Prison Lingo

Prison lingo refers to terms and abbreviations you may hear used by corrections staff and your incarcerated loved one. We’ve created a list and will add to it but feel free to reach out if you have heard a term that needs explained.


ArpAlternative Remedy Process for inmates to file grievances.
BubbleGlass-enclosed officer station. The Bubble is in the buildings where prisoners reside. The officer in the Bubble gave that announcement to lockdown. 
Canteen, CommissaryA store within a correctional facility, from which inmates may purchase products such as hygiene items, snacks, writing instruments, etc.
Double bunk/CellTwo offenders housed in one cell
EducationThe place in the prison where inmates can take GED or college classes, go to the library, use a typewriter, make photocopies, or check out books.
FlagIn some states, the main floor recreation space in the living unit. Also, being identified as being part of a gang. I’ve been flagged.
Gallery/Galley/TierIn older-style facilities, these are levels on which a cell is located in living unit. Most often, you will hear tier.
KiteSometimes an internal memo form for offenders to communicate with staff, Also notes passed between prisoners.

Mandatory time to enter or exit cells or rooms

Seg/SegregationRestricted living unit used to house offenders who have violated major rules.
Gen Pop

General population inmate.

LockdownWhen some kind of disturbance causes prison staff to lock all inmates in their cells, indefinitely, until the situation calms down.
Matter of recordAn informal disciplinary report.
PCProtective Custody Inmate
Quiet TimeUsually after 10 p.m. and not always well enforced.
TicketA disciplinary report.
YardThe yard is a nickname for a fenced-in area for outdoor recreation.


Bid/BitTerm for a prison sentence. Also used for how one serves time. I like the way you bit!
CellieYour Cellmate.
ChowPrison food. Let’s go to the chow hall.
Cowboy/RookieNew Prison officer.
Cops/PoliceOfficers in prison. You got the police involved.
DapPrison greeting a pound. Hey, Librarian, give me a dap.
DimeTen-year sentence
Drop a note/slipWhen an inmate turns someone in for something through an anonymous note.
Dry SnitchingRatting out another inmate by talking loudly about their bad behavior in front of prison staff.
FishingMade from torn sheets or string, used to throw down the run to inmates in other cells to pass contraband.
Fishing PoleA device made from rolled-up newspaper or other paper, with a paper clip in one end, used for collecting items from the runs in front of their cells.
GuardsSometimes, a derogatory description for a prison officer.
Hooch, Pruno, Jump, Buck, BrewPrison Wine
HookupA prison meal made from pulling together Commissary.

Five-year sentence

Old-Head/O.G.Has been in prison a long time and is respected and set in their ways.
RecShort for recreation; the one hour per day when prisoners can leave their cells.
ShakedownWhen prison staff rips apart inmates’ cells looking for contraband.

Homemade prison knife.

ShivAnother term for a prison knife.
StingerA rigged heating element created out of metal, designed to boil water.

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