American jails possess a broad and colourful lexicon of prison slang. The United States’ vast and terrifying prison-industrial complex ensures a steady supply of inmates from many cultures (although largely of colour – an injustice covered comprehensively by other writers). This has resulted in the organic development of a rich – and continually evolving – prison patois.
Here we offer an incomplete dictionary of this fascinating form of prison slang – pray you never need to use its contents in situ!
American Prison SlangA
All Day – An inmate convicted of a life sentence without the possibility of parole. B
Banger – A small and easily concealable prison made weapon.
Bate – A probationary member of a (usually Caucasian) prison gang.
Beehive – A prison where most of a prison gang’s members are assigned.
Big Homie – A fully fledged prison gang member, typically of the ‘Mexican Mafia’.
Black – Black tar heroin.
Bone Crusher – A durable and damaging prison made weapon.
Brief – A German word for letter, typically used by members and associates of the Aryan Brotherhood gang.
Broke Weak – A prisoner who requests protective custody.
Brother / Bruder – Typically used by Aryan Brotherhood members and associates to refer to a full member of the gang.
Butt Picker – An inmate whose job is to clean the yard of all debris, including cigarette butts. C
Camarada – An inmate aspiring to become a full member of the Mexican Mafia.
Carnal – Spanish prison slang for brother, referring in this case to a fully fledged Mexican Mafia member.
Cell Warrior – A prisoner who acts tough or aggressive towards staff or inmates when confined to the safety of their cell, but the opposite once outside it.
Celly – An inmate’s cellmate.
Chante – Spanish slang for house, used by Spanish speaking inmates to refer to their cell or living area.
Checked In – An inmate that requests protective custody.
Chin Check – A form of inmate on inmate discipline that occurs when an inmate violates inmates’ rules.
Chitolean – A homosexual prisoner.
Chomo – A corruption of ‘child molester’, referring to same; A sex offender.
Chow Hall – A prison’s dining hall.
Cops – Prison officers and other correctional staff. D
Deuced Up – An inmate that requests protective custody. “He was assaulted because he deuced up on a different yard.”
Dirty – A compromised staff member.
Dry Snitching – An action which includes unintentionally providing information to correctional staff about inmates, or incidents. Or the action of providing vague details to correctional staff about incidents that occured without naming names, or providing specifics. E
Esquina – Spanish word for corner. This term is typically used when referring to a Mexican American inmate that is willing to assist the Mexican American population, or the Mexican Mafia with illicit activities. F
Fish – An inmate that is new to a correctional system.
Fishing – This term refers to the activity of passing contraband, messages, or other items between inmates. The act involves a prison made string, or line that is passed by one inmate to another inmates cell, with the aforementioned items attached to the line. The line is then pulled into the other inmate’s cell with the attached item(s).
Flags – Postal stamps that can be used as a form of currency.
Flick – Photographs. G
Gas – A nasty concoction of urine, feces, saliva, and other bodily fluids that is thrown on staff by an inmate who is confined to their cell.
Get on the Phone – A term used by inmates when they ask another inmate to communicate through a vent, or drain pipe. Oftentimes the intent is to have a secretive conversation that staff cannot monitor.
Greasing – A concoction of hot water and a grease like substance, like Vaseline that is mixed, heated, then thrown onto an inmate, or staff member with the intent to cause significant injury.
Grey Goose – The prison transportation bus which transports inmates from county jails to various correctional facilities, or from different facilities within correctional departments. H
Hard Candy – A prison made weapon that has been concealed in ones rectal cavity, then secreted for the purpose of committing assault. The candy reference is due to the feces that may be present on the weapon after secretion and the hard referring to the hardness of the prison made weapon.
Headquarters – This term refers to a correctional facility where the majority of prison gang members are assigned.
Heat – The attention that is brought to an inmate or a group of inmates by the action, or actions of an inmate or group of inmates.
Hooch – Prison made fermented alcohol
House – A term used to describe an inmates assigned cell or housing unit.
Huesos – Spanish word for bones. This term is often used as a form of personal accomplishment, meaning the inmate has earned a positive reputation for himself in prison. I
Ink – A term used when referring to an inmate’s tattoos. J
Jale – Spanish prison slang for job or work; a criminal plan carried out inside the prison.
Juice Card – An inmate’s influence with correctional staff or other inmates. Inmates also use this term when referring to ranked correctional staff who have the ability to take care of certain issues. E.g. drop petty tickets, change cell locations, or move inmates off a correctional facility. K
Keister – When an inmate hides contraband in their rectum. Also referred to as, “putting it in the safe.”
Kite – Notes or letters written by inmates. Kites are primarily utilized by inmates as a means of undetected communication between inmates. L
La Hooda – Spanish slang for Corrections Officers, or Correctional Staff.
La Pinta – Spanish slang for prison.
La Raza – Spanish word for the race. Hispanic inmates will often refer to their people as La Raza.
Llavero – A Spanish term meaning key holder. Hispanic inmates will often refer to the Hispanic inmate with the most influence as the Llavero.
Lleyo – Spanish prison slang for cocaine M
Main line – A term used to describe a prison yard containing general population inmates. Correctional facilities such as, max custody, protective custody, or sex offender yards are not considered main lines.
Man Purse – An inmate’s rectal cavity. N
Ninja Turtles – Prison slang for correctional staff assigned to tactical units.
No Good – An inmate that has been deemed by the inmate population as being a sex offender, informant, or prison gang defector. P
Pico – Spanish slang for a prison made weapon.
Political – A status term of an inmate that actively participates in prison gang activity, or aspires to become a prison gang member.
Pops – A bona fide prison gang member. This term is typically used by Aryan Brotherhood probates when referring to their sponsor.
Pruno – Prison made fermented alcohol.
Punk / Bitch – These two terms are considered derogatory and are considered the two worst labels an inmate can be called. Both terms imply that an inmate allows other inmates to take advantage of them sexually, or by taking other items from them. If an inmate calls another inmate a punk or a bitch a fight will generally ensue. If an inmate does not immediately begin to fight an inmate that has called them a punk or a bitch, then the inmate population will permanently label the inmate as a punk or a bitch.
Putting in Work – This term often describes missions or illicit tasks completed by inmates. E.g. assaults, drug sales, earning illicit funds, etc. R
Rig – A prison made, or actual hypodermic syringe. S
Sacks – Cold meals, served in either a brown paper bag, or wrapped in saran wrap.
Shank – Prison slang for a home-made weapon.
Skittles – Psychiatric medications, or other medications.
Snitch – An inmate that has provided information to staff, testified in court, assisted law enforcement (informant), or defected from a prison gangs.
Snitch Jacket – The label placed on an inmate who has been deemed a snitch by the inmate population.
State Raised – An inmate that has spent the majority of their life in prison. Especially one who has spent ample time in juvenile institutions then transitioned to adult institutions.
Stinger – A prison made heating device which is used to heat water. A stinger is typically used to heat up foods, but can also be used to heat up water, or some other concoction with the intent to assault staff or other inmates. The stinger is often made from a cut electrical cord with two pieces of metal fashioned to the cut end. The cord is then plugged into an outlet with the metal fashioned end placed into the liquid, causing the liquid to heat up.
Super Cop – A Correctional Officer with an authoritarian management style. T
Team America – An inmate who is either an active or former law enforcement informant.
The Hole – Max custody units where inmates are placed for disciplinary reasons, or based on their classification.
Through the Vent – A term used to describe two or more inmates communicating through a vent or drain pipe.
Tio – Spanish word for uncle. Also a bona fide prison gang member. Nonmembers and associates will often refer to a prison gang members as a Tio. This term is typically used by Mexican Mafia prison gang members and associates. W
White House – This term refers to a correctional facility where the majority of prison gang members are assigned.
Wila – A term used by Hispanic inmates when referring to kites. See Kite definition.
Wino Time – A prison term that is only a couple of years in length.
Wood – Wood is derived from the term peckerwood. Caucasian inmates will often refer to other Caucasian inmates as Wood
Wood Pile – A term used to describe a small or large group of Caucasian inmates on a prison yard.