11 slang terms you'll only hear in prison, according to correctional officers
- Insider spoke to former correctional officers about the slang terms used to do their jobs.
- Officers have their own jargon, but it's also crucial for them to understand the lingo inmates use.
Every profession has its distinct jargon, and law enforcement is no different. Correctional officers, like professionals in a variety of industries and fields, use specific terminology to describe their on-the-job routine and duties.
It's also crucial for prison officers to have an understanding of the lingo used by inmates. This knowledge empowers them to effectively handle situations, uphold order, and prioritize the safety of themselves and others.
Insider spoke to several former officers who shared some of the slang terms used within the confines of prison walls — along with their definitions. Here's what they had to say:
1. Ninja Turtles
Drawing inspiration from the cartoon "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," Vargas D., a former Rikers Island correctional officer, said inmates coined this nickname to refer to prison guards when they're dressed in riot gear and they're responding to an alarm.
2. Slashes are up/Slashes are down
Staff use this term to indicate whether stabbings among inmates have increased or decreased. While knives, razors, and other sharp objects are strictly prohibited in prisons, makeshift knifelike weapons known as shivs or shanks are commonly created and used by prisoners.
Ralph Ortiz, a former correctional officer who worked at Rikers from 2012 to 2017, shared that his captain would line up the officers at the start of each shift and share this information. "We'd get our equipment checked, our posts assigned, and be given the news of the day, which included being informed whether slashes were up or down," he said.
Inmates refer to newly incarcerated people as "fish." If a new inmate has never been to prison before, fellow inmates would call that person a fish or fresh fish. Since fish are often the target of violent attacks in prison, an officer may pay special attention if they overhear inmates discussing a fish to ensure order is maintained.
Prison workers do not use this particular term, but Vargas D. told Insider whenever they received new inmates they'd call out the term "new batch."
A common practice inside prisons, a shakedown refers to a thorough search of a cell by prison guards. The express purpose is to look for contraband such as illegal drugs, alcohol, weapons, cellphones, and other prohibited items.
Shakedowns take place at undisclosed times to ensure the safety and security of both inmates and staff. The searches can vary from a single cell to a mass prison-wide search, depending on the administration's motive.
5. On the count
Right before every shift, an incoming officer shouts this order, which indicates to inmates they must report to their cells and stand by their beds for a head count. This happens daily during each staff shift change to ensure all inmates are accounted for.
6. Bean hole/Bean slot
A bean hole — also known as a bean slot — is the metal opening in the prison cell door. It allows staffers to pass food trays to inmates without having to open the door.
Food, or chow as it is referred to on the inside, is delivered via the bean hole or bean slot when an inmate cannot or is not permitted to go to the cafeteria or chow hall.
In an act of defiance, prisoners are known to "hold the bean slot," making it impossible for the staffer to do their job and pass the food tray through the slot.
7. On the wall
This directive is usually given during an altercation or fight. An officer will explicitly instruct an inmate to put their hands on the wall in plain sight. This action serves two purposes: It demonstrates that the inmate is unarmed and it allows the officer to conduct a frisk. According to a former Rikers correctional officer, Bobby M., it's the equivalent of a pat down. However, if a strip search is necessary it must be in private. By putting their hands "on the wall," the inmate demonstrates their cooperation.
8. Something's going to pop
This expression is a warning that signals an officer should be on the lookout for potential danger.
Shift commanders might use the phrase at roll call to alert officers that things seem unnaturally quiet among inmates. It could refer to anything from a gang-related grudge about to be settled to a potential jailbreak.
Bobby M. said inmates might also use the phrase with one another — especially when faced with an abnormally quiet atmosphere, which can often be an indication that something bad is about to go down. If an officer overhears inmates throwing this term around, their antennae go up.
9. On the wheel
When you're "on the wheel," it means you're on a rotating work schedule, which in many instances is less desirable than a fixed one.
Though some may like being on the wheel, Ortiz pointed out that newbies — people new to the job — often find themselves with this sporadic schedule. Fixed schedules are more likely to fall to employees with seniority who prefer the stability and routine of a steady post.
Being on the wheel not only means work shifts change weekly but the assigned duties do as well. Similar to the arbitrary nature of spinning a wheel, wherever it lands, there you are.
Prison staff use this term to describe mandated overtime. Like the traditional definition of the word, something is frozen in place or cannot be moved. Often, the staff isn't given any advance notice or they're made aware they are stuck at the very last minute.
According to Ortiz, the word "overtime" is rarely used internally, so if your shift is going to be extended, a captain will simply inform you "you're stuck" and there's nothing you can do about it — except settle in and be prepared for another shift.
In addition to common workplace challenges like coworkers calling in sick, ongoing statewide labor shortages in prisons have resulted in many prison workers finding themselves "stuck" on the job as administrators scramble to meet state staff regulations.
Free means a prison employee is going home and staying home because they've reached retirement. Ortiz told Insider, "The last day is your best day because you are officially free."
- Market to focus on macro data, global trends: Analysts
- Tata Motors to hike commercial vehicle prices by up to 3% from Jan 1
- Musk to make 'Grok' more politically neutral after it shows similar views as ChatGPT
- Royal Bengal Tiger spotted in Sikkim at an altitude of above 3,500 metre
- FPIs invest Rs 26,505-crore in Indian equities in December