion. A close range shot can temporarily disable staff.
  • Staff may accidently leave a pen like this out for an enterprising contrabandist to procure.

This made me consider the variety of flexible safety pens that I have seen at trade shows. I know that this is not a 100% guarantee of safety, but it may limit potential danger.

I am not suggesting that an army of inmates will take over facilities armed with pens and rubber bands. Nor am I equating density of a firm tomato with that of the human eye. However, the curious contraband hound will ponder this potential threat.

Contraband is everywhere. Potential weapons are always within the grasp of prisoners. Common items can be altered to make quick and simple bootleg. Never overlook the little things.

Joe Bouchard worked in a maximum correctional facility for 25 years and is now retired. He continues to write and present on many corrections topics. He is the former editor of The Correctional Trainer. Bouchard has been an instructor of corrections and criminal justice since 1999. He currently teaches at Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College. Bouchard also has online writing clips at He is also the author of three corrections books for LRP publications and 10 books for IACTP’s series of training exercises books. Order now.