L.A. Speak / County Jail Jargon


fish n. deputies’ derisive nickname for newly arrived, or “fresh,” inmates. Etymology uncertain. One theory: Inmates’ booking numbers were once stamped on their uniforms in fishy-smelling ink.

five in deep n. a cluster of inmates--members of the same gang, for example--that deputies find menacing. “Hey, bud, you’ve got five in deep--better break it up.” Var.: filing deep n. malapropism by newer deputies of five in deep.

freeway n. walkway outside cells where prisoners are allowed to pace and stretch while still locked within the cellblock. “I was dissing some deputy up in the mess hall, so they took away my freeway time.”


green light n. blanket approval by gang leaders, or shot-callers, to attack members of a rival gang or a rival racial or ethnic group. “They’re in separate cells because Latinos have a green light on Asians.”

hard candy n. gang or individual singled out for attack on sight, usually for a serious violation of unwritten jailhouse rules. “He’s hard candy, man, because he snitched on a dude.”

high-power n. ultra-high-security lockup where the hardest-core inmates are segregated, often for their own protection. Also used for celebrities (such as O.J. Simpson or the Menendez brothers) who might be targeted by inmates who want to take down a big name.

kite n. note, usually passed secretly from one prisoner to another. “My homeboy sent me a kite saying the guards in high-power are hassling him.”

jupe balls n. bland, high-protein mush served to inmates as a disciplinary measure. Deputies say the meatloaf-like paste isn’t bad with catsup. (Inmates don’t get catsup.)

missout n. inmate unaccounted for during regular head counts. Facilities usually go into lock-down until a missout can be located.

pruno n. sweet-tasting but potentially harmful jailhouse moonshine made by fermenting bread, water and fruit for days in a plastic bag hidden under bunks or even in the toilet--a welcome alternative to jupe balls.

regulate v. to punish a fellow inmate by beating him up. “They’ve been regulating the fish, ‘cause they’ve been too loud at night.”

T-bone n. jailers’ slang for overtime pay, a reference to all the steaks it will buy. “There’ll be plenty of T-bone with that riot up at Pitchess.”