ST. PAUL, Minn. - In March, Minnesota State Archives staffers were reviewing records at the Stillwater prison when they stumbled upon an old vault in the administration building. Inside was a box full of homemade weapons and tools confiscated from inmates.
Archivists invited the Minnesota Historical Society to curate the items, which included everything from a toothbrush and razor shanks to improvised tattoo guns. Most of the items date to the 1970s through the 1990s and were crafted out of everyday items like pens, rulers and pieces secretly crafted in the prison’s wood and metal shop.
"Weapons and tools like these don't often find their way into museum collections, and it can be hard to document the experiences of prisoners through objects," said MNHS Curator Sondra Reierson. "These items help give us a sense of what life could be like for inmates at Stillwater."
She notes that the acquisition complements other collections items related to crime and criminal justice in Minnesota, including crack pipes confiscated by the Minneapolis Police Department in the 1990s and the revolver used to injure gangster John Dillinger in a St. Paul police shootout.
These items are being digitized and will be available to view on the MNHS website by September 2017.