For sale: weapon-proof toothbrush

Laura Howells
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Tired of your toothbrush being turned into a weapon? Sick of the compulsion to whittle that plastic handle into a shank? Well, why not follow Her Majesty Penitentiary’s lead and use the Supermaxx: a toothbrush that is virtually impossible to turn into a killing machine.

Samples of Supermaxx toothbrushes. The design of the toothbrush makes it difficult for one of them to be turned into a weapon. — Submitted image

The weapon-making possibilities of regular toothbrushes are endless: file the handle into a knife, melt a razor blade into it the end, hit people … you get the drift. But try any of that with a Supermaxx, and you’re flat out of luck. The Supermaxx Institutional Toothbrush is made of rubber, which is very difficult to sharpen into a blade, unable to melt, and virtually impossible with which to cause harm.

“When you have the Supermaxx toothbrush it’s just impossible really — well nothing’s impossible — but it just makes it so much harder for an inmate to make a weapon out of it,” said Karl Hyner, assistant to the general manager at Maxil Dental Supplies, a company that sells Supermaxx toothbrushes to dozens of prisons across the country.

The Supermaxx is also very short — only three to four inches — giving potential weapon wielders less leverage with which to gain cutting strength.

“If you’re taking a regular-size toothbrush and melting a razor blade into it, the long handle allows you to keep some distance between your hand and the cutting object,” said Cameron Willis, research assistant at Canada’s Penitentiary Museum.

“It also makes it easier to get more strength. When you’re talking about cutting through human flesh, it’s not as easy as you’d think.”

Since the 1960s, Canada’s Penitentiary Museum has been collecting improvised weapons from prisons across the country. It’s seen it all — from a wooden club covered in razor blades, to a crossbow made from 10 toothbrushes, cigarette lighters, a ballpoint pen, pieces of a coat hanger, screws, yellow rubber gloves, kleenex and assorted electrical components.

However, turning toothbrushes into weapons is a relatively new phenomenon; Willis says it first appeared in the ’90s. In the last few decades, he says prisons have seen many more improvised weapons. Most recently, sharpened plastic rulers have taken the floor.

When you have the Supermaxx toothbrush it’s just impossible really — well nothing’s impossible — but it just makes it so much harder for an inmate to make a weapon out of it Karl Hyner, Maxil Dental Supplies

“100 years ago you find far fewer reports or inmates making weapons, and generally if they were, they were preparing to break out or escape,” said Willis. Until the early 20th-century, most prison contraband were things like chocolate, tobacco, and magazines.

Hyner says the Supermaxx toothbrush is usually only purchased by penitentiaries where violence is common. As you might imagine, its length and material do not make the Supermaxx the most comfortable toothbrushing experience.

“It’s a rubber toothbrush. It’s flexible. You wouldn’t want to brush with one every day,” said Hyner. “It’s not the best toothbrush out there, so when you weigh the effectiveness of oral hygiene versus safety, the safety element takes over.”

For less resourceful prisoners, there are other options like the Mini Mod—a short toothbrush that, while still made of plastic, has tiny holes drilled into the handle. These holes make the toothbrush structurally weak so it will break apart easily. Low-security prisons usually use regular toothbrushes.

Luke Joyce, director of communications for the provincial Department of Justice, says Supermaxx toothbrushes are not new to Her Majesty’s Petitionary.

“The Department of Justice must use public funds in the most appropriate manner possible,” said Joyce. “When providing toothbrushes, razors and other toiletries to inmates as basic hygiene tools, we seek supplies that offer the greatest value, meet the needs of our inmates and are as safe as possible.”

Although a Supermaxx rubber razor is available for purchase, Her Majesty’s Penitentiary issued a tender for regular disposable razors. The Department of Justice did not provide reasoning for this discrepancy.

 

 

Organizations: Penitentiary Museum, Maxil Dental Supplies, Department of Justice

Geographic location: Canada

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