The vernacular of prison is a nasty melange of street slang, backwater babble, and major malapropisms – from a grammatical standpoint, the worst of all worlds. Often confusing, sometimes shocking, it comes to the uninitiated as a completely foreign tongue.
I present this glossary to appease curiosity. As evidenced by the popularity of television shows like MSNBC's "Lockup" and its new broadcast equivalent, "Jail," there are those for whom prison, as a distinctly other culture, holds a great deal of interest. Armchair linguists are also likely to find this entertaining. Neither group is likely to find it especially useful, however. Just as ordinary regional dialects vary, so too will those of prisons in other locales. This list is intended only as a curiosity, neither unabridged nor universal. Should you ever find yourself detained or imprisoned, you would be ill-advised to try these terms out. The results might not be what you were hoping for.
Note: Children, as well as those with puritanical ideals or sensitivity to coarse language should read no further than this point. Much of what follows is, in a word, foul.
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bake cakes v. engage in homosexual acts, especially intercourse.
bit n. any uninterrupted period of time spent in prison on a charge or a series of related charges.
book n. a magazine.
booty bandit n. a predatory homosexual.
boy n. one who is tied (see below) to another, usually an older inmate.
box n. a carton of cigarettes.
bullet n. a small, tightly packed ball of any illicit substance, contained within a rubber or plastic casing, and intended to be swallowed or keistered (see below) for hiding or transporting said substance within one's body.
Cadillac n. any item tied to the end of a long piece of string, swung or slid from cell to cell in a locked-down environment, in order to transport said item: When Baker ran out of tobacco, Jones sent him a pinch by Cadillac. v. send something to someone in this manner: Hey, Smith, Cadillac me a lighter! • adj. of high quality; indulgent or expensive: A cup of Taster's Choice with cocoa in it? Damn, that's a Cadillac coffee!
camp n. a prison.
cellie n. a cellmate.
cho-mo n. one convicted of any sexual offense against a child; a child molester.
coal hauler n. one who is not himself black, who is perceived as associating with
black inmates to an excessive degree, or who has a black daddy (see below).
creep n. a sex offender.
daddy n. the dominant figure in an exploitive homosexual relationship.
dime n. a ten-year sentence: He's doing a dime for burglary. • (drop a dime)snitch (see below) on someone: Dude dropped a dime on his partner, got him busted on a dope deal.
eat-em-up n. another term for booty bandit (see above): That guy's an eat-em-up from way back. You don't want anything to do with him.fifi n. any assemblage of materials, such as latex gloves, trash bags, empty bottles, pillow, and so on, used to simulate female genitalia for the purpose of masturbation.
flag n. a piece of paper or cloth displayed in or on one's cell door to indicate to passers-by that privacy is desired: Joe must be using the toilet; his flag's up.
flick n. a photograph.
freak n. a homosexual. • (play the freaks) make false sexual comments or passes for humor effect or to make someone uncomfortable.
freecase v. blame or sentence for an offense one did not commit: They tried to freecase him with another robbery, but he wasn't even in this state when it happened.
hole n. a housing unit or other specified area in which inmates are held in segregation from the prison's general population for disciplinary or protective reasons. • (make a hole run) smuggle an illicit substance into a segregated area for the express purpose of selling it for substantial profit.
house n. a housing unit within the prison. • n. one's cell.
hustle n. a method, usually illicit, of making money or doing business: George had himself a good little hustle selling sugar packets out of the kitchen. Too bad he got fired.
keister v. insert (something) into the rectum, usually a bullet (see above).
kite n. any note or memo sent elsewhere within the prison: To get a copy of his account information, Rusty had to send a kite to the caseworker.
metal n. a shank (see below).
minute n. any excessive length of time: That old man's been doing time for a minute; he knows what's up.
motor oil n. strong, thick coffee.
mud n. coffee.
old head n. an older inmate, especially one who has served a lot of time.
pull chain v. leave prison, usually to transfer to another.
rape-o n. a sex offender.
roll n. a hand-rolled cigarette. • v. transfer to another prison, often one with a lower security level: They're gonna roll him to Charleston tomorrow morning, I heard.
shank n. any improvised stabbing or cutting weapon. • v. use such an item.
square n. an employee of the prison, who is neither a correctional officer nor administrative personnel (i.e.: cooks, recreation staff, maintenance engineers, et cetera). • n. a pack of cigarettes.
stinger n. an electric immersion element with which to heat water for soup, coffee, noodles, and so on.
store n. the prison commissary. • n. an illicit operation run by an inmate, typically selling foodstuffs and tobacco, for trade or on credit, at exorbitant rates.
tailor (also tailor-made) n. a name-brand cigarette, such as Marlboro or Newport.
tied v. in a position of subservience to another inmate, usually sexually: I heard the new kid's tied with Jackson now.
wild adj. (as multiple sentences) consecutive, rather than concurrent: He got twenty-one years—two eights and a five, all run wild.
wobble head n. one taking medication for a mental health condition.
yard bird n. chicken, especially fried chicken.
yard dog n. a correctional officer assigned to supervise or patrol the prison yard.