How to Make a Syringe in Prison

By Seth Ferranti 07/25/12

As the 19th International AIDS Conference in DC spotlights needle exchange programs, The Fix reports from America's prison system, where addicts take matters into their own hands by making and teaching others how to make a syringe.

How To Make A Homemade Syringe
A delicate procedure with a dangerous end
All art: Jesse Anderson

Addicts in prison go to extreme lengths to get their fix. But scoring the drugs isn't the only obstacle they face—how to shoot them up? With no works available, a heroin user in jail needs a little ingenuity.

The result of this ingenuity is a "binky." But even though these can be manufactured, not every user has his own—shakedowns and a lack of materials make them scarce. Prisoners try not to share, but when it comes right down to it, they're likely to overcome their reservations. "I usually don't share needles," says one prisoner. "But if there's only one binky, and my homeboy got the chiva, you know I'm taking a hit. Why wouldn't I? This is prison, fool, and I'm trying to get blasted. I'll deal with all the rest later." The "rest" includes widespread HIV and Hep. C. But here's how you make a binky:

You start by getting the point of a needle from a diabetic guy, who has the chance to break or pull it off after taking his insulin. Every prison has a "pill line," located at the Medical department, where diabetics and others go to get their meds. At different times each day the nurse will hand the diabetic a syringe containing insulin through the window, watching him inject it and ensuring that he returns the syringe. Your man just has to break the needle off before he gives it back.

Once you get the point—which should be about an inch long—you take a clear Bic pen, take the inside out and cut the outer casing down to about two inches away from the tip. Get a paperclip, straighten part of it out and insert it into the tip of the Bic pen. Very slowly, put a flame to the pen tip, rotating it to melt/tighten up the plastic at the top where the point will go. Then take the paperclip out. Don't burn the plastic too much; it might take you two or three tries to mold the tip of the Bic, because you have to make sure there are no burn marks to obscure your vision—you have to see if you can register.

Once you've taken out the paperclip, insert the point—with a speaker wire pushed through it to make sure nothing obstructs it. The point has to be flush against the melted part. Then pull the wire out of the point and take a Visine bottle. Remove the eye dropper and insert the cut-off end of the Bic pen into the Visine bottle about a quarter of an inch down—then tie it off with dental floss, because the Visine bottle opening is slightly bigger than the Bic pen, and it has to be tight.

There's no plunger like a hypodermic needle, but the binky has its own suction. You mix the heroin and water in a spoon and then put a small piece of cotton in to soak it up. You put the point on the cotton to suck up the dope into the Bic pen, then you tap it all down before you hit your vein. When you hit the vein, blood will flow into the pen. Once it registers, you tap it to mix it with the heroin inside and squeeze the Visine bottle. Get ready for the ride of your life. 

That isn't the only way; more sophisticated devices are possible. My old celly had two Gel pens: he took out the inside parts and the ink, and then with the two narrow plastic tubes he made a rig. He did this by sandpapering one down so it was a little smaller than the other, then inserting it into the bigger one so it could be used as a plunger. He made the point at the tip and put the whole thing back in the Gel pen casing to hide it. That rig worked well and the cops never found it.

The binky suits a prisoner's needs because it takes only a minute to assemble, and is easy to take apart and hide. (Where do addicts hide their needles?) The prisoners who use them try to maintain their works, in the hope of preserving their health. "We clean the punto with alcohol pads and stuff like that," says one. "But it is what it is—we are trying to get high. That is the only time I can escape this place."

And the fact is, owning a binky is valuable inside, something that can be traded—for heroin. "I've seen a bunch of dudes use the same needle," another prisoner recalls. "I might have a homeboy up in another unit that has some chiva but no binky. So if I get the punto and bring it to him, he got to break me off something."

"One outfit might be used by a number of prisoners," another inmate agrees. "If it's the only rig on the compound, whoever got the dope will find out who got the rig and vice versa. Dudes try to keep their own, but through shakedowns and whatnot they get found and confiscated. So you gotta do what you gotta do if you want to get high."

And the consequences of this trading and sharing? "A lot of my homeboys got the package [HIV] in prison," says one prisoner.

"I got Hep. C from sharing needles," acknowledges another, "I know I got that. HIV I don't know. I don't think so. When I go home they have to test me, so I'll know then. I don't really want to know for real. But it doesn't matter because I'm gonna get high when I hit the street and probably come back to prison. So what's the difference what I got?"

Seth Ferranti is serving 25 years for drug trafficking. He's a columnist for The FixTo learn more about prisoners, check out Seth's new book, Gorilla Convict, a compilation of his writing about prison gangs, the mafia, hip-hop and hustling, is now available. 

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.