The most common edged weapon is taken from a small piece of spring steel used to strengthen the arch in leather boots and shoes. This piece of metal is called the shank.

The jail-made "shank" is fashioned from this material, and is sharpened by scraping the metal on concrete floors. A handle is fashioned from paper or cloth. Since the length of the shank is small, the handle is often held in the palm of the fist with the blade protruding from between the middle and ring fingers like a push dagger. At a distance, the attack appears to be just a fist fight, but it is much more lethal.

The hard spring steel material of the shank can be used to cut softer iron, aluminum and other metals to make larger, longer "bone crusher" stabbing weapons. Every metal chair, bunk, window frame, table and chain-link fence is a potential edged weapon.

The jails and prisons are controlled by gangs such as the Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia, Aryan Brotherhood and Black Guerrilla Family, whose members diagram the human anatomy to accurately target the most lethal parts of their victims. They've been videotaped in jails and prison yards practicing and rehearsing edged-weapon attacks.

After just a couple of years in this gladiator school, most hardcore gangsters have witnessed and participated in several edged-weapon attacks. This means unless you have experience in bladed combat, the gang members are more proficient than you are in a knife fight. Like a gunfight, you won't want to take second place.

Jail and prison hits are often perpetrated by multiple attackers. A three man team is most common; the designated "hit man," the secondary "lay off" man and the "eye," or lookout.

The inmate manufactured weapons are commonly hidden in the "keester" or rectum to escape detection from prison guards during searches. The weapons are purposely left dirty to cause infections in the wounds inflicted during the attack. Sometimes the blades are swabbed with blood infected with HIV or hepatitis. Inmates don't abide by the rules of the Geneva Convention in jails and prisons.

In addition to shanks and bone crushers, another common weapon is a portion of a razor blade heated and melted into a plastic toothbrush. The toothbrush becomes the handle and the weapon is used as a slashing weapon.

A good friend, Deputy Mac Rojo, was slashed across the neck by a jail inmate with such a weapon. As Mac fought with the inmate, he realized that his defensive efforts were only increasing his heart rate and blood loss. He turned to run to hit a panic button on the wall but fell unconscious before reaching it. Luckily another deputy heard the commotion and saw Mac fall. He nearly bled to death before he was saved by the jail clinic staff.


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Richard Valdemar
Richard Valdemar

Sergeant (Ret.)

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

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Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

View Bio