Ghetto Penthouse: Prison Lingo to Keep You Alive on the Inside

More

To keep from dancing on the blacktop, you may need to sell some wolf tickets.

prisonmain.png
Joshua Lott/Reuters

Criminal culture is a rich source of, among other things, old timey and subcultural slang. Here are some choice bits of prison lingo we've gathered from slang dictionaries, true crime stories, prisoners' memoirs, and correctional officers.

All day: A life sentence, as in "I'm doin' all day."

All day and a night: Life without parole.

Back door parole: To die in prison.

Beef : 1. A criminal charge, as in "I caught a burglary beef in Philly." 2. A problem with another convict, as in "I have a beef with that guy in Block D."

Brake fluid: Psychiatric meds.

Bug: A prison staff member considered untrustworthy or unreliable.

Bug juice: Intoxicants or depressant drugs.

Buck Rogers time: (early to mid 20th century) A parole or release date so far away that it's difficult to imagine.

Bum beef: A false accusation/charge or wrongful conviction.

Cadillac: An inmate's bunk. Also, Cadillac Job, an easy or enjoyable inmate work assignment.

Catch a ride : A request to a friend to get you high.

Cell warrior: An inmate that puts on a tough front or runs their mouth when locked in their cell, but is submissive or cowardly when interacting with other prisoners in the open.

Chin check: To punch another inmate in the jaw to see if he'll fight back.

Cowboy: A new correctional officer. Cowboy spelled backwards, is yobwoc, or a "young, obnoxious, bastard we often con."

Dance on the blacktop: To get stabbed.

Diesel therapy: A lengthy bus trip or transfer to a far away facility, or even an incorrect destination, used as punishment or to get rid of troublesome inmates.

Ding wing: A prison's psychiatric unit.

Dipping in the Kool-Aid: Attempting to enter a conversation the person has no place in or is not welcome in.

Doing the Dutch:  To commit suicide.

Dry snitching: To inform on another inmate indirectly by talking loudly about their actions or behaving suspiciously in front of correctional officers; supply general information to officers without naming names.

Duck: A correctional officer who reveals information about other officers or prison staff to inmates.

Fire on the line: A warning -- "correctional officer in the area."

Ghetto penthouse: The top tier of a cell block.

Four piece or four-piece suit: A full set of restraints, composed of handcuffs, leg irons and waist chain, and security boxes to cover the restraints' key holes.

Grandma's: Or Grandma's House, a prison gang's headquarters or meeting place, or the cell of the gang leader.

Heat wave: The attention brought to a group of inmates by the action of one or a few, as in "Joe and John got caught with contraband, and now the whole tier is going through a heat wave."

Hold your mud: To resist informing or snitching even under threat of punishment or violence.

I got jigs: To keep look out or watch for officers, as in "I got jigs while you make that shank."

In the car: In on a deal or a plan.

Jacket: 1. An inmate's information file or rap sheet. 2. An inmate's reputation among other prisoners.

Jack Mack: Canned mackerel or other fish available from the prison commissary. Can be used as currency with other inmates or placed in a sock and used as a weapon.

Jackrabbit parole: To escape from a facility.

Juice card: An inmate's influence with guards or other prisoners. "He should have gone to the hole for that, but he's got a juice card with one of the guards."

Keister: To hide contraband in one's rectum. Also known as "taking it to the hoop," "putting it in the safe"and "packing the rabbit."

Kite: A contraband letter.

Monkey mouth: A prisoner who goes on and on about nothing.

Monster: HIV. Also known as "the ninja."

Ninja Turtles: Guards dressed in full riot gear. Also known as "hats and bats."

No smoke: To follow staff's orders without resisting or causing any problems, as in "He let the guards search his cell, no smoke."

On the bumper: Trying to get "in the car."

On the river: Time spent at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which is surrounded on three sides by the Mississippi River. As in, "He did 20 years on the river."

Peels: The orange jumpsuit uniforms worn by prisoners in some facilities.

Prison wolf: An inmate who is normally straight on "the outside," but engages in sexual activity with men while incarcerated.

Rabbit: An inmate who has a history of escape attempts or has plans to try to escape.

Ride with: To do favors for a fellow convict, often including sexual ones, in exchange for protection, contraband, prison currency, or commissary items.

Ride leg: To be friendly with or suck up to staff in order to get favors.

Road kill: Cigarette butts picked up from roadsides by prison work crew. They're brought back to the facility and the collected tobacco is rerolled with toilet paper to smoke.

Stainless steel ride: Death by lethal injection.

Three knee deep: To stab someone so that they're injured, but not killed, usually as a warning.

Wolf tickets: To talk tough or challenge others, without any intent to back it up with action or violence, as in "He's just selling wolf tickets."



A version of this post also appears on Mental Floss, an Atlantic partner site.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Matt Soniak is a writer at Mental Floss. His work has also appeared in Scientific American.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Is the Greatest Story Ever Told?

A panel of storytellers share their favorite tales, from the Bible to Charlotte's Web.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Health

Just In