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Prison Terminology & Slang

The language used in the prison setting is unto its own. The Cons speak in a vernacular that most people "on the outside" have no idea it exists. There are some terms that are standard and pertain to real prison life and others that are the slang that you need to be aware of. We have included a pretty extensive list below for your review.

There are more articles assembled in this section that cover just about anything you will need to know to communicate in prison.


A & O - Admission and Orientation - Inmates are assessed for physical and mental health, education and for chemical dependency and sex offender treatment needs if warranted by the inmate's crime or history. It is also a time where the new inmates meet the staff and hear the general rules and expectations of the prison. It usually takes most of the day and it gets quite boring.

Accountability –prison staff wants all inmates to be accounted for at all times. They may require additional “count times” to ensure that all are accounted for

Be 21 – own up to what you have done

Bed Book count –when the count isn’t right, the guards will go bed-by-bed and use the picture ID method of counting rather than a simple head count, they’ll check names off a roster to find who the missing inmate is, if there is one.

Bitch –an inmate that is deemed soft to conflict, a sissy, a punk, a sex slave bought or sold by other inmates.

Bond out – term used when inmates complain loudly, whining about their circumstances, the response from other inmates is “bond out”, suggesting that if you don’t like it, then post bail bond. In most cases, there is no allowable bond available, it’s a way of telling the complaining inmate to shut up or man up.

Bunkie –inmate that has the alternate bed where bunk beds are used

Cellie –inmate(s) that you share a space or cell with

Chow hall –place to eat

Chow hall etiquette –

Table knock - upon sitting at a dining hall table, an inmate knocks on the table to acknowledge with respect those that are already seated. when the meal is over, the departing inmates knock and the seated inmates knock in return.

IF you bump or touch another inmate in line while receiving food or dumping your finished meal tray, immediately acknowledge it was an accident and apologize – You Must Show Respect

Do not crowd in line or crowd another inmate’s space

Do not scream in the chow hall.

Do not touch another inmate while seated, not his tray or his person.

Never butt in line.

Never reach OVER another inmate's tray while dining.

Always offer food you do not intend to eat to other inmates.

Chow time –time to eat

Clear count –when the count is submitted and the numbers match and all inmates are accounted for

CO –corrections officer

Cop Out –formal request used by inmates to get things done by staff

Count or Count Time– every prison counts the inmates a few times a day. In the federal system, 4pm and 10pm are the nationwide times for “count”. On the weekends, it’s 10am, 4pm and 10pm. Inmates report to their bunks while the guards count the population.

Drop a dime –ratting on someone

Dry snitch –ratting on someone with NO evidence to support your claim; also saying something out loud that puts another inmate out there to be scrutinized by otherwise unsuspecting guards or administration or law enforcement.

Gunning – masturbating in the presence of a female guard (wear pink suit as punishment MYTH)

In the car –the group that you are currently hanging around with. If there is a meal being made, if you are “in the car”, you are included in the meal.

Jack your time -when another inmate creates chaos or trouble that causes another inmate to lose good time or get sent to the hole. A cellie having contraband could jack the time of another inmate.

Late night –some prisons allow inmates to watch television or roam the compound after lights out. It is a privilege sepecially during times of NFL playoffs, bowl games where inmates have a heavy desire to see late night telecast games.

Lock-down – inmates are relegated and must remain in their cells or sleeping quarters. There is no movement; everything is at a stand still

Mail call –inmates line up to listen for their name to be called for mail. Some prisons deliver themail to the cells

Man up – take responsibility for your actions, “be a man and stand up for yourself”

New charge –means that you have incurred more criminal charges

Pack out –get your property together, you are being moved

Paid out in stamps or “foxes” - $1.00 postage stamp have a fox on them

Paper –refers to your probation, parole or supervised release time. “Three years of paper” means you have three more years of dealing with a probation officer and are always in jeopardy of violating and being sent back to prison

Pat down –guards or administrative personnel can request that you submit to a body search for contraband

Pill Line –three times a day, you see inmates lining up to receive their medication from the prison medical staff

Pirating – jumping into another conversation uninvited

Power up –to step up strong asserting your fearlessness towards predators who want to take your commissary or worse, turn you into their bitch.

Punk –an inmate that is used by other predatory inmates for sex.

R & D –Reception & Diagnostic, the first stop where an inmate goes through the intake process. The time spent here is usually several boring hours waiting for your paperwork to be process and your designation determined. You stay in a holding cell with nothing in it, no seating, nothing. It is the beginning of a long journey for an inmate.

Rec yard –the recreation yard

Roll up your window –stop eavesdropping on another inmate’s conversation, especially do not comment on the conversation uninvited

Rule 35 –the legalese that represents an inmate giving "significant cooperation" towards another defendant. this act will usually get an inmate up to 50% off their sentence, however it could prove dangerous to your health if word gets around that "you had your sentence cut by ratting out another person."

S.I.S. –Special Investigative Service, the CIA of prison guards, they investigate all matters and have a unique pipeline (from snitches) of what is actually going on in the prison

Shake Down –units, cells and compound are searched for contraband

SHU –Special Housing Unit, also known as “the Hole”…24 lock-up used for disciplinary measures when inmates break rules. Not a good place to be relegated

Shut your window – stop listening to other people’s conversation

Sniper – inmate that masturbates

Suit case –hiding contraband inside your rectum

The “hole” –solitary confinement that is used as punishment for many various reasons of breaking prison rules. There is nothing good about being alone and cut off from all contact with any inmates.

Toss salad – inmate having oral sex on the rectum of another

Viking – living dirty, laying in a made-up bed with sweaty clothing, not keeping your area clean, eating off the floor

VR –visiting room

Weapons –

Shank - homemade knife

Shiv - homemade knife

Microwave baby oil to a scalding temperature, typically thrown at another inmate, causing severe burns.

Lock-in-a-sock - this is the "great equalizer" in a fight. Inmate places their locker combination lock into a sock and swings it like a sling. When it connects, the damage is severe and causes major damage to the recipient and a trip to the hospital (in chains).