Prison Slang 102: More Lessons on the Inmate Lexicon

After working within the AZ State Prison system, and having being exposed to several new and strange expressions in this way, I decided to compile some interesting terms and phrases for you. In the last installment of Prison Slang, I covered basic terms for over a dozen different words, including places within the prison (G.P., P.C., etc.), various ways to describe people (Chomos, Cheetos, and lames), and many other examples of common prison verbiage.

Here, we will examine twenty more words and sayings commonly used inside the prisons of the Southwest, however not typically encountered “on the streets”. In fact, let’s start exactly there…

The Streets, or The Outs: Term used by inmates to describe the free world.

The Gate: Meaning the entrance/exit of the facility. If someone says they are “short to the gate”, for example, they would be telling you of a release date in the near future.

The House: If an inmate left his “rollies” back at the “house”, this means he left them in his cell or dorm.

Rollies: Term used for hand-rolled cigarettes, favored and smoked almost exclusively by inmates due to high cost of commercially-rolled cigarettes from major brands.

Your Number: This refers to your Department of Corrections Inmate number. In Arizona, it is called an ADC number, and is comprised of six-digits.

Killing Your Number: Exiting the system. If an inmate has finished their full sentence while in prison, and will have no community supervision in the form of parole, he is said to have “killed his number”.

The Yard: The recreation area provided to inmates. This is where many business deals are conducted and information is gathered. Weapons are often pre-made, and hidden in communal areas like the rec yard in case possession of one becomes necessary. “The Yard” can also refer to the grounds of the unit as a whole.

Chow: Meal time, or the food itself.

D.A.: Dining area where inmates gather to eat. If an inmate is on L.O.P status, he may have to take meals in his cell.
L.O.P: Loss of Privileges. Administered as a disciplinary measure by D.O.C, being put on L.O.P can mean having property taken away for awhile (TV’s, radios, books), movement restrictions (like going to Rec or chow), or even loss of an inmate’s job within the prison.

Chrono: A small slip of paper to be carried by an inmate, generated by prison staff, to outline approved movements and programs. For example, a chrono might list the days and times an inmate is to report to work, or attend education programs. Chronos are also used to excuse an inmate from certain activities, such as work, to attend religious services.

The Cages, or Dog Pens: Individual ‘cells’ of chain-link and steel bars are often used to keep an out-of-control inmate isolated during outbursts. These cages are also used to separate inmates immediately following fights, or to segregate an inmate for any number of reasons. Inmates are typically not legally permitted to be left in ‘the cages’ for more than a few hours, and must be provided with access to water, and fed at meal times.

Cell Warrior: This term is used to describe an inmate who is loud, aggressive, and boldly confident while locked in his cell, or in “the cages”, but has nothing to back it up once opportunity presents itself. For example, an inmate who shouts threats and insults to guards while locked down, but offers no resistance later is a ‘cell warrior’, and also considered a ‘lame’ by other inmates. He may even have to roll up because of it.

Roll Up, or PC Up: To voluntarily seek protective custody from prison officials, and leave a General Population (G.P.) yard. Reasons an inmate might roll up include drug debts, admitting to and renouncing of gang affiliations, fear of retaliation from having snitched someone out, and various others.

Fire: A lighter, usually prohibited and deemed contraband. If an inmate is overheard saying “Yeah, I got fire at the house…”, a Corrections Officer may ‘shake down’ the cell block later in hopes of finding that and other contraband..

Shake Down: Searches for contraband, conducted regularly and randomly.

Nuisance contraband: Pornography (where prohibited), excess property (more clothing than allowed, etc.), inappropriate or unapproved artwork or hobby craft materials, etc. Nuisance contraband are prohibited items that generally pose little threat, but still require use of resources to enforce the prohibition.

Dangerous Contraband: Anything of weapons-grade material (plastic, metal, glass, etc) that could be used to make a slashing tool or knife, or other weapon. Any item deemed capable of harming staff or other inmates. Lighters, for example, are considered dangerous contraband.

Escape Paraphernalia: Term used to describe prohibited items that could potentially assist in the flight of an inmate form custody. Paper money, as well as coins, are considered escape paraphernalia. So are ‘street clothes’, or any clothing not specifically approved and

designated for inmate’s use within the prison. Of course, any tools, written plans, or evidence of past attempts would also be escape paraphernalia.

13 1/2: A popular tattoo and saying behind bars. The numbers are said to represent 12 jurors, one judge, and half a chance. There are other variations on this meaning, but the above definition is quite common.

For more prison slang terms and their meanings, click here



One Response to “Prison Slang 102: More Lessons on the Inmate Lexicon”

  1. […] do this?  You’ve seen the damn movie, right??)  that Brooksie didn’t make it on the outs because he had been […]

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