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Sinister Shiv

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In prison you learn your pleas and shank yous.
"This shank is a classic. The bottom end of a toothbrush is carved down to its sharpest point, almost like an arrowhead. But the best part is, the weapon doesn't have to be concealed. It can be placed in a pocket, bristles showing. Ready to be grabbed for action!"
Augustus Hill, Oz

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 (also known as shanks, chivs or chibs - the names are interchangeablenote ) 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.

However the weapon and trope isn't completely exclusive to prisons and its inhabitants. This trope is very common in other settings, such as post-societal collapse scenarios. Where making all sorts of stabbing and slashing implements are pretty common, thanks to the fact that they don't have to worry about getting caught (although the shivs and shanks will still be hidden as an Emergency Weapon) and also because sometimes most of the actual knives are either broken or rusty as all hell. In fact it's also a place where the shanks can be either as normal (like say just a sharp metal object with something wrapped around the handle) or as weird as it gets (thanks to imaginative minds and lots of tools at disposal). Another common setting is a more primal or survival-focused scenario, where making tools and weapons out of anything will help you survive. Naturally this means lots of improvised knives or shanks, either made from sharpening sticks, stones, scrap metal and even bones. Just so you can have a small and sharp tool or weapon that's pretty versatile in the right hands.

Not to be confused with Healing Shiv. See also Sinister Switchblade and Sinister Scythe, other sinister bladed weapons associated with unsavory people (usually). A sub-trope of Improvised Weapon. It may also overlap with Grievous Bottley Harm, if the broken bottle is used as a shank.


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    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.
  • In Prison School, Jouji tries to stab Mari with a sharpened stick. Kiyoshi ends up having to take the bullet and wind up with the business end up his ass.
  • Samurai Executioner: After guards are bribed to smuggle a pair of scissors to the men's communal cell, the inmates break the scissors (which at the time where more like bladed tweezers) in half and fashion spears and break out.
  • Sword Art Online: In Kirito's final fight with Death Gun, his opponent pulls out an estoc that he crafted from a piece of starship metal (Gun Gale Online hardly had any swords, let alone those that matched Death Gun's style, due to being focused on gunplay).

    Comic Books 
  • Zig-zagged in Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, where a shard of mirror is smuggled to Mad Artist Doodlebug... who uses it on himself. Then later on, his blood-paintings prove the key to opening up a literal Hell Gate, so in a roundabout way, that shard did a whole lot more damage than just being used to stab someone.
  • Kaijumax is set in a prison so naturally shivs make an appearance — but it's a prison for Kaiju, so they're usually 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.
  • After going coo-coo from his time travel experiences, Xander Paine from Mega Man (Archie Comics) began whittling visions of what he saw in his cell walls in one of these.
  • In Robyn Hood: The Hunt, Red Death attempts to stab Robyn in the showers with a shiv made from a sharpened toothbrush. Robyn takes it off her and uses it to stab one of her other attackers.

  • 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 Hammerspace of improvised weapons that he might produce at any moment, including plastic forks.

    Film — Animated 
  • In Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Milo Thatch's shiv is a glass shard that is empowered by the Heart of Atlantis when Rourke smashes the window at the Crystal's container, which he uses to slash at Rourke's arm to free himself from the latter's grasp and unintentionally turn him into a crystal monster.
  • In the final battle in Batman: Under the Red Hood, Red Hood tries to stab Batman with a broken piece of tile, but he's quickly disarmed and forced to fight (unsuccessfully) with his bare hands.
  • Ralph Breaks the Internet: Parodied; as the Disney Princesses prepare to attack Vanellope, Cinderella breaks one of her glass slippers and points it like a shiv.
  • Done indirectly in Tangled, where Flynn cuts Rapunzel's magical hair with a broken mirror shard, taking away the witch Gothel's last chance to save herself from old age.

    Film — Live Action 
  • A particularly brutal shanking scene can be found in American Me.
  • In Bank Shot, Ballentine jabs a shiv into the back of the construction worker he mugs for disguise while Camping a Crapper.
  • In The Teaser of Blood and Bone, a group of shivvers attack Bone in the showers. He beats them all down, even stabbing one of them with his own blade.
  • The Criminal: Pauly is caught with a shiv on him (possibly planted) during a shakedown by the warders. This is the event that triggers the Prison Riot.
  • Partway through The Dark Knight, The Joker takes a cop hostage with a piece of broken glass in order to escape prison.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Escape from Alcatraz: After Frank rejects Wolf's advances, he tries to knife Frank in the prison yard with a shiv. Frank manages to hold him off, and Wolf attacks one of the guards who tries to intervene, getting himself almost a year in solitary for it. When he gets out, he attempts to do the same thing but switches tactics by having another con smuggle in the shiv for him.
  • In The Escapist, Rizza hands a shiv made from a melted plastic comb to one of his defaulting customers and gives him the choice of cutting off his thumb or three fingers. The jumpy con chooses his thumb. Later, Frank hands Rizza a shiv in his cell which Rizza then uses to stab Frank when he realizes he has lost his power over him.
  • In Firestorm (1998), Shaye uses a shiv, made from a razor blade melted into a toothbrush handle, to give himself a Significant Haircut, and then to murder Davis and take his place.
  • The Fugitive: A prison guard winds up getting stabbed in an orchestrated escape plan while prisoners are being transported on a bus.
  • 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.
  • In Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), inmates at the Kyln threaten Gamora with a variety of shivs. Since the place is a Hellhole Prison where the guards don't care what the prisoners do to each other as long as they don't make messes, the shivs range from as big as daggers to as big as machetes and some show quite a bit of craftsmanship.
  • An Innocent Man: Shanking happens a lot in the movie, once witnessed by Tom Selleck's character Jimmie and once carried out by Jimmie.
  • 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.
  • Jailbait (2014): They're largely sharpened toothbrushes and are wielded by the more villainous inmates.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Naked Weapon have this happening in the dorm bloodbath, when Madam M orders for the girls in the dorms to "eliminate each other until there's ten left". Charlene ends up snapping the back of her toothbrush and using it to stab another girl fatally in the neck.
  • Old People: Starting with the male assistant in the nursing home, some of the old people attack by stabbing their victims with glass shards.
  • In Oldboy (2003), Oh Dae-su uses a broken toothbrush to kill two of Woo-jin's men.
  • 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 first Prison On Fire flick have Chow Yun-fat's character stabbing the sadistic prison warden with a toothbrush with a pointed rear during the inevitable prison riot. In fact the film spends quite a few scenes of Chow sharpening the brush against rough surfaces (e.g. a wall, the underside of his bed), seemingly building up the inevitability of the brush being used as a shiv at some point.
  • In Reform School Girls, Charlie carries a shiv made from a razor blade mounted in a toothbrush handle. She threatens to cut Jenny's face with it in an early scene.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Shot Caller: Naturally, during Jacob's time in prison while being part of a major gang, he has used a shank on several occasions.
  • In Son of a Gun, JR wakes up one night and discovers his cellmate sharpening a toothbrush into a shiv. After his cellmate attempts to commit suicide, JR starts carrying the shiv: looking to get some payback on Dave. Sterlo uses a shiv to take one of the guards hostage during the Great Escape.
  • In Starred Up, Eric's first act after arriving in prison is to construct himself a shiv out of a toothbrush and a razor blade. It also doubles as an Improvised Screwdriver.
  • Tales of Halloween: In "The Night Billy Raised Hell", a dentist gives Billy a toothbrush instead of candy. Mr. Abaddon sharpens the toothbrush into a shiv, and then sends Billy back to the dentist's door, where Billy stabs the dentist to death.

  • Adam from Boot Camp has sharpened a toothbrush into a shiv that he uses to threaten the other boys.
  • In The Tamuli, Atana Mirtai reveals that she has a spoon which hides one of these. The spoon has a metal bowl and shank that slides into a wooden handle. She has sharpened the end of the metal shank into a tiny but very effective punch-dagger. It's so small and innocent-looking that even when she's captured by an enemy (which has happened several times), they let her keep it. So she always has at least one weapon on her.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.
  • In Batwoman (2019), during a group therapy session in Arkham Asylum, Alice notices that Tommy Elliot has a shiv tucked in a shoe, and goads him into stabbing her so she can get hold of it herself.
  • 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 ten 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 in a juvenile detention facility with a shiv made from a razor blade 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 a jail cell wall.
  • The F.B.I.: "Anatomy of a Prison Break" begins with an inmate being murdered via Agonizing Stomach Wound with a toothbrush whose handle has been sharpened into a makeshift knife. Erskine carries a similar weapon when he goes undercover at the prison.
  • In The Flash (2014), it's eventually revealed that Cicada's dagger was made from a piece of metal that hit him when the previous Arc Villain DeVoe's satellite crashed.
  • Get Shorty: Miles and Yago get jobs in the prison workhouse bagging plastic Oscar toys and are told that some inmates sharpen them to use as shivs. Later, someone is shivved with a sharpened Oscar.
  • Hightown:
    • One is used to kill a potential confidential informant in prison.
    • Osito later gets stabbed with one while imprisoned after Cuevas thinks he's going to rat him out (and he is). However, he fights off his attacker and survives.
    • Osito later also has Cuevas shanked in revenge. Though he survives, it's shown in the next season Cuevas has to use a colostomy bag as a result of his injury, as other inmates and a guard all mock him for.
  • 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 named the Tighty Whitey Mighty Fighty and 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", Augustus Hill delivers some exposition on the various types:
    • The Gillette Bayonet is created by extracting the blade from a disposable razor (hence 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. Unlike other types, it can’t really slice or cut, but instead goes deep inside the victim. Hence Don Juan, “the Penetrator”.
  • When various prisoners in Frank's Cell Block are freed in The Punisher (2017), they are more than happy to use that temporary freedom to try and use that freedom to get revenge on Frank using ither via shanks and shivs or other weapons given to them by the guards. Naturally, Frank steals and uses some of the shanks for himself during the brutal brawl.
  • 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. For the obvious reasons.
  • The Walking Dead (2010):
    • 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

    Video Games 
  • In Batman: Arkham Origins during the final battle in the game between the Joker and Batman. (which would be one of their many fights in their respective careers) Batman sends Joker crashing against a stained glass window. After recovering the soon to be Clown Prince of Crime grabs some of the shards to use as shivs in the fight. For all the good it does him.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops lets the player use a shiv in the level "Vorkuta" after using a rock to kill a guard.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. "
    • The Silent Slice skill makes any knife sinister, dealing spooky damage and weakening defense.
    "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."
    • 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:
    "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."
  • The Last of Us features shivs as a craftable item, made from duct tape and scissor blades, although weirdly enough the shiv itself doesn't even remotely like a scissor blades. They're used both for stealth-killing clickers, which are immune to normal stealth kills, and opening certain locked doors.
  • Glass shards are one of the more common weapons in Manhunt series, it's a green-class weapon making it a one-time use only weapon. The shard also has some kind of materialnote  wrapped on one end as a handle so that the protagonists don't cut themselves when handling it.
  • PAYDAY 2: A toothbrush shiv called "Nova's Shank" is unlocked for use after one completes the Hoxton Breakout heist.
  • 7 Days to Die lets you craft a shiv out of a piece of bone. While it can be used as a weapon, its crude nature means it deals very little damage, and it's better off used as a carcass-dressing tool to process animals and zombie corpses.
  • 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.
  • Team Fortress 2:
    • The Sniper's Tribalman's Shiv does half the damage of his kukri but inflicts bleeding. It is a stylized kukri composed of reddish wood with a curved edge in front and a serrated edge on its broad side.
    • The Flavor Text for the Ham Shank describes how, in prison, you can whittle a toothbrush or a ham to a point and use it to backstab snitches while waiting in line at the commissary... for more hams and toothbrushes.
  • 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.

  • In Freefall, one of the early uplift experiments (who had to be kept locked up because they're all psychotically violent) mentions carving one by sharpening a plastic spoon. Seeing his fellow uplifts get themselves killed from "testosterone poisoning", he used the shiv to castrate himself.

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    Western Animation 


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Clay Porter gets attacked in the prison library.

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