Prison Communication - Some Translation Required
We often hear from pen-pals asking the meaning of certain words or phrases used by inmates. Prison is a culture all its own, and vocabulary moves toward slang upon prison entry. Many inmates come from lives on the streets, and this can produce a heavy use of slang. Other terms are prison-based in their origin. We have put this section together to help the public understand the meanings behind some of these terms. Some of our information comes directly from prisoners and officers. Please note: This section may be offensive to some. However, it is designed to be complete, not polite. WriteAPrisoner.com accepts no responsibility for the truth or accuracy of any of this information. We will continue to update definitions as meanings evolve and change.
A&P – Inmate store where prisoners can purchase items not provided by the prison such as hygiene items, snacks, stationary, etc.
Accept – Refers to the time an inmate was willing to take in exchange for pleading guilty.
Action – In Federal Courts refers to the outcome of legal actions.
Ad Seg – When a prisoner is segregated from the rest of the prison community and placed in solitary confinement while the prison administrators investigate for any reason.
Affiliated – Is an actual member of a gang.
Aggie – Garden hoe; common tool used by prisoners for working in prison agricultural jobs.
Aggravated – Means an inmate is mad; also a sentencing term (as in Aggravated Assault) which can carry a longer sentence.
Agitator – Inmate who starts fights with other inmates for enjoyment.
Alley – Narrow area behind a bunk or cell.
Barred – Term for fear of an area or person an inmate fears or someone who fears them/their area.
Bank – Inmate with financial assets who may exchange stamps for either money or other services.
Bean Slot – In solitary/segregations cells a place in the cell door where food trays are delivered or where an inmate places their hands for cuffing without guards opening the door.
Beef – Inmate term for a criminal charge against them; also a problem with someone.
Big Yard – Recreation area of a prison; in prisons with more than one area it would be the largest.
Bit – Short term prison sentence.
Blacks – Inmates of African American ethnicity.
Blocks – Cell houses where inmates reside.
Blow – Tobacco cigarette.
Blue Bag – Trade item of a bag of Maxwell House instant coffee.
Bo-Bos – Tennis shoes which are issues by the prison system.
Bone Yard – Trailers used during conjugal/overnight visitors of prisoners.
Bong – A cell made cooker to heat coffee or water for food. This is usually made with toilet paper rolled into a donut shape and lit on fire while a can containing item to be heated is held over it.
Book – Twenty postage stamps of the current first class value.
Books – Prison accounting system for amount of money each inmate has available in their name.
Boss – Correctional Officer, guard or prison employee who has keys.
Bought – A normally unbelievable story has been believed.
Brake Fluid – Medication for psychiatric patients in a correctional facility to stop/control symptoms.
Brogan – Prison work boots inmates wear.
Broke Down – Inmate who can no longer function due to medical problems.
Brother – Refers to inmates by inmates in categories such as a friend, Christian, and anyone of the same racial/ethnic background.
Buck Rogers Time – A non-life sentence with parole so far in the future the inmate cannot imagine that time.
Bug – Inmate with psychiatric or mental problems; also known as a head case by inmates.
Bull-Derm – While originally referring to free cigarettes provided to inmates it now means low grade tobacco products.
Bullet – 1 year’s time.
Bunky – Cell mate.
Burn Beef – A wrongful conviction or being falsely accused of a crime.
Burrito-Man – Inmate who cooks/sells burritos for other inmates.
Bust Some Z’s – A short sleep period such as a nap.
Cadillac – Can be an easy or enjoyable inmate work assignment or an inmate driven tractor.
Cake – Any easy to accomplish job or ask.
Call Out – Challenge an inmate.
Canton – Name Hispanics use to refer to their cells.
Carnal – Gang members referring to other members of their gang, Hispanic in origin.
Care Package – Package from a friend or relative on the outside containing food or clothing items.
Case – Can be either an inmate’s court case or a disciplinary report written for an inmate’s rule infraction.
Cat – See Cadillac.
Cat Head – Refers to hard rolls or biscuits.
Catch-a-Chain – Inmate term regarding waiting for a transfer to another correctional facility.
Catch a Pair – When inmates must stand in pairs for a correctional officer to count or control them.
Catch a Ride – Requesting to get high with a friend.
Catch Out – When a person cannot handle the pressure of a certain area and leaves. This can refer to an inmate or correctional facility employee.
Catching a Train – Transportation of inmates between facilities when they are chained together.
Caught My Case – Date on which an inmate was arrested for the crime to which he refers.
Cell Soldier – Also known as a cell warrior; an inmate willing to be brave when all inmates are locked in their cell but is quiet or polite when in common areas of a prison.
Cellie – (alternate spelling Celly) The person with whom an inmate shares a cell.
Chain – Correctional buses where inmates are chained for transport. This can also refer to those chained together.
Chalk – Inmate made alcoholic drink.
Channel Check – Changing the television channel in the prison dorm.
Check – When one inmate scolds another who does not make a rebuttal. If this continues the person scolded is “in check”.
Check In – An inmate who has been either voluntarily or involuntarily sent to secure housing, protective custody or segregation for safety reasons.
Chiefs – Native Americans.
Chin Check – Test another inmate’s desire to fight you by punching him in the chin.
Chinos – Asian inmates (in Spanish).
Cho-Cho – Ice cream.
Chrono – Write up by a guard or prison official of an inmate.
Chow – Any meal in the prison. Chow hall is where you eat chow (cafeteria).
Clavo – Dangerous contraband (Hispanic in origin).
Clique – A homogenous group of people such as a gang. If an inmate is beat up by a clique then the group has beat him up. This can also be called click.
C/O – Refers to Correctional Officer whether guard or prison employee.
Compound – The prison exercise yard or area.
Contraband – Any item in an inmate’s possession which the penal institution does not allow.
Contract – A probation type of written document between the prison Administration and prisoner which allows the prisoner to be released from detention.
Convict – A long time inmate who plays by the “code” of prisoners, is tough, knows the ropes and does not mislead or lie to other prisoners.
Cook – Any inmate who cooks for other inmates in exchange for valued items.
Cop – Confession by an inmate of wrongdoing and acceptance of the consequences.
County – County jail or detention facility where an inmate awaits trial, sentencing, or a Federal Procedure.
Crib – Cell of bunk which an inmate considers home.
Cross-roader – A thief that travels extensively, working marks (hustling people).
Crossed out – When an inmate is blamed for something they say they did not do or taken out of a good crib or job.
Crow – Lookout for other inmates committing crimes/rule infractions in a penal facility.
C. U. S. – Cell house or dorm supervisor; Custody Unit Supervisor.
Dap – A greeting between inmates by hitting the top of one inmate’s fist with the bottom of another inmate’s fist.
Day Room – Common area inside a prison/jail where inmates can gather.
Deck – Pack of cigarettes.
De-Seg – Inmate is in isolation or solitary confinement for an infraction. See also Ad Seg.
Diesel Therapy – Can be either transportation of inmate between facilities or a long bus trip to punish an inmate.
Dirty Dog – A no-account, sorry, useless inmate.
Dirty Guard – Guard at a correctional facility involved in illegal activities.
Did a Nickel – Served a prison sentence of five years.
Ding – Inmate term for another inmate with mental problems.
Ding Wing – The mental health section of a prison or the mental health wing.
Discipline – Restrictions or physical abuses use by inmates on an inmate as punishment.
Dobie – A hard biscuit or roll. See cat head.
Dog – An inmate’s friend or fellow gang member.
Dorm – A prison/jail housing area containing a large group of inmates’ bunks with a common bathroom, kitchen, television/day room.
Down – The amount of time an inmate has been incarcerated.
Drive By – When an inmate or C/O walks by a bed or cell while passing.
Driveway – Front of either a cell or a bunk.
Dropped – When an inmate has been wrestled to the ground by an office or guard they have been dropped.
Dry Snitching – Inform on someone to guards or corrections officers without telling them by using actions or loud talk to draw attention.
D-Town – Dallas, Texas
Dummy Up – To no say anything about a crime an inmate knows of.
Dungeon – Solitary confinement or De Seg cell where an inmate is kept incarcerated as a disciplinary action for a violation of the institution’s rules.
Erasers – Processed chicken chunks commonly used in prison food.
E. P. R. D. – Earliest possible release date; when an inmate can be released on parole or their sentence is finished.
ESE – Normally what White or Black inmates call Hispanic inmates. Hispanic inmates also use the term.
Eyeball – An inmate or corrections officer staring at an inmate or an inmate’s possessions.
Fall – Where an inmate was convicted.
Fat Back – A person with a large posterior.
Feds – Any federal agency or part of the federal court system.
Fiend – An inmate addicted to drugs.
Fish – A newcomer to prison who knows nothing of prison life.
Fish Tank – Intake Center for a prison.
Fishing – A method of sending items between cells using string.
Fishing Pole – Use in fishing it is constructed with available items such as rolled paper with a small piece of metal on the end to retrieve items from outside of a cell.
Fishing Line – Using string or threads with a heavy object on the end. See Fishing Pole.
Fix Up – Show an inmate special favoritism over other inmates such as giving extra food.
Flat Time – An inmate serves the entire sentence given with no “good time” or parole.
Flat Weed – Losing a fight as if being mowed down to the dirt. This is usually used in connection with guards restraining an inmate.
Flick – Picture from a magazine or a photograph.
Foo’ – An inmate who acts or speaks stupidly.
Frajo – Cigarette, this term is used by Hispanic inmates.
Front Porch – Area immediately in front of a cell door.
Fronting – Act tough, talk loudly with macho gestures.
Free World – Inmates call the rest of the world outside of the prison the Free World.
Funky – A dirty inmate who does not shower.
Gassing – Throwing feces at a guard or prison employee.
Gate Money – Given to an inmate at time of release this can be either money or a bus ticket.
Gate Time – In a prison this is when inmates can get in or out of their cells.
Gates Out – When an inmate is released from prison.
Getting On The Bus – An inmate testifies about another inmate’s illegal prison activities in order to get a reduced sentence.
Ghetto Penthouse – In a cell block this is the top tier.
Good Time – Earned through merit a prisoner receives a reduction in sentence for following the prison rules.
Good Squad – Prison SWAT or Riot Squad used to control inmates.
G. P. – General Population in a prison. This is where the majority of the inmates are kept rather than solitary confinement.
Greener – Inmate who does not know about prison scams or stealing. Usually new to the prison system.
Hacks – Correctional Officers or guards call themselves this as well as the inmates.
Hats And Bats – Prison Goon Squad.
Heat Wave – Bringing attention to other inmates around you by being under suspicion by prison guards.
Hit It – An inmate needs to leave the area because other inmates do not want him there.
Hold Your Mud – An inmate does not back down or tell anything to other inmates or prison officials, even under great pressure.
The Hole – Solitary confinement. This is officially known as Ad Seg, De Seg and Isolation as well as SHU.
Holla At Ya’ – I will talk to you later.
Home Boy – An inmate from the same neighborhood in the Free World.
Homie – Same as Home Boy.
Hooch – Jailhouse alcohol made by inmates which contains sugar, yeast and generally orange juice and cough medicine which has been cooked for several days.
House – An inmate’s cell. Lifers call it Home.
Hustle – Inmate scheme or scam to obtain items of value or money to purchase items of value.
High Class – Inmate who has Hepatitis C.
Iron Pile – Weightlifting equipment for inmates.
I. K. – An inmate’s kitchen.
I. M. U. – Intensive Management Unit – See Administrative Segregation.
Industry Areas – Section of prison where small industry, maintenance and laundry are located.
Inmate – New prisoner.
In The Car – A prisoner who is “in the know” about something happening and part of “the deal”.
Ink – Tattoo
Issue – A prisoner’s original crime.
Institutionalized – Long term inmate who has accepted prison as a way of life.
Jack Book – A magazine containing pictures of women.
Jacket – Prisoner’s information file; also a prisoner’s reputation.
Jackpotting – When an inmate has trumped up charged against them.
Jolt – A very long prison sentence such as a life sentence.
Jumping Out – Refers to being a criminal.
Jigger – Lookout for other prisoners who are breaking prison rules, committing crimes.
Jockers – Aggressive inmates who use other inmates as their “prey”.
Joint – Any prison or jail.
Juice – Power or influence to accomplish goals.
Keister – A prisoner using their anal cavity to hide contraband.
Kite – Any written correspondence by a prisoner.
Kin – Prisoner who is from Africa.
Knife – Handcrafted instrument which can cut.
Lag – Longtime prisoner.
Lame – Prisoner who is not savvy and does not know the ropes.
Lay-in – Prisoner’s appointment for a service.
Lifer – Any prisoner with a life sentence.
Live or Memorex – If a prisoner is Live they have something otherwise they are Memorex and do not.
Lock Down – Prisoners are confined to cells. Can also be used to express an entire prison being “locked down” for inmate searches or problems with inmates which require all inmates to be confined to cells and no prison visitation.
Lock Up – Recreation or Common area times for prisoners.
Lop – New prisoner.
Laundry Man – Inmate who acquires needed items from prison store or commissary. In some prisons this also refers to the person who does an inmate’s laundry.
Lean – Inmate made alcohol in jail or prison.
Legal Beagle – Any inmate who assists other inmates with their various necessary legal work.
Liquor License – Cell of inmate who makes alcohol and sells it within the prison.
List – Items an inmate wants from the prison store/commissary.
Lookout – Prisoner who watches for prison officials while other inmates are breaking rules in order to warn them.
Law Dog – Inmate who works in the prison library. This inmate can be a law clerk or paralegal.
Lower/Top Tray – In a prison cell these are the lower and top bunks.
Mail Call – Delivery of mail to prisoners.
Mail Room – Room within a prison where prisoners can send out their mail.
Main Line – General Prison population. Also a reference to IV drug use.
Med-Line – Medication or pill supply line within a prison.
Mighty Whitey – Prison administrators, guards who are Caucasian (White).
Money – Prisoners are not allowed to have actual cash. Postage stamps are substituted.
The Monster - HIV
Mule – Contraband smuggler.
N. G. – Inmates who refer to another prisoner who does not meet their standards as No Good but say N. G.
Newjack – Corrections officer or guard who is new to the job.
Ninja Turtles – Guards wearing riot or SWAT gear.
Nut House – Mental health area or wing where inmates are located.
Off – Kill another person.
Old Heads – Long time inmates.
Old School – Prisoners and prison ways from the past when there was more respect.
On – Prisoner alert to locate guards in the area or on that particular tier of the prison.
On The Leg – Prisoner who is friendly with guards or corrections officials.
On Your Lips – High on a controlled substance (in prison this includes alcohol). New inmates use this term.
On Vacation – Can be solitary or used by an inmate for being away from society.
Other Place – Where an inmate was before they were at the institution they are now.
Out of Bounds – Any inmate restricted area.
Pack the Rabbit – Hiding contraband in body cavities. See Keistering.
Paisa – Inmates of Latin/Hispanic descent.
Paper – Small package of drugs for sale within a prison.
Paperwork – Legal paperwork about either an inmate’s court case or paperwork to contest an incident report in Federal Prison.
Party Line – Conversation with three or more inmates.
P. C. – Protective custody. This refers to inmates considered weak or open to abuse by other inmates.
Pepsi Generation – Used by older, long term inmates it refers to newer or younger inmates who do not respect older prisoners or their ways.
Pile – Refers to the facility or equipment where inmates can work out , usually with weights.
Plex – Refers to overreacting to a given situation.
P. O. – Parole Officer
Point/Outfit – Needle or syringe.
Police – Corrections Officer, guard or staff of a Federal Prison facility.
Pop-off – Incident or comment which begins a dispute or rioting by inmates.
Potter’s Field – Cemetery for unknown or indigent people.
Program – Refers to the attitude with which a prisoner does time.
Pruno – Inmate made alcohol. This is contraband and considered bad tasting.
Public Pretender – Public Defender. Most inmates do not consider Public Defenders to be good at their job.
Pumping Iron – Lifting weights to build muscle.
Punish – Physical punishment by inmates on another inmate.
Punk – Term for either a homosexual inmate or a weaker inmate who performs as a homosexual for protection.
Rapo – Any inmate improsioned for a sex crime.
Rat – An inmate who informs on other inmates to corrections officers. Can also be called snitch, stool pigeon.
Rounder – An inmate with street smarts who knows and understands the score. Usually this inmate is a hustler and possibly a thief.
Robocop – Guard or corrections officer who writes inmates up for any rule infraction possible.
Rolled Up – Arrested by the police.
Raided – Corrections Officer/Guard who has searched an inmate’s personal belongings or locker in their cell.
Range – Numbered Dorms.
Rec – Gym or recreation yard, includes the running track and weight lifting areas if that prison has those particular facilities.
Region – Regional office of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Rep – Representative who speaks for a gang, dorm or inmates of the same race.
Rabbit – An inmate who escapes.
Railroaded – When an inmate is blamed for something they claim they did not do.
Real Man – An inmate with no tolerance for disrespect who is big enough to take it and dish it out; usually a long time inmate.
Reruns – Inmates who are released, commit another crime and are returned to prison.
Road Dog – Inmates who look for trouble while walking around the recreation area.
Rollie – Inmate’s handmade cigarette.
Running Wild/Bowlegged – Inmate who has a longer time in prison because he must serve consecutive sentences rather than serve all of them at the same time.
Sally Port – Secured control area where inmates/guards enter a jail/prison. Can be between two fences or doors.
Scam – A hustle or scheme to obtain something.
Scan Call – Inmate phone call which is monitored.
Scandalous – Can be either unbelievable or so outrageous as to be considered cool or okay.
School – Educational section of a prison where inmates are taught.
Score – What an inmate obtained from committing a crime.
Screw – Guard or correctional officer of a prison.
Script – In prison this refers to money. Note also: In many prisons stamps are also used as money.
Scroll – A contract by an inmate to get someone.
Segregation – Usually SHU or other part of prison where inmates are kept away from the main population and most privileges are taken away.
Selling Wolf Tickets They Can’t Cash – Inmates making threats they cannot carry out.
Send-Out – Any monetary transaction in prison where an inmate gets another inmate to make the payment.
Shake Down – Search by guards/corrections officers of inmate areas for contraband.
Shank – Any object an inmate has made into a knife/shiv/sharpened point.
Short – An inmate who’s sentence is less than two years or as low as imminent release.
Short Line – Dual meaning 1 – Line for prison store (commissary) during lunch hours or 2 – Early lunch for inmates with medical problems.
Short Timer – Inmate who will soon be released.
Shot – In Federal Prison this is an incident report filed against an inmate.
Shot Caller – An inmate who represents and speaks for a group within the prison such as a gang, dorm, or racial group.
SHU – Secure Housing Unit where problem inmates such as gang leaders and those who are disruptive are contained and privileges are mostly suspended.
Sick Call – An inmate visiting the medical section of the prison whether for illness, questions or an appointment.
Six-Five – Inmate warning of guard or corrections office approach.
Slammed – An inmate who has been put in solitary confinement or administrative segregation.
Sleeved – Any person who has tattoos covering the entire length of their arms to their wrists.
Sleeves – Any person who has tattoos from their neck to the wrists.
Slocking – Using an inmate made weapon consisting of a bag with a heavy object in it to hit another inmate.
Snitch – Inmate to informs prison officials about rule breaking by other inmates for favors. Also known as a squealer or rat.
Spook – In the Federal Prison System these are staff who work in the Gang Intelligence Unit.
Stainless-Steel Ride – Death row inmate term for legal injection.
Tacs – Refers to an inmate’s tattoos.
Tag/Write-Up –Written report when an inmate breaks the prison rules.
Tailor Made – Store bought cigarettes as opposed to inmate made cigarettes.
Take It To The Stall – Inmates will go to the shower area to physically settle disputes by fighting.
Tank – A dormitory unit within a prison consisting of 10 – 12 inmates and contains both a day room and bathroom.
Tats – Refers to an inmate’s tattoos.
Ten Minute Move – Moving between locations within a prison. These times begin at five minutes before the hour and end at five minutes after the hour.
The Bag/Sack – Illegal drugs.
The Man – An inmate who has connections all over the prison; usually a long term inmate.
Throwdown – A fight between inmates.
Ticket – Written rule violation for an inmate.
Tier – Most prisons have several floors of housing units. A tier is one floor.
Tier Time – Time when inmates have access to common areas of prison outside of their cells.
Time – The length of an inmate’s sentence.
Tipped Up – This is an inmate with an affiliation to a gang.
Tom or George – These are signs for good and no good. A Tom is no good and a George is good.
Topped Out – When an inmate is off of parole.
Turn – When an inmate becomes unaffiliated with a gang.
Turned Out – Forcing or convincing someone to do something for an inmate.
U. A. – A urinalysis test for drugs.
Up in the Mix – An inmate who is part of the prison life, one who is accustomed to being an inmate.
Violation – An inmate who has not followed the terms of their probation and been caught.
Went for a Rib – Either an inmate or sometimes a guard will provoke an inmate into doing something.
Whites – Caucasian (or White) inmate.
White Money – Script or money within a prison.
Wolf Tickets – Talking tough or aggressively without any use (or intention to use) violence.
Work – An inmate’s tattoos or body art.
Work Line – Line that forms when cells are open for inmates to report to their job within the prison.
Writ Writer – An inmate who does legal work or assists in legal work for other inmates.
Yard – Generally refers to the recreation area within the prison.
Yard-In – This is the command guards or correctional officers give at the closing of the recreation yard.
Yard-Out – Announcement that lets inmates know they can go out to the recreation yard.
Yolked – An inmate who is muscular.
13 ½ - This refers to how an inmate ended up in prison through the justice system who has a chance at parole. It consists of 12 jurors, 1 judge and a ½ chance.