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Prison Life and the Big Business of Smuggled Knives

December 14, 2018
Mahrokh Gholamhosseinpour
5 min read
Embowed knives are used to hurt and frighten enemies. The inmates make them with spoons, sandpaper and primitive tools. But if they really want to kill, they use hunting knives
Embowed knives are used to hurt and frighten enemies. The inmates make them with spoons, sandpaper and primitive tools. But if they really want to kill, they use hunting knives
Hunting knives are smuggled into prisons
Hunting knives are smuggled into prisons

Mr. M has two embowed knives, which he made himself from a spoon by using sandpaper and a nail clipper. Other prisoners have done the same, sometimes using other primitive tools.   

But when the prisoners are serious about killing somebody, they buy hunting knives. With their sharp points and blades, these knives can penetrate deep and kill an enemy quickly.  Hunting knives are regularly smuggled into the prison, and often sold on. Mr. M bought his hunting knives from within the prison at a high price, and he believes that they are the best in the prison. 

Mr. M has been an inmate at Rajaei Shahr Prison for 18 years and is well known among the prisoners there. Among his charges is one for murder — a murder he committed while in prison after spending years there. He used a handmade knife for the crime. 

He says that before going to prison he was a bookworm, and early on after he was incarcerated he knew all the books inside the prison library by heart. But soon enough he learned that life inside the walls of the prison is fundamentally different from the world outside.

Of course, Mr. M is not the only inmate who has committed murder while in prison. The murder of Vahid Moradi, a well-known Tehran ruffian and gangster known as “Iranian Eagle,” in front of other inmates in a hallway at Rajaei Shahr Prison in July 2018 raised many questions among the public, and not just about the motives behind the murder. His murderers boasted, shouted and waved their handmade cutlasses in full view of the prison’s CCTV cameras. Before long, the footage was posted online, leading people to ask how, in a prison where every movement is under strict surveillance, cutlasses and butcher cleavers are in such abundance? How could the guards not notice them? And where are they coming from?

Shemiran R., a former member of Vahid Moradi’s gang, also an inmate held on murder charges at Ward 1 of Rajaei Shahr Prison, says he owns a number of cutlasses and that no shop would be in a position to offer a collection such as his.


An Inmate’s Security

Shemiran R. has bought all the knives and cutlasses in what he calls his “unique collection” through prison guards. “It is much more complicated than anybody outside the prison would understand,” he says. “Everything that you buy inside the prison costs you a hundred times more than its real value. A knife is an inmate’s security. The guards make a weird round. First they distribute the knives, then they confiscate them and then they sell them again. With this endless cycle, they pocket millions.”

“In their videos and their propaganda they claim that all these cutlasses are handmade by the inmates themselves,” he says. “I and other old-timers laugh at these claims. Ask yourself: Did we, the inmates, make all these modern, shiny and nicely-crafted knives without any modern tools and only by using the spoons and primitive tools at our disposal?”

He says that after the murder of Vahid Moradi the murderers confessed to killing him with a smuggled cutlass, not a handmade knife.

Shemiran himself has committed two murders, and his other crimes include the theft of 17 luxury cars and extortion. However, when he talks about Vahid Moradi, he cannot help but express emotion and breaks out in tears. 

Moradi represented a certain type of criminal and commanded the loyalty of followers who were ready to die for him. Using Instagram and other social media, he had portrayed himself as something more, someone better, than other gangsters and thugs. According to Shemiran, Vahid Moradi had the support of about 50 minions. “To tell the truth, we all were armed with knives,” he says. “We are part of the supply-and-demand market for knives. The underground knife trade in prison supports many people financially.”

Mr. M tells a similar story about the knife market within the prison. “The inmates pay a lot of money for the knives and sometimes they stage mock battles,” he says. “Wholesale and retail trade for knives is common inside prison. Sometimes the prison guards supply the knives but then, to boost their trade, the same guards inspect their own customers, confiscate the knives and create new demand.”

But, as Mr. M says, not all knives in prison are smuggled in. “In here, the knife is a religion,” he says. “It is a faith. It is a way of life. It is a way of escaping from fear and from the sense of insecurity. For those of you who are outside and have never been in prison, understanding that the knife means the world, means life to an inmate, sounds foolish.”


More prison stories from IranWire:

Expired and Counterfeit Medicine for Prisoners, November 23, 2018

Iran's Foreign Prisoners: Some are “Free” but Remain Locked Up, June 23, 2017

ISIS Prisoners in Iran, June 16, 2017

Saving the Children of Prisoners from Victimhood, January 26, 2017

In Evin, Some Prisoners Face a Cold Winter, December 2, 2016

The Misfortune of Prison Children, November 16, 2016

The Evin Prison Film Club, July 6, 2016

Political Prisoners and the Challenges of Voting, May 23, 2016

PlayStation in Prison, May 20, 2016

How Prison Graffiti Nourishes the Soul, March 15, 2016

Prison Break, Iranian Style: The Ingenious Escape of Mr. M, March 10, 2016

Iran’s Elections: The View from Prison, March 4, 2016

Whatever you do, don’t get sick in prison, March 2, 2016

Meals and Showers: Small Consolations in Solitary, April 29, 2016

Prison Officials Turn Blind Eye to Theft, February 19, 2016

Saved from the Gallows: The Passports that get you out of Iranian Jails, February 15, 2016

An Unlikely Classroom: Learning English in an Iranian Prison, January 26, 2016

Cultural Contraband in Iranian Prisons: From Porn to Banned Books,  December 8, 2015

The Daily Life of a Prison Guard, October 9, 2015

Rape Before Execution: The Secrets Persist, October 5, 2014



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