Prison Slang Glossary
This is hardly an exhaustive list of prison slang. It’s just a short list of words and phrases used inside prisons that, I think, give a better feel for a correctional atmosphere. I tried to cull out racially and sexually offensive slang, except for a few words that will show what it’s like to work and live in a prison.
13 1/2: 12 jurors, 1 judge, and 1/2 a chance; seen in prison tattoos.
5150: Crazy. Usually the section of the state’s general statutes concerning competence to stand trial.
AB: The AB, or Aryan Brotherhood, is also known as the Brand. They are a white supremacist prison gang with a fierce reputation. Prisoners can’t just join them; they have to be invited to become a member of the gang.
AGGRAVATED – Inmates often use the word aggravated to mean mad possibly give the impression that they are educated.
AGITATOR – An inmate who manipulates other inmates into fights normally for the pure enjoyment of watching the other inmates fight.
ALL DAY: A life sentence.
ALL DAY AND A NIGHT: Life without parole.
ASSOCIATE: Another inmate who’s not a friend but with whom you’re breaking the rules.
BACK DOOR PAROLE: To die in prison
BB FILLER: Body Bag Filler; usually a very ill prisoner.
BEAN SLOT: The opening in the cell door where food is delivered, usually in doors in restricted housing unit.
BID: Prison sentence.
BIG BITCH: A death sentence.
BINKY: A binky is a homemade syringe that consists of an eyedropper, a pen shaft, and a guitar string. Getting a real syringe behind bars is understandably difficult, so prisoners make due with the resources they have.
BLUES: Prison clothes. For women whose uniforms are a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, it’s changed to “[color of t-shirt] and blues.”
BOARD: The entity that adjudicates prison disciplinary reports. Usually just one guy in a tiny office.
BO-BOS: Prison-issued tennis shoes. See also Kung-Fu Joes, Skippies.
BONE YARD: Trailers used for conjugal visits. Archaic.
BOOKS: 1. Stamps. In certain facilities, books of stamps are used as currency. 2. An inmate’s trust account, money held by the state for their purchases at commissary. E.g. “She’s got money on the books.”
BOSS – A term used by inmates to refer to officers working as guards. Began in the early years of penitentiaries as “Sorry son of a bitch,” spelled backwards. Inmate bosses are simply more experienced, wiser inmates who advise others.
BOX, THE. Disciplinary confinement. Usually an 8 X 10 cell, occupied by two people on 23.5 hour/day lockdown, broken only by three showers and one change of clothes per week.
BRAKE FLUID: Psychiatric meds such as liquid Thorazine.
BROGANS: The state-issued work boots that inmates wear.
BROWNIES: People who work in the kitchen. They usually wear different uniforms.
BUG: A prison staff member who can’t be trusted.
BULLET: A one-year sentence.
BUNDLE: A small package containing tobacco or drugs.
BUNKIE: Roommate. A person you share a bunkbed with.
BUCK ROGERS TIME: a sentence with parole unimaginably far in the future.
BURNED: When an inmate has caused another to see his penis either by accident or on purpose, you are said to have been burned.
BUTT-NAKED CELL: A cell in which the prisoner is put on “property restriction”, that is, deprived of all belongings including clothing and bedding. Usually in solitary confinement.
CADILLAC: Coffee with cream and sugar; Also refers to an inmate’s bunk.
CADILLAC JOB: A plumb work assignment.
CAGE: One’s cell.
CALLING THE COPS: Making enough noise or a scene to attract the attention of prison staff.
CAMP: Another name for certain minimum-security prisons, since prisons are often referred to as work camps. There are various types of camps: Sweet (high on rehabilitative opportunities), Psych Camp (a mental health facility).
CAR: A prison clique marked by extreme and blind loyalty. The group that one associates with while in prison (determined by gang affiliation or some other commonality like age, race, sexual identity, etc.)
CASE: A disciplinary report written on an inmate for a rule infraction, derived from court case.
CAT HEAD: An archaic way of describing biscuits or rolls. Most prisons serve bread exclusively now.
CATCH A PAIR: A term used by correctional officers to instruct a group of inmates to stand in pairs for count or control purposes.
CATCH A RIDE: To get high with a friend’s drugs.
CATCH OUT: Any person whether it be an inmate or officer, that could not handle the pressure of any area, and left for this reason.
CATCHING THE CHAIN: When an inmate is leaving.
CELLIE: Cellmate. Roommate.
CELL WARRIOR: An inmate who acts tough when locked in his cell, but is a coward face-to-face.
CHALK: Prison moonshine. See also Hooch, pruno.
CHATTED OUT: Someone who has gone crazy.
CHECKED: When one person had scolded another person and the person that has been scolded fails, or is afraid to make a rebuttal, that person is said to have been checked. If one person continually allows the other to scold him/her without making a rebuttal that person is said to be “in check.”
CHECKING IN: Requesting protective custody, which also occurs in solitary confinement.
CHIN CHECK: to punch an inmate in the jaw to see if he’ll fight back.
CHOKE SANDWICH: A peanut butter sandwich with no jelly.
CHOMO: An acronym for “Child Molester. Most people assume that a person convicted of a sex offense is automatically a chomo, which is wrong. There’s a difference between a seventeen year-old kid who had sex with his sixteen year old girlfriend and a person who’s committed serial rape.
CHOW: A meal.
CHRONIC: Chronic Discipline Unit. Where inmates with many disciplinary infractions live.
CHRONIC SWEEP: An event during which a team of guards wander the prison and pick up the prisoners with the worst discipline records to house them in the Chronic Discipline Unit.
CLASSIFICATION OFFICE/TEAM: Staffer responsible for determining an inmate’s risk level, based on a number of factors, such as nature and severity of crime, length of sentence, medical and mental health needs, history of violence, education and work history. In some facilities, this group is also responsible for inmate work assignments.
CLAVO: (Spanish for “nail”) Dangerous contraband.
C/O: A correctional officer. A guard.
COWBOY: A new correctional officer.
CROSSED OUT – When a person is taken from a good area, job, etc. for something they claim not to have done, or for something that they don’t feel they should have been blamed for, they say they were “crossed out.”
CTQ: Confined to Quarters. A disciplinary sanction whereby the inmate is restricted to her cell except for meals. Not only does she lose recreation privileges, she can’t go to her prison work assignment.
CUT YOUR EYES – Looking at someone or their belongings through the sides of one’s eyes, normally thought of as an intent to steal the items or start a fight.
DAP – A greeting or way of congratulating another, by pounding the bottom of one person’s fist to the top of the others.
DIAPER SNIPER: Person accused of molesting a child.
DIESEL THERAPY: a lengthy bus trip, sometimes used as punishment or a way to reduce a population count temporarily for an event like an inspection.
DING WING: Mental health ward
DIME: 10-year sentence
DINNER AND A SHOW: When inmates eat in the chow hall and watch other inmates fight and get pepper-sprayed by the guards.
DOBIE – A biscuit or roll, derived from the word adobe (brick).
DOG: What an inmate often calls his friends, the closest friend is often referred to as a road dog.
DOING THE DUTCH: Committing suicide.
DOTTED UP: Tattooed.
DOWN: A term in prison. E.g.: “How many times have you been down?”
DRAMA: Can be mere verbal conflict but sometimes means a fight or an assault.
DROP A SLIP: Snitch on someone by reporting them in writing and placing the paper in the same box as other requests for assistance, like legal calls.
DROPPED: When an officer forcibly wrestles an inmate to the ground to be restrained.
DRY SNITCHING: Ratting out another inmate by talking loudly about his bad behavior in front of guards. Giving information without naming names.
DUCK: A correctional officer who’s seen as gullible, easily manipulated or bribed to smuggle in contraband. Also refers to a correctional official who reveals personal information about other prison staff to inmates.
DUMP TRUCK: Overweight, lazy inmate.
DUNGEON: Punitive segregation, or solitary confinement, where an inmate is placed to serve a sentence for no more than 15 days as the result of being convicted of a disciplinary offense.
EDUCATION: The school. The place in the facility where inmates can take GED or college classes, go to the library, use a typewriter, make photocopies, or check out books.
ERASERS: Chunks of processed chicken.
EYEBALL: When someone is staring at your or your things they are said to be eyeballing you.
FAIR ONE: A fair fight, one with no weapons involved.
FATTY GIRL CAKE: A prison dessert made by smashing up all cake-like items from the commissary (brownies, cakes, cookies, muffins) and putting them in a bowl together and binding them with non-dairy creamer and topping it with marshmallow Fluff and pieces of candy.
FIEND: A person who’s addicted to something: drugs, sex, food.
FISH: In men’s facilities, this is the term used for new prisoners. A fish is new to prison politics the reality of how facilities run.
FISHING LINE – Made from torn sheets or string, having a weighted object tied to one end and used to throw down the run to inmates in other cells to pass items.
FISHING POLE – A device made from rolled up newspaper or other paper, with a paper clip in one end, used for retrieving items from the runs in front of their cells.
FLICK: A photograph, or picture torn from a magazine. rel.: “Throwing flicks” – taking pictures.
FRESH MEAT: A batch of new Inmates.
FREQUENT FLIER: A recidivist.
FUNKY – An inmate who does not shower.
GAY FOR THE STAY: Selective and temporary sexual orientation that causes both men and women to become involved with people of the same sex for the time they’re incarcerated and nothing longer.
GEN POP: General Population. Inmates who are not housed in a special programming housing unit or medical/mental health unit.
GETTING BUZZED: Getting tattooed.
GET HIT: To catch a longer sentence, either by being denied parole (which doesn’t lengthen the sentence, but rather prevents shortening it) or being arrested on new charges while you’re incarcerated.
GOING PSYCH: When a prisoner exhibits symptoms of severe mental illness such that he needs to be transferred to a psych wing or even a separate facility. Sometimes inmates do this on purpose.
GOON SQUAD: Any group of prison guards that are working together to effect prison discipline, either by investigating a matter, taking an inmate into custody or transporting him or her somewhere else.
GOT A BODY: To have killed another person. E.g., “She’s got, like, bodies on her.” Usually a brag or exaggeration. Rarely used for people who are actually facing murder charges.
GRAPES: 411, information, gossip.
GREEN LIGHT: The go-ahead to kill a person or gang affiliate on sight.
GUMP: A gump is what prisoners call a gay man on the inside.
GUNNING: Masturbating in front of a correctional officer. More common than you would expect in women’s facilities.
HAS THE KEYS: The person who controls or calls the shots for a group or gang.
HIGH CLASS: Hepatitis C.
HOE CHECK: Group beating given to prisoner to see if he’ll stand up for himself.
HOLE, (THE): Solitary confinement.
HOOCH: Hooch is homemade, fermented alcoholic beverage made of sugar, some fruit or juice, and some yeast. It’s fermented in a bag or airtight bowl and needs to be “burped” to relieve the pressure in the container. See also Pruno, Chalk.
HOOP: To hide contraband in one’s body cavity. See also Tuck and Keister.
HOT MEDDERS: People who take over-the-counter medication.
HOT ONE: A murder charge.
HOT WATER: An officer is walking the tier; a warning to cease inappropriate behavior
HOUSE: Your cell.
IN THE CUT: Being in the cut means you are in a hidden area, away from a surveillance camera’s prying eyes.
IRON PILE: weightlifting equipment (essentially non-existent in many facilities)
JACK BOOK: any magazine with pictures of women.
JAIL. A verb meaning to do time correctly and competently. E.g., “Bitch, learn how to jail.”
JAUNT: Code for anything you want it to be. The meaning of the word is derived from context This is a bastardized way of saying joint and can refer to anything such as a shank, razor, or other type of weapon. It can also refer to a book of stamps, the commissary, drugs, a book or magazine, workout gloves, food from the chow hall, and so on. It’s a way to ask for something from another prisoner in front of the cops without letting on what you’re talking about.
J-CAT: Someone with mental issues. A crazy or foolish person.
JIT OR JITTERBUG: A loud, young punk who causes trouble in the form of gossip or rabblerousing.
JODY: A man sleeping with a prisoner’s wife/girlfriend on the outside.
JUNE BUG: A prisoner considered to be a slave to others.
KEISTER: To smuggle contraband inside one’s anal cavity. See also Tuck.
KITE: A contraband note written on a small piece of paper that’s folded and passed to others through underground methods. The menu on this website is a series of kites.
KITTY KITTY: Term used by male inmates for a female correctional officer.
KUNG FU JOES: Skimpy, state-issued prison shoes. See also Bo Bo’s, Skippies.
LAME DUCK: A vulnerable inmate standing alone in the prison yard, easy to prey upon.
LA RAZA: La Raza is the term for unaffiliated Mexican inmates in facilities that have serious gang activity.
LIFE JOLT: A life sentence.
LOC: Loss of commissary as a disciplinary sanction.
LOM: Loss of personal mail as a disciplinary sanction.
LOR: Loss of recreation as a disciplinary sanction.
LOV: Loss of visits as a disciplinary sanction.
LOCKDOWN: When some kind of disturbance in prison causes guards to lock all inmates in their cells, indefinitely, until calm is restored. Often involves a “shakedown.”
LOCK-IN-A-SOCK: A weapon created from putting a combination lock inside a sock and swinging it. Also called a Slock.
LOSS OF LIFE: When an inmate has been punished with multiple sanctions for a disciplinary infraction and has lost her commissary privileges, recreation, phone privileges and her visits, she is on “loss of life.”
L-WOP: Life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).
MALINGER: Verb, meaning to walk slowly. A misuse of the word meaning “To feign illness.”
MEAT WAGON: A hospital ambulance.
MINUTE: A long time. E.g. “You’ve been here a minute. What’s it been, five years?”
MOFONGO: In prison, it’s a meal that’s a mixture of chips, ramen (“soups”), instant rice, mackerel, pre-wrapped “sausages” and seasoning (Adobo or Sazón).
MOLLY WHOPPED: To kick someone’s ass in a fight or to get your ass kicked in a fight.
MONKEY MOUTH: A prisoner who goes on and on about nothing.
MONSTER, THE: HIV. Also known as “The Virus.”
NETTED UP: Someone who undergoes a mental breakdown in prison.
NEW BOOTIES: Inmates with first-time conviction.
NEWJACKS: New, inexperienced prison guards.
NICKLE: 5-year sentence.
NINJA, THE: HIV/AIDS; sometimes used for STDs in general.
NINJA TURTLES: Guards dressed in riot gear.
O.G.: An “original gangster;” a label of respect given to older inmates who has been in the prison system a long time.
ON PAPER: Under community supervision, either parole or probation.
ON THE COUNT: 1. A warning to inmates to get where they need to be for an official head count. 2. Representing your group of friends.
ON THE DOOR: Getting ready to leave one’s cell. “On the door for chow,” means get ready to leave your cell to go to a meal.
ON THE LINE: Has many meanings, but usually means something is for sale.
PAPA: Spanish for ‘potato.’ It’s a prison snack made from combining crushed potato chips, squeeze cheese and hot water to make a paste that is then spread out like a soft shell.
PAPERS: Drugs. They call it papers because they use a ripped-off piece of paper to package the drugs.
PAY TO STAY: An extortion scheme whereby an inmate is threatened by others with recurring violence unless payments are made in the form of commissary or items stolen from prison workplaces like the kitchen, the laundry, the library or the medical unit.
PC: Protective Custody; a category of solitary confinement where the inmate needs protection from other inmates.
PERMANENT POCKET: Refers to a person’s anus. See also Prison Pocket.
PLAYING ON ASS: Gambling without money.
PORCELAIN TERMITE: A prisoner who breaks toilet/sink in cell when s/he gets upset.
PORCH: Small area outside a person’s cell door.
PRISON POCKET: A person’s anus.
PRISON SAFE: The safest place to keep drugs, shanks, dice, etc. during cell inspections and transfers.
PRISON WOLF: A heterosexual prisoner who engages in sex with men while incarcerated.
PROGRAMMER: An inmate who spends most of his time attending classes and improving himself: the nerds of prison.
PRUNO: A homemade alcohol made from fruit, bread and anything with sugar, i.e. jelly, cookie cream, tootsie rolls, etc. and left to rot under a bunk for three days.
PUMPKINS: New inmates. Also gang members who were initiated by beaten in the head so badly that their heads swelled like pumpkins.
PUNK: Derogatory for a transgender/homosexual or a weak individual.
PUT ON CAMERA: Having one’s behavior recorded for disciplinary reasons or while one is being escorted to solitary confinement.
RATCHETTE: A nurse.
REAL TALK: Synonym for “seriously” or “for real” — used to let others know that you are talking honestly and sincerely and that what you are expressing is not a joke. Also used to affirm what others are saying is true.
REC: Recreation; the hour a day allowed outside one’s cell.
RIDE LEG: To suck up to staff to get favors.
ROBOCOP: Guard who writes up every infraction, no matter how small. See also Ticketron.
ROLL CALL: 1. A mandatory meeting for your group or gang. 2. The official start of a new shift for staff.
ROAD DOG: Prisoners who walk the track together during “rec”; also means close friends.
ROLL UP YOUR WINDOW: A request to stop eavesdropping on another inmate’s conversation, especially do not comment on the conversation uninvited.
SANCHO: The person your wife/girlfriend is with on the outside.
SEND-IN/SEND-OUT: Ways of passing money. When you buy drugs or other items in prison, you can either pay with books or store or do a send-in, send-out or street-to-street transaction. A send-in is when you get people who are free to put money in the commissary account of the prisoner you owe. A send-out is when you transfer money from your account to the prisoner’s contacts out in the world. A street-to-street is when you get someone to send money to other people on the outside.
SHAKEDOWN: When prison guards tear apart inmates’ cells looking for contraband.
SHANK: Homemade prison knife.
SHIV: Homemade prison knife.
SHOT CALLER: A shot caller is an inmate boss. Sometimes the leader of a gang.
SKID-BID: A short sentence where the prisoner is in and out so quickly that she leaves skid marks.
SKIPPIES: Skimpy, state-issued shoes for inmates. Essentially white Keds without laces.
SKITTLES: Over the counter medications. Sometimes psychiatric medication.
SLEEP ON STEEL: Being deprived of sheets and blankets, usually because of suicide risk, but sometimes out of abuse.
SLOP: Prison food in the form of a loose casserole, usually tomato-based. Very insulting to prison kitchen supervisors.
SLUG: Someone who rarely comes out of her cell.
SOUP: Ramen noodles purchased from the prison commissary.
SIX-FIVE: Warning that a guard is approaching. Also Five-O.
SPIDER MONKEY: Someone doing hard time.
STAINLESS-STEEL RIDE: Lethal injection.
STINGER: A rigged heating element created out of metal, designed to get water to boil.
STORE: Commissary. Inmates describe going “shopping” – meaning filling out the form for a commissary delivery. Sometimes refers to what commissary an inmate has on hand to give out or sell.
STRAPPED: When someone is carrying a weapon.
STRESS BOX: Pay phone.
SUCKER DUCKER: Someone who stays away from people who cause trouble.
SURVIVAL KIT: Bare minimum of what an inmate needs to live in a prison. Distributed at admission and in solitary confinement. Some combination of the following: pillow case or sheet rolled up with a sheet, blanket, pillow case, 2 pairs of socks, 2 underwear, 2 t-shirts, and a little bag with 1 hotel bar soap, 1 mini toothpaste, a mini pencil.
TAKE FLIGHT: To attack a person using fists.
TELEPHONE RECEIVER INVERTED: Not slang exactly, but a sign to be obeyed. It the telephone has been hung up with the receiver upside-down, and if you are not the badass who put it that way, use it at your extreme peril.
TICKET: Disciplinary report.
TICKETRON OR TICKETMASTER: A guard who is known to write many tickets or disciplinary reports.
TIME TO FEED THE WARDEN: Saying that means one has to go to the bathroom.
TOOCHIE OR TUCHIE: Synthetic marijuana. Called K2 or “Spice”, Toochie has become very big in prison because it can’t be detected in urine samples.
TUCK: To place contraband in one’s vaginal or anal cavities to smuggle it inside a facility.
TURTLE SUIT: A Ferguson gown. A dark-colored, quilted, and padded gown with a hexagonal pattern, held together by Velcro. It’s like wrapping a person in a pot holder. Used for suicide prevention.
TVP: Texturized Vegetable Protein. Used in place of meat for cost savings.
UA: Urinalysis or just “a urine.” A drug test.
VAMPIRE: People who draw blood in a fight.
VIC: This is shorthand for victim. Prison is very predatory. People inside can behave in predatory ways.
VIKING: Someone who is extremely lazy and unwilling to keep their living space or themselves clean.
VIOLATED: Being cited by one’s parole or probation officer for a parole or probation violation. Very often results in being sent back to prison.
WOLF TICKETS: False promises.
WHAM WHAMS: Sugary snacks like cookies and candy.
YARD: The yard, also known as the pound, is shorthand for a fenced in area for outdoor recreation.
ZOOM ZOOMS: Sugary snacks like cookies and candy.