Prison Slang Dictionary From A to Z
Published August 25, 2023
Cut off from the rest of the world, jails and prisons are a world of their own. Naturally, inmates have developed their own set of idioms and jargon too. We often refer to it as “prison slang.”
Like any form of secret language, deciphering prison slang can be tricky if you’ve never done time or worked in prison. But no worries. That’s what this post is for.
Whether you want to communicate better with current or former inmates or are genuinely curious about prison terminologies, this prison slang dictionary will be helpful.
Prison Slang Words: Background
Prison slang, also known as prison jargon or argot, is a unique language developed within correctional facilities over the years. It serves as a way for inmates to communicate with one another and express their experiences behind bars. This secret language helps create a sense of camaraderie and identity among prisoners.
The origins of prison slang can be traced back to the early days of incarceration. As prisons became more prevalent, inmates began developing slang terms to describe various aspects of prison life. These terms often reflect the prison system’s challenges, survival tactics, and social hierarchies.
The Use of Jail Slang
Prison slang is characterized by its coded and specialized vocabulary. The use of prison slang serves multiple purposes. It allows inmates to communicate discreetly without attracting the attention of correctional officers or other inmates who may not be part of their circle. It also helps establish a sense of belonging and identity within the prison community.
Over time, prison slang has evolved and adapted to the prison system and society’s changes. The introduction of new technologies, shifts in inmate demographics, and changes in prison culture have all influenced the development of prison slang.
Understanding prison slang provides valuable insights into the experiences and challenges faced by inmates. It offers a glimpse into the hidden world behind bars and the unique subculture within correctional facilities.
- AB – an initial for Aryan Brotherhood, the oldest neo-Nazi prison gang and organized criminal group
- All Day – a life sentence
- All Day and a Night – a life sentence without parole
- Agitator – an inmate who starts fights just to stir up trouble
- Backdoor parole – to die while in prison
- Bagman – someone who has a drug stash or a drug dealer
- Bang – being injected with drugs
- Bats – tobacco
- BB filler – an inmate who is very sick or about to die; a body bag (BB) filler
- Bean slot – the slot in a jail cell door where food is slipped through
- Beef – the crime an inmate is charged with
- Bid – prison sentence
- Binky – a homemade syringe usually made out of an empty pen, eyedropper, and guitar string
- Bitch – any female; an inmate who is deemed too weak or helpless; a submissive
- Blues – a blue-colored prison outfit
- Board – their term for the Board of Parole Hearings, which is responsible for evaluating parole eligibility
- Bo-bos – prison-issued shoes
- Bones – the Dominoes game
- Books – an inmate’s money account
- Boss – prison officers or jail guards
- Bow – another term for a life sentence
- Brake fluid – an umbrella term for psychiatric medications
- Brogans – prison-issued work boots that inmates are required to wear when working
- Brownies – people working in the kitchen (about the brown outfits they usually wear)
- Buck Rogers Time – a parole date that’s still very far in the future
- Bug – a corrupt or unreliable prison staff
- Bug juice – an intoxicating drug or anti-depression medications
- Bullet – a prison sentence that lasts for a year
- Bum beef – a false charge or a wrongful conviction
- Bundle – a small bundle of drugs, cigarettes, or other smuggled stuff
- Bunkie – a cellmate, especially in prisons with dorm-type accommodations
- Bunk restriction – a type of prison punishment where inmates aren’t allowed to leave their bunks or cells except for bathroom breaks; also called CTQ or Confined to Quarters
- Bunk warrior – an inmate who intentionally riles up other inmates but won’t fight them
- Burned – a term used when all possible appeals are exhausted
- C-File – records maintained by prison administration regarding incarcerated individuals.
- Cadillac – coffee with cream and sugar (considered a luxury in prison)
- Cadillac job – an easy work assignment
- Cage – a prison cell
- Calpia – The California Prison Industry Authority, a program in California that engages incarcerated individuals in producing over 1,400 goods and services. These products, from office furniture to clothing and food, are sold to various state agencies.
- Catch a ride – to get high off of someone else’s drugs
- Catching the chain – someone who is about to be released
- Catnap – a concise prison sentence
- C.C. – consecutive prison times
- CDV – In Missouri prisons, this means Conduct Violation
- Cellie – a cellmate
- Cell Feed – During a period of a modified program, meals are delivered to your cell instead of going to the chow hall.
- Cell Slug – An inmate who rarely leaves his cell
- Chalk – a type of DIY moonshine made by inmates from ingredients readily available in prison
- Check In – When an inmate requests a PC or Protective Custody
- Cheeto – an openly gay or transexual inmate
- Chester – someone doing time for molesting a child
- Chicano – an American-born inmate of Hispanic descent
- Chicken – money
- Chief – an inmate of Native American descent
- Chit-chat – a type of corporal punishment initiated by inmates
- Cho-mo – short for “child molester.”
- Choke sandwich – a plain peanut butter sandwich
- Chow – meal
- Chow Hall – prison slang for the dining hall
- Chrono – a term used in California prisons. It means documentation in your official file that contains information that can have positive or negative implications.
- Count – a term used for when the Correction Officer counts the prison population in the early morning, afternoon, evening, and midnight.
- C.O. or D.O. – an acronym for Correctional Officer or Detention Officer
- Clavo – dangerous contraband
- Cowboy – a prison staff who’s new on the job
- Dance on the blacktop – to get stabbed by another inmate
- Dap – a form of prison fistbump
- Diaper Sniper – an inmate charged with performing sexual acts on a minor
- Diesel therapy – being transferred to a faraway facility as a punishment for troublesome inmates
- Ding Wing – a prison’s psychiatric ward
- Dime – a ten-year prison sentence
- Doing the Dutch – taking away one’s own life in prison
- Dotted up – someone with lots of tattoos
- Drop a slip – snitching on another inmate by secretly passing a note to the prison staff.
- Drop the soap – a phrase that means to accidentally put oneself in a vulnerable position (if you drop the soap in a communal prison shower, you will need to bend to pick it up, making you an easy target for sexual assault)
- Dry snitching – telling on a person by loudly talking about what they’ve done in the presence of a prison staff
- Ducat –These are appointment slips and movement authorizations. It allows prisoners to move within the facility without requiring an escort. In California state prisons, these are pink in color.
- Duck – a gullible or corrupt prison officer who can easily be bribed
- Dump truck – a lazy or overweight inmate
- Ear hustle – to eavesdrop on or overhear someone else’s conversation
- Erasers – processed chicken
- Eyeball – when someone is sizing you up or gauging you (likely with lousy intent)
- Epro – Earliest possible date of release
- Fiend – someone with addiction (could be drugs, alcohol, or even sex)
- Fish – a new inmate
- Fishing line – a contraption made from torn sheets used to pass contraband between cells
- Flat time – a definite prison sentence
- Fresh meat – a batch of new inmates
- Free Staff – Staff members who are not inmates.
- Frequent flier – someone who’s been in and out of prison
- Fog Line – a term used in San Quentin State Prison, which means fog covers a gun tower, and inmates must return to their cells for a head count.
- Foxy – a DIY energy drink similar to Red Bull
- Funky – someone who smells due to bad hygiene habits
- Gen pop – short for “general population,” where most inmates are held
- Getting buzzed – the act of getting a prison tattoo
- Getting hit – to get punished with a longer sentence by the parole board
- Ghetto penthouse – the top tier of a cell block
- Grapes – rumor or gossip
- Green – money (about green dollar bills)
- Green light – to permitted to kill a member of a rival gang
- Grey shirt – another term for a correctional office (about to their grey uniform)
- Good Time – Time off for good behavior or sentence reduction due to good behavior.
- Going psych – someone showing signs of a mental disorder
- Gump – a homosexual prisoner
- Has the keys – an inmate who calls the shots in a gang or group
- Heatwave – getting a lot of unwanted attention due to the action of someone from your group or gang
- Hold your mud – to not snitch on someone despite being under threat
- Hole/The Hole – solitary confinement
- Hooch – a DIY alcoholic drink made from sugar, fruits, and yeast that’s fermented in a plastic bag or airtight container
- Hoop – hiding contrabands in one’s bodily cavities
- Hot one – a murder charge
- House – another term for a prison cell
- Iced – the act of killing a fellow inmate or prison guard
- Institutional 9 – a prison staff that inmates find attractive due to constant proximity
- In the car – agreeing to participate in a plan
- In the cut – hiding in an area with no security cameras and not seen by prison guards.
- Items – a snack or anything from the commissary that can be traded within the prison
- Iron pile – another term for weightlifting equipment
- Jackbook – magazines or any reading material that has pictures of women (could be pornographic or not)
- Jacket – a rap sheet; an inmate’s information file including any previous crimes; an inmate’s reputation in prison
- Jack Mack – canned fish from the prison commissary that can be used as prison currency and is often traded among inmates
- Jackrabbit Parole – the act of escaping from prison
- Jail – to behave appropriately while in pristo to avoid getting in trouble
- Jailhouse Lawyer – an inmate who likes to give unqualified and often misleading legal advice; someone who assures other inmates of a positive legal outcome even if it isn’t likely
- J-Cat – an inmate exhibiting weird behavior stemming from drug addiction or mental health issues
- Jit/Jitterbug – a loud, big-mouthed inmate who likes to gossip and cause trouble
- Juice Card – an inmate’s influence or relationship with a prison guard or another
- June bug – a weak-willed prisoner controlled by or considered a slave by other prisoners
- Keister – to smuggle contraband by hiding it inside one’s anus
- Keys – an inmate serving the longest sentence in a pod and is responsible for the pod’s gang; someone who “holds the keys.”
- Kickstand – Life sentence (from the “L” shape of a bike’s kickstand)
- Kin/Kinfolk – an inmate identified as African American
- Kite – a contraband letter or note passed in secret to other inmates
- Kitty Kitty – often used by males inmates to refer to a female correctional officer
- Kung Fu Joes – prison shoes that are of poor quality
- Lameduck – a weak inmate standing alone in a prison courtyard
- La Raza – a Mexican inmate with no gang affiliation in a facility with heightened gang activity
- LOC – a form of punishment for “Loss of Commissary.”
- Lockdown – the confining of prisoners to their cells when there are riots, escape attempts, or any disturbances
- LOM is a prison punishment for “Loss of Personal Mail.”
- Longjohn – a free person having relations with an inmate’s wife
- LOR – A kind of prison punishment for “Loss of Recreation.”
- L-WOP – stands for “Life Without Parole.”
- Malinger – to walk at a slow pace
- Mando – short for “mandatory.”
- Meat Wagon – an ambulance that carries sick or dead inmates out of prison
- Modified Program – Alterations in the daily schedule may occur due to safety and security concerns, medical quarantines, or staffing shortages.
- Mofonggo – a prison meal made up of instant rice, ramen, chips, mackerel, and pre-wrapped sausages sprinkled with seasoning
- Molly Whopped – to get beaten up in a fight; it could also mean beating someone up during a fight.
- Monkey mouth – a talkative but uninteresting inmate
- Monster – refers to AIDS or HIV
- Netted Up – an inmate who’s had a mental breakdown
- New Booties – first time inmates
- New Jacks – correctional officers who are new to the field
- Nickel – a five-year prison sentence
- Ninja Turtles – prison guards wearing their riot gear
- No smoke – to follow a staff’s orders without objection or resistance
- O.G. – stands for “original gangster”; it can also mean older inmate
- On Paper – it can mean either parole or probation
- On the Bumper – trying to get in on a deal or a plan
- On the Count – a call for prisoners to line up for a head count
- On the Door – preparing to leave a prison cell (for meals, recreation activities, etc.)
- On the River – time spent in Louisiana State Penitentiary, which the Mississippi River surrounds on three sides, hence the term.
- Outcount – An inmate who was not in his cell during the “count” because they have permission to be in an education class, the kitchen, or the hospital.
- P.C. – stands for “Protective Custody.”
- Peckerwood/Wood/Woodpecker – a white inmate
- Peels – refers to the orange jumpsuit uniforms inmates wear in some facilities.
- Permanent Pocket – another term for anus
- PIA – a shorter term for “Calpia,” the California Prison Industry Authority
- Prison Wolf – an inmate who identifies as straight but engages in sexual activities with other male inmates
- Pruno – homemade alcohol made from fermenting fruit, bread, and anything with sugar
- Pumpkins – another term for new inmates; gang members who were beaten so severely that their heads swelled up to resemble a pumpkin
- Punk – a weaker inmate forced to become a sex slave by another inmate in exchange for protection from other inmates
- Quiet time – the period after the evening count but before the cells are locked for the night
- Rabbit – someone who has tried to escape before or is planning to
- Rat – an inmate who informs prison officials about other inmates’ illegal activities; also called a “snitch.”
- Ratchette – a term inmates use to refer to a nurse
- Rank – an inmate’s status based on the length of their prison sentence or previous prison stints
- Rec – short for recreation, the time of the day when inmates leave their cells to exercise or play games
- Red – someone with red hair (can be an inmate or prison staff)
- Ride Leg – to suck up to prison staff to get preferential treatment or favors
- Ride with – to do something for a fellow convict, including sexual favors in exchange for protection, contraband, or commissary items
- Road Kill – cigarette butts brought back to the prison facility by inmates working on location. The collected tobacco is then rerolled with toilet paper.
- Robocop – a prison guard who doesn’t let any infraction go unpunished, even minor ones
- Sancho – a term similar to “Longjohn”
- Shakedown – the time prison staff inspect cells for contraband
- Seg – short for “segregation”; solitary confinement
- Shank/Shiv – an improvised knife often used to stab another inmate
- Shot out – an inmate showing symptoms of drug withdrawal
- Skid-bid – a concise prison sentence (from the act of quickly turning around where the doer leaves skid marks)
- Sleep on Steel – to sleep without a mattress or pillows because they’re confiscated, often as a punishment
- Slop – a bland-tasting tomato-based prison meal made mostly of vegetables
- Slug – an inmate who rarely ventures out of their prison cell
- Snuffed – to murder someone; someone who has been murdered
- Stainless Steel Ride – the death penalty by lethal injection
- Store – another term for commissary
- Stress Box – refers to the prison pay phone
- Take flight – To start a fight with another inmate; to attack another inmate using fists.
- Three knee deep – to stab someone but not deep enough to kill them (often done as a warning)
- Ticket – a disciplinary report
- Ticket master – a prison guard who is fond of or known for writing tickets
- Time to feed the warden – to go to the bathroom
- Torpedo – an inmate chosen by a prison gang leader to beat another inmate, often as punishment for breaking gang rules
- Toochie/Tuchie – a type of synthetic marijuana popular in prison because it can’t be detected in urine
- Trips – hallucinogens, often referring to the peyote buttons typically used by Native American inmates
- Turtle suit – a padded dark-colored suit similar to a straight jacket but with hexagonal patterns- is often used to prevent suicide.
- UA – Urinalysis (often conducted to test for drug use in inmates)
- Vampire – Inmates who make their opponents bleed during a fight
- VIC – short for “victim,” often used to refer to an inmate who another inmate victimizes
- Viking – an inmate who’s so lazy, they can’t even be bothered to clean their living space
- Violated – to be sent back to prison for violating parole or probation
- Violators – repeat offenders who are regulars in the prison system
- Wham Whams – sweet treats; cookies and candies
- Wolf Tickets – false promises
- Wall (The) – a designated area where inmates fight or are beaten by other inmates, usually away from security cameras and prison guards
- X’d Out – a prisoner who’s marked for “elimination” by a rival gang; someone whose days on the yard are numbered
- Yard – a fenced area for outdoor recreation
- Zoom zooms/zoo zoos – sweet treats like candies and cookies
Prison Terms: Numbers
- 12/12 – serving the full prison sentence (no parole)
- 13 ½ – 1 judge, 12 jurors, ½ chance
- 5150 – someone who’s not mentally competent enough to stand trial
- 60/180 – slang for marijuana because the penalty for being caught with marijuana is 60 days in confinement and a 180-day loss of good time per incident.
Wrapping it up
The world of prison slang is a fascinating and complex one. Prison slang is a powerful communication tool, allowing inmates to connect with each other, establish a sense of belonging, and maintain a level of secrecy. It reflects the social hierarchies, survival tactics, and shared experiences behind bars.
Save 90% Per Minute On Jail Calls With Us
US prisons charge lots of money per minute for long distance inmate calls. The loved ones of inmates are left to pay this bill. For a ten minute phone call you may find yourself paying over one hundred dollars. With SecurTel, you can reduce this charge to a fraction of the cost and only pay the local calling rate. Make calls from across the US or internationally for the local rate and help your family stay connected during a difficult time. Learn more about how to sign up for inmate calls here.
About The Author
Meet Rei Bayucca, an accomplished writer with a passion for exploring a wide range of industries. Through her skilled and thoughtful writing, Rei aims to inspire and educate readers with content that stimulates the mind.