Anyone who has watched their fair share of prison dramas on television, like Oz, Prison Break, or Orange is the New Black, or classic films like The Shawshank Redemption, knows that prison inmates have created their own complex language of slang terms used to describe common actions and items that they encounter on the inside.
If you are interested in learning more about how prison inmates communicate and the terms they use most frequently, we have created an exhaustive prison slang glossary* to help you understand what they are talking about.
*Disclaimer - Some prison slang contains adult language and adult themes. Read at your own risk, and if you are under 18, get permission from a parent or guardian prior to reading.
AB: Aryan Brotherhood. A well-known fierce white supremacist gang. Membership by invite only.
AGITATOR: An inmate who goes out of his way to start fights between other inmates just for sheer enjoyment.
ALL DAY: Common term for a life sentence.
ALL DAY AND A NIGHT: A life sentence without parole.
BACK DOOR PAROLE: Dying while in prison.
BB FILLER: Body Bag Filler; often used to describe a prisoner who is very sick.
BEAN SLOT: The food delivery slot in a jail cell door.
BID: Another term for a prison sentence.
BINKY: Due to the difficulty of smuggling syringes into prison, a binky is a homemade syringe that is made out of an eyedropper, a pen shaft, and a guitar string.
BLUES: Prison outfit. Name derived from the color of the clothes, which are often blue.
BO-BOS: Prison-issued sneakers that inmates wear.
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.
BOSS: A term used by inmates to refer to officers working as guards.
BRAKE FLUID: Psychiatric medications including liquid Thorazine.
BROGANS: State-issued work boots that inmates are required to wear.
BROWNIES: People who work in the kitchen who often wear brown outfits.
BULLET: A one-year prison sentence.
BUNDLE: A small package containing drugs or tobacco.
BUNKIE: A cell roommate.
BUCK ROGERS TIME: A prison sentence with parole very, very far in the future.
CADILLAC: Coffee with cream and sugar; can also refer to an inmate’s bunk.
CADILLAC JOB: A cushy, coveted work assignment.
CAGE: A prison cell.
CALLING THE COPS: Creating a big enough scene to attract the attention of prison guards.
CAR: A prison clique marked by extreme and blind loyalty. The group that an inmate associates with while in prison.
CATCH A RIDE: To get high off of a friend’s drugs.
CATCHING THE CHAIN: When an inmate is in the process of leaving the jail.
CELLIE: Nickname for a cellmate.
CELL WARRIOR: An inmate who acts like a tough guy when locked in his cell, but is a coward face-to-face.
CHALK: Moonshine made in prison.
CHATTED OUT: Someone who has lost their mind while in prison.
CHIN CHECK: Punching an inmate in the jaw to see if he’ll fight back.
CHOKE SANDWICH: A peanut butter sandwich (no jelly).
CHOMO: An acronym for “Child Molester".
CHOW: A prison meal.
CHRONIC: Chronic Discipline Unit. This is where inmates who have many disciplinary infractions live.
CLAVO: (Spanish for “nail”) Dangerous contraband.
C/O: A correctional officer. Another name for a guard.
COWBOY: A correctional officer who is new on the job.
CROSSED OUT: When a person is taken from a good area or job for something they say they didn't do, or for something that they feel was out of their control. An unfair removal.
CTQ: Confined to Quarters. A disciplinary sanction whereby the inmate is restricted to their cell except for meals. Not only do they lose recreation privileges, they can’t go to their work assignment either.
DANCE ON THE BLACKTOP: Getting stabbed by another inmate.
DAP: A prison greeting performed by pounding the bottom of one person’s fist to the top of the other person's fist.
DIAPER SNIPER: An inmate accused of child molestation.
DING WING: A mental health ward.
DIME: A 10-year prison sentence.
DINNER AND A SHOW: When inmates eat in the food hall and watch other inmates fight and get pepper sprayed by prison staff.
DOBIE: A biscuit or roll, derived from the word "adobe," which means "brick".
DOING THE DUTCH: Killing yourself in prison.
DOTTED UP: A term for having tattoos.
DROP A SLIP: Snitch on another inmate by reporting them in writing and placing the paper in the same box as other requests for assistance.
DROPPED: When a guard has to forcibly tackle an inmate to the ground in order to be restrained.
DRY SNITCHING: Ratting out another inmate by talking loudly about their bad behavior in front of prison staff.
DUCK: A correctional officer who is seen as gullible, easily manipulated or bribed, and will help smuggle in contraband.
DUMP TRUCK: An overweight and lazy inmate.
EDUCATION: The place in the prison where inmates can take GED or college classes, go to the library, use a typewriter, make photocopies, or check out books.
ERASERS: Pieces of processed chicken.
EYEBALL: When someone is staring at you or your things, they are said to be "eyeballing" you. Likely with nefarious intent.
FAIR ONE: A fair fight involving no weapons.
FIEND: A person who’s addicted to something, whether it be drugs, sex, food or another vice.
FISH: In men’s facilities, this is the term used for new prisoners. A fish is new to prison politics and the reality of how facilities are managed.
FISHING LINE: Made from torn sheets or string. Used to throw down the run to inmates in other cells to pass contraband.
FISHING POLE: A device made from rolled up newspaper or other paper, with a paper clip in one end, used for collecting items from the runs in front of their cells.
FLICK: A photograph, or picture taken from a magazine.
FRESH MEAT: A delivery of new inmates into the prison.
FREQUENT FLIER: Someone who is regularly incarcerated.
FUNKY: An inmate who does not bathe and often smells.
GEN POP: General Population inmates.
GETTING BUZZED: Getting a prison tattoo.
GOING PSYCH: When a prisoner shows signs of severe mental illness, such that they need to be moved to a psych wing or even a separate medical facility.
GOT A BODY: To have killed another person. Often a brag or exaggeration. Infrequently used for people who are actually facing murder charges.
GRAPES: Information or gossip.
GREEN LIGHT: Permission to kill a person or gang affiliate on sight.
GUMP: A homosexual inmate.
GUNNING: Masturbating in front of a correctional officer.
HEAT WAVE: The attention brought to a group of inmates by the action of one or a few, often for doing something wrong (fighting or contraband).
HIGH CLASS: Another term for Hepatitis C.
HOE CHECK: Communal beating given to prisoner to see if they will stand up for themselves.
HOLE, (THE): Another term for solitary confinement.
HOOCH: Hooch is homemade, fermented alcoholic drink made from sugar, some fruit or juice, and some yeast. It’s fermented in a bag or airtight bowl.
HOOP: To hide contraband in a bodily cavity.
HOT ONE: A term for a murder charge.
HOT WATER: A prison guard is nearby; a warning to stop inappropriate behavior.
HOUSE: A prison cell.
IN THE CUT: Hiding in a hidden area, away from surveillance cameras and the eyes of the guards.
IRON PILE: Weightlifting equipment.
JACK BOOK: Any magazine containing pictures of women. Doesn't necessarily have to be pornography.
JAIL: A verb meaning to do time correctly and competently without getting in trouble.
J-CAT: An inmate with mental issues.
JIT OR JITTERBUG: A loud, young disliked inmate who causes trouble with gossip.
JODY: A man sleeping with a prisoner’s wife/girlfriend outside of the prison.
JUICE CARD: An inmate's influence with guards or other prisoners.
JUNE BUG: A weak prisoner considered to be a slave to other inmates.
KEISTER: To smuggle contraband inside one’s anus.
KICKSTAND: Another term for life sentence. A reference to a bike kick stand looking like the "L" in "L"ife Sentence.
KITE: A contraband note written on a small piece of paper that’s folded and passed to others through secretive means.
KITTY KITTY: Term used by male inmates for a female correctional officer.
KUNG FU JOES: Poorly constructed, state-issued prison shoes.
LAME DUCK: A weaker inmate standing by themselves in the prison yard.
LA RAZA: Unaffiliated Mexican inmates in facilities that have lots of gang activity.
LOC: "Loss of Commissary." A form of discipline.
LOM: "Loss of Personal Mail." A form of discipline.
LOR: "Loss of Recreation." A form of discipline.
LOV: "Loss of Visits." A form of discipline.
LOCKDOWN: When some kind of disturbance causes prison staff to lock all inmates in their cells, indefinitely, until the situation calms down.
LOCK-IN-A-SOCK: A weapon made from putting a combination lock inside of a sock and swinging it. Also known as a Slock.
L-WOP: Life without the possibility of parole.
MALINGER: To walk slowly.
MANDO: Short for mandatory.
MEAT WAGON: A hospital ambulance that takes sick or dead inmates out of the prison.
MOFONGO: In prison, it’s a meal that’s a mixture of chips, ramen, instant rice, mackerel, pre-wrapped “sausages” and seasoning.
MOLLY WHOPPED: To beat someone up in a fight or to get beat up in a fight.
MONKEY MOUTH: A prisoner who talks a lot but who isn't very interesting.
MONSTER, THE: Another term for HIV/AIDS.
NETTED UP: An inmate who experiences a mental breakdown in prison.
NEW BOOTIES: Inmates in prison for the first time.
NEWJACKS: New, inexperienced correctional officers.
NICKLE: A 5-year prison sentence.
NINJA, THE: HIV/AIDS; occasionally used to describe STDs in general.
NINJA TURTLES: Prison guards dressed in riot gear.
O.G.: Acronym for “original gangster;” a term of respect given to older inmates who have been in prison for a long time.
ON PAPER: A term for either parole or probation.
ON THE COUNT: A warning to prisoners to get in line for an official head count.
ON THE DOOR: Getting ready to leave your prison cell. “On the door for chow” means getting ready to leave your cell to go to a meal.
PAPA: A prison snack made from mixing crushed potato chips, cheese sauce and hot water to make a paste that is then spread out like a soft shell.
PC: Protective Custody; a form of solitary confinement when an inmate needs protection from other inmates.
PERMANENT POCKET: A term for a person’s anus.
PLAYING ON ASS: Gambling when you don't have any money.
PORCELAIN TERMITE: A prisoner who breaks their toilet/sink in cell when they get angry.
PORCH: Small standing area outside of a person’s cell door.
PRISON POCKET: Another term for a person’s anus.
PRISON SAFE: The safest place in your cell to keep drugs, shanks, and other contraban during cell inspections and transfers.
PRISON WOLF: A straight prisoner who engages in sex with men while in prison.
PROGRAMMER: An inmate who spends most of their time attending classes and trying to grow as a person.
PRUNO: A homemade alcohol made from fruit, bread and anything with sugar (like jelly), tootsie rolls, and left to rot under a cot for three days.
PUMPKINS: A term for new inmates. Also gang members who were initiated by beaten in the head so violently that their heads swelled like pumpkins.
QUIET TIME: After the 10 PM count, when the guards turn off the lights in the cells and common areas. TV can still be watched, but if it gets loud, the TV rooms and common areas will be shut down, and you will have to go to your cell before lockdown.
RATCHETTE: A common term for a nurse.
REC: Short for recreation; the one hour per day when prisoners can leave their cells.
RIDE LEG: To suck up to prison staff to get favors.
ROBOCOP: Guard who writes up every infraction, even minor ones.
ROLL CALL: 1. A mandatory gang meeting. 2. The official start of a new shift for prison staff.
ROAD DOG: Prisoners who walk the track together during recreation periods; can also mean a close friend.
ROAD KILL: Cigarette butts picked up by the side of the road by prison work crew. They’re brought back to the facility and the collected tobacco is rerolled with toilet paper.
ROLL UP YOUR WINDOW: Asking an inmate to stop eavesdropping on another inmate’s conversation.
SANCHO: The man your wife/girlfriend is with outside of the prison.
SHAKEDOWN: When prison staff rip apart inmates’ cells looking for contraband.
SHANK: Homemade prison knife.
SHIV: Another term for a homemade prison knife.
SHOT CALLER: A shot caller is a high ranking prisoner. Often the leader of a gang.
SKID-BID: A short prison sentence when the prisoner is in and out of jail so quickly that they leave skid marks.
SKIPPIES: Thin, state-issued shoes for prisoners. Essentially white Keds without laces.
SLEEP ON STEEL: Having your sheets and blankets taken away, most often because of suicide risk.
SLOCK: Another term for a lock-in-a-sock.
SLOP: Prison food consisting of a loose casserole, regularly tomato-based. Considered very insulting to prison kitchen supervisors.
SLUG: Someone who rarely leaves their prison cell.
SIX-FIVE: A verbal warning that a guard is approaching.
SPIDER MONKEY: An inmate doing hard time.
STAINLESS-STEEL RIDE: Another term for lethal injection.
STINGER: A rigged heating element created out of metal, designed to boil water.
STORE: Commissary. Inmates talk about going “shopping” – which means filling out the form for a commissary delivery.
STRAPPED: When someone is carrying a weapon.
STRESS BOX: Another term for a pay phone.
SUCKER DUCKER: Someone who goes out their way to stay away from people who cause trouble.
TAKE FLIGHT: To attack a person using just your fists.
THREE KNEE DEEP: To stab someone so that they’re injured, but not killed, often as some form of warning.
TICKET: A disciplinary report.
TICKETRON OR TICKETMASTER: A guard who is known to write many tickets or disciplinary reports.
TIME TO FEED THE WARDEN: Needing to go to the bathroom.
TOOCHIE OR TUCHIE: Synthetic marijuana. Toochie has become popular in prison because it can’t be detected in urine analysis.
TUCK: To place contraband in one’s vaginal or anal cavities to smuggle it into prison.
TURTLE SUIT: A dark-colored, quilted, and padded gown with a hexagonal pattern, held together by Velcro. Similar to a straight jacket and is 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 during a fight.
VIC: An abbreviated term for an inmate being victimized by another inmate.
VIKING: An inamte who is lazy and unwilling to keep their living space or themselves clean.
WOLF TICKETS: False promises.
WHAM WHAMS: Sweet treats like cookies and candy.
X'D OUT: Prisoners can green-light members of rival gangs or put a hit on them due to some drama or beef. When they do this, they will say the inmate is X'd out. An X'd-out prisoner's days on the yard are numbered.
YARD: The yard is a nickname for a fenced in area for outdoor recreation.
ZOO ZOOS: Another term for sweet treats like cookies and candy.