Prison is a brutal place filled with the worst that society has to offer. So how best to emphasize this violent nature to the viewers to draw big ratings? Show some random guy get stabbed in the kidneys with a sharpened toothbrush and left to bleed to death on the floor. Congratulations, you just witnessed a shivving take place. Shivs (sometimes known as shanks, as the names are interchangeable) are a common staple of most shows relating to the goings-on inside a prison, most often used for the purpose of trying to kill another inmate, either as an ordered hit for someone that's high up, or as retribution for something that the designated target did at a prior point. Bonus points if they come out during a Prison Riot. Some inmates construct and carry shivs for the purpose of protecting themselves from violence. However, this is rarely shown, and even if it was, the punishment is the same, no matter what the reason it was made. Because of the restrictive nature of prisons, shivs tend to be made of just about anything, ranging from the simple (such as a sharpened toothbrush) to the elaborate (a 6-foot-long pole made from tightly wrapped paper equipped with a sharpened steel tip) to the truly disturbing (two razor blades taped side by side and capable of making grievous wounds that are notoriously hard to stitch up) to the ingenious (papier maché made from newspapers that can later be flushed). The construction of shivs remains a constant tug of war between the prisons attempting to stop the behavior with newer and greater restrictions, and the ingenuity of prisoners finding ways around said restrictions to continue their deadly art. See MacGyvering. This is a case of Truth in Television; however, it's drastically underportrayed, as real prisons have displays showcasing hundreds of Improvised Weapons made from the most innocuous of everyday materials. Not to be confused with Healing Shiv.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- Bleach: During the Maggot's Nest storyline a prisoner takes Hiyori hostage and threatens to do her harm with a sharpened piece of stone if he isn't released. Being that it's Hiyori this plot doesn't end well.
- Kaijumax is set in a prison, so naturally shivs make an appearance — but it's a prison for Kaiju, so they're made out of sharpened pieces of a cargo ship's hull.
- Averted in the Lucky Luke stories, since the Far West had less of a prison gang environment. On one occasion, Averell made a fake gun out of soap and shoeshine. How? Well, he had a model: the guard's gun, which had been forgotten in the cell. After making Averell eat the soap gun, Joe and his brothers escape.
- Sonic the Hedgehog fanfiction Prison Island Break features lots and lots of shivs made of lots of things, from boring old razors, to broken dinner trays and hardened toilet paper. Shadow the Hedgehog in particular is portrayed as being able to make a shiv out of anything and having a Hammer Space of improvised weapons that he might produce at any moment, including plastic forks.
- A particularly brutal shanking scene can be found in American Me.
- An Innocent Man: Shanking happens a lot in the movie, once witnessed by Tom Selleck's character Jimmie and once carried out by Jimmie.
- Shivs are featured a considerable bit in Each Dawn I Die and at least one inmate (and possibly an abusive guard) meet their end this way. A newspaper article detailing the murder of the inmate goes as far as to report that the weapon was fashioned from a file. For some reason all the shivs look to be constructed in the same manner.
- In Ernest Goes To Jail a shanking doesn't occur but it's threatened if Ernest isn't allowed to win an arm wrestling match to maintain appearances that the inmate Nash is still safely locked up.
- While it's not used as a weapon the movie Iron Man Yinsen's carving knife is certainly shiv-oriented in terms of its crude construction. Considering he's imprisoned at the time it definitely qualifies.
- Law Abiding Citizen has a particularly brutal scene where one inmate stabs another in the neck with a T-bone from the steak they had for lunch.
- Let's Go to Prison: Extensive shiving and shanking is featured, but considering the subject of the movie it's often played for laughs.
- On The Yard: An inmate gets stabbed in the armpit while pumping iron, meaning he also gets crushed by the weights he's lifting.
- Pitch Black: Riddick uses a sharpened piece of metal obtained from a crashed spaceship as his shiv of choice, both for killing and for personal grooming.
- Predators: Inmate Stans finds himself armed only with his shiv on the alien planet on which he's been dropped for the purpose of sport. He doesn't let that stop him from trying to kill several of the villains.
- The Fugitive: A prison guard winds up getting stabbed in an orchestrated escape plan while prisoners are being transported on a bus.
- The Shawshank Redemption: Andy Dufresne is threatened with having a shiv shoved through his ear if he doesn't submit to the rape-happy gang known as The Sisters. He manages to escape being raped by bluffing about the biting force of a dying man. It Makes Sense in Context.
- Elysium: Kruger shanks Delacourt in the neck with a shard of a broken mirror. It's not that he's a prisoner or lacks more professional equipment, it's just what he got at hand when she gave him the tongue-lashing.
- The Grand Budapest Hotel: The 'throat-slitter' made by M. Gustave's cellmates. It is used both to slice up the Mendl's pastries smuggled to them, and for its named purpose during the Great Escape.
- Lock Up: The gang that is trying to hassle Frank Leone can usually be seen with these. After defeating their gang leader in a fight, Leone is suddenly stabbed by another prisoner and spends several weeks in the infirmary.
- Jailbait: They're largely sharpened toothbrushes and are wielded by the more villainous inmates.
- In Scum'', a variant improvised weapon involves one character taking his sock off, filling it with pool balls from the table in the recreation room, beating the crap out of the con who beat him up the previous night, then swiftly returning the balls to the table and putting his sock back on before the warders notice.
- In the fourth season of Arrested Development, Lucile runs afoul of a gang comprised of Chinese women, and is threatened with a shiv made of a sharpened ramen noodle.
- In an earlier season, Gob is stabbed with one during his stunt to escape prison.
- Bones: The episode "Prisoner in the Pipe" dealt with an inmate being stabbed with a shiv, dissolved in acetic vinegar and flushed down the plumbing system. However the killer failed to dispose of the shiv that was used due to holding the Idiot Ball.
- Breaking Bad: One episode features a montage of prisoners in various different jails shiving each other set to rather upbeat music. The whole thing was orchestrated to kill all twelve witnesses in a particular case simultaneously, so the others can't be transferred to higher security protection.
- Burn Notice: During season 5, Fiona is stuck in prison and several attempts are made on her life by inmates, some hired to kill her, others simply for her not following the established hierarchy amongst the prisoners.
- One episode of CSI featured a shanking a juvenile detention facility with a shiv made from a razorblade melted into the handle of a toothbrush.
- CSI: NY: In "Nine Thirteen", the Body of the Week had his throat slashed with a shiv made from a melted coffee cup lid and sharpened to an edge by grinding it against the cell wall.
- On Human Target as soon as Guererro gets himself thrown in prison he starts making one.
- Law & Order: One episode deals with an inmate who was shanked in the hallway during a prison riot.
- Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: The suspect of the week in one episode was stabbed with a shiv due to the politics involved, but he lived to testify regardless.
- Leverage: In "The Lost Heir Job", Eliot plants a shiv on a prisoner to frame him as being a member of the Aryan Brotherhood.
- Monk: While trying to find out why a death row inmate was murdered before his execution, Monk is accosted several times by prisoners armed with shivs. Of course, being Monk, he can't help aiding one prisoner in better concealing and constructing his shiv.
- One of the My Name Is Earl episodes set in prison centres around Earl attempting to make a shiv for one of his fellow inmates. He takes inspiration from a display of shivs in the warden's office that has a sign reading "Do Not Make Any of These".
- One is made out of underwear (somehow), and one has a bar of soap as a handle. The soap one is a bit problematic. Earl ultimately decides to go with a sharpened eyeglasses piece wrapped with a sock...but the inmate he made it for uses it against him.
- One MythBusters episode features a trip to prison and a wall full of improvised prison weapons, mostly shivs or other primitive knife-like weapons. This includes the typical sharpened silverware or toothbrush, ground-down pieces of metal wrapped in tape, carefully knapped rocks similar to flint knives, and perhaps most impressive of all, a styrofoam coffee cup that could be used to stab someone. Later in the same episode, Adam and Jamie create crossbow bolts out of typical disposable plastic tableware (as well as improvised paper crossbows to fire them from, naturally) and manage to do enough damage to theoretically kill someone with them from about 10 feet distant.
- NCIS: "Caged" deals with a prison guard being stabbed at a women's prison and McGee having to defuse the situation.
- Comes up in Orange Is the New Black on multiple occasions. During orientation, inmates are shown a toothbrush with a razor blade melted into the handle (later, a similar implement is used by Pennsatucky in the shower). Pennsatucky also has a wooden crucifix that has been sharpened to a point. At one point, Piper accidentally takes a screwdriver from the electrical shop that causes the prison to go into a panic due to its potential use as a weapon ( and later, the same screwdriver is returned to Piper specifically to be used as a weapon). In the second season, one of the elderly inmates repeatedly stabs another inmate with a shiv after mistaking her for Vee.
- A regular occurrence (almost to the point of being Once an Episode) on Oz. In "Cuts Like A Knife", The Narrator Augustus Hill delivers some exposition on the various types:
- The Gillette Bayonet is created by extracting the blade from a disposable razor (hense the name), and placing the blade in the bottom of a pencil or pen. The problem with putting the shiv together, is that you will most likely cut yourself in the process.
- The Blunt: A shank made from a thick piece of metal.
- The Toothbrush Shank: A shank made from sharpening the bottom of a toothbrush.
- The Don Juan: A shiv made from sharpening the coils from the cell beds.
- Shameless: In Season 5, Sammy builds one out a pencil for her son Chucky:"Noone's gonna mess with you again".
- An episode of Smallville has Clark Kent almost getting stabbed with a shiv during a prison riot. It doesn't work out as the inmate hoped.
- The Walking Dead: Several of the inmates in "Sick" are armed with shivs made from various materials and use them in trying to dispatch the walkers in cell block D. They quickly find out that standard prison riot tactics are of no use to them now, and they have to adapt to the tactics of the Atlanta survivors.
- Upon rejoining the Atlanta group in "I Ain't a Judas" Merle is seen fashioning himself a new attachment for his missing right hand, complete with duct tape in true prison fashion
- Season 5 starts out with the prison survivors making use of this trope, either by sharpening the metal bits of their clothing, or salvaging broken pieces of wood from the train car they're being held in.
- Omar Little of The Wire, a freelance stick-up kid who's pissed off every drug dealer in Baltimore, eventually gets thrown in a slammer full of his enemies' henchmen and knows it's only a matter of time before he gets shanked. His solution is to strap a bunch of phonebooks around his torso before going to shiv the first guy who threatened him.
- Mentioned in Cypress Hill's song "Hole in the Head":
Made a comb to a shank, I'm gonna stick ya
Wet ya, you know homes the picture
- Call of Duty: Black Ops lets the player use a shiv in the level "Vorkuta" after using a rock to kill a guard.
- The Last of Us features shivs as a craftable item, made from duct tape and scissor blades.
- The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay One of the story elements in the game is Riddick trying to get his hands on a shiv in the Butcher Bay prison and the difficulties in doing just that.
- Team Fortress 2: The Sniper's Tribalman's Shiv does half the damage of his kukri but inflicts bleeding.
- In the quest "No One Escapes Cidhna Mine" from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, one of the key items that you need to obtain in order to get to Madanach, the leader of the Forsworn, is a shiv, which you have to trade to Borkul the Beast. The shiv itself doesn't get used as a weapon unless you've opted to kill everyone in the mine — the pickaxes that all of the prisoners use make for nasty weapons themselves.
- Kingdom of Loathing has one inversion in the sugar shank — made from a sheet of melted sugar.
"If you ever get sent to the Gumdrop Prison in Candyland, you'll be able to handle yourself if you have one of these. "
"You slink silently into the shadows behind your opponent and deliver a vicious (but quiet) slash, dealing X damage and exposing some of his more sensitive bits."
- The Silent Slice skill makes any knife sinister, dealing spooky damage and weakening defense.
"The two greatest fears man faces are fear of the dark and fear of sharp things. This is a move that combines both of these fears."
- And now that Disco Bandits specialize in knives, they have a skill that "acquires" a knife by fashioning it from boot leather, broken bottles, spoons, candy or soap. Their "Knife in the Dark" attack special is described thusly:
- Shank's signature (and namesake) weapon is a pair of irregular, jagged, menacing shards of metal with makeshift tape grips. They are sharp enough to decapitate a person.
- The Escapists: Shivs of various descriptions can be made or found, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Toothbrush and Comb Shivs are easily created (toothbrushes and combs are common items and can be sharpened on any wall), but have pitiful damage and are better used as favor-earning tokens for other prisoners. Glass shards can be fashioned into very effective shanks, but are much harder to amass the materials for, as duct tape and glass are contraband.
- PAYDAY 2: A toothbrush shiv called "Nova's Shank" is unlocked for use after one completes the Hoxton Breakout heist.