Since I’ve had such a positive reaction to my Prison Slang series, I am presenting the third installment here. For the uninitiated, I used to work at an Arizona State Prison Complex, and in doing so encountered some interesting variances on the English language. To check out Prison Slang 101 and Prison Slang 102, simply click the links!
Here are several more terms and phrases you may have never heard before, but are used quite regularly throughout the prison I worked in, as well as many prisons in America.
Some terms will refer to institutional activities or issues, and are regularly used by both inmates and correctional staff. Some prison slang is meant purely for inmate ears, but if you pay attention long enough, you really can’t help but figure it out.
Count: This is the term used to describe the several-times-daily routine of closing the yard (stopping any non-essential inmate movement) and conducting cell checks and other measures to ensure the whereabouts of each individual inmate within the institution. This process can take up to thirty minutes or more within a single unit, and up to an hour for an entire complex. When count is “cleared”, the process has been successfully completed and all inmates are accounted for. The yard can return to normal operations.
Face-to-ID Check: When an inmate holds his Department of Corrections-issued ID card, with photograph, up to his face in his cell window, or in a line-up, in order for a Correctional Officer to verify an inmate’s identity. This is sometimes used during regular count, but more often used in Special or Emergency Count, when a higher standard of protocol is employed.
U.A.: Urine analysis. This term is used by Correctional staff and inmates to describe mandatory and often random drug testing inmates are subject to during their stay. A dirty U.A. would be one that showed drug use. Example: “Man, I just got U.A.’d, and I know it’s gonna come back dirty.”
(to get) Jammed Up: A phrase meaning to be questioned or interrogated by a member of Correctional staff. Example: “The Sergeant just jammed me up on the Rec field about that fight over in B-Pod, but I didn’t tell him anything…”
Dry Snitching: To implicate or ‘tell’ on someone without necessarily meaning to. Also, to give some information to the ‘cops’, but coming shy of naming names, in a situation where it would be easy to fill in the gaps based off the Dry Snitch’s information.
Shine (Shine Status): To be put on ‘shine status’ or to get “shined on” refers to getting the cold shoulder based off a perceived injustice to the ‘shiner’ from the ‘shinee’. Example: “James didn’t pay me that $50 he owes me from poker yet; I trust him but he’s on shine till he pays.”
Head: Refers to the head of the yard in terms of prison gangs and races. The head is the inmate in charge of all other inmates in his ‘clique’, and things are often comprised in an almost militarized system, complete with a chain of command. The heads are the Generals.
Check, or (getting) Checked: This term refers to a lower-level inmate or rival inmate who is essentially put in his place for an internal wrong-doing by the more aggressive inmate. If a member of one race does business with a member of another race without permission from the Head of his own race, he will probably get ‘checked’. It is similar to a slap on the wrist by s superior in the real world, but usually equals a few hits in the gut or even face, as well as a stern talking to. Example: “Evan’s a good kid, but he forgot the rules…I had to check him.”
Celly: Simply an informal way of referring to an inmate’s cell-mate. Juveniles may use the term “roommate”.
Rig: An illegal tattoo gun. Also, can refer to a syringe set-up to do heroin. Both types of ‘rigs’ are considered serious contraband, and possession of either is subject to disciplinary tickets, hearings and loss of privileges.
(to be put on) Restriction: This phrase refers to an inmate essentially being ‘grounded’ by senior-ranking inmates within their circle. For example, if an inmate does something to upset the leaders in his gang or racial grouping, he may be checked first, and placed on restriction as follow-up punishment. An inmate on restriction may not be allowed to gamble, drink, socialize or engage in other activities. The inmate will probably still be allowed to go to Chow and Rec; in fact, these things are virtually mandatory on a Gen Pop yard, as there is safety in numbers, and all members play their role.
Rec & the Rec field: The inmates get time each week to group together and socialize on the Rec field. This is an area saturated with criminality: drug deals, sexual activity, gambling, fights (and rarely murders) take place at Rec, often right under the watch of the Correctional staff. Many Rec yards will have a stash of various groups’ weapons, placed carefully and buried throughout the area dominated by the group that hid them. The inmates usually self-segregate according to race, with each group claiming an area within the area. There are rules.
Convict Vs Inmate (contextually, among inmates; not pertaining to or governing the way staff addresses inmates.):
An understanding in prison that there are two types of men: convicts, and inmates. Convicts are hardened, and wiser to both prison policy and prison life. They don’t typically start fights they’re apt to lose, and they generally play by the institution’s rules (at least on the surface). These are cunning individuals that know the system, and typically allow other, fresher inmates to do their dirty work. ‘Cons’ are usually respected more by other inmates, and often by Corrections staff, as well, because they themselves are granted a certain level of respect and understanding.
Inmates, however, are typically a younger, more impulsive group that are not yet to be trusted by institution staff or other true convicts. This person is very low-level, if he has any standing at all within the racial grouping. An ‘inmate’ that hasn’t proven himself may be conditioned by an older ‘con’; taken under his wing, so to speak. This may or may not be a good thing, as the relationship can easily turn predatory. In other cases, the ‘youngster’ learns to act a bit more thoughtfully due to this warped tutelage. It all depends on the individuals involved. For a more in depth look at this issue, click here.
Fish: Term used to describe new staff and inmates alike. Also, ‘fresh meat’ or ‘duck’. Used to describe naive person or easy target for mind games and manipulation.
Pods: Specific housing units within a prison unit, usually numbered, lettered, or given names. The areas where the inmates actually live are also commonly referred to as ‘dorms’, ‘tiers’, ‘racks’, or ‘the house’.