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If you are about to get sentenced to jail for the first time (in other words, "doing your first lagging"), you will want to know the slang used by inmates, so you understand what they're saying. I remember my first day in custody, leaving the Downing Centre holding cells in the jail truck to go to Surry Hills police station cells. I overheard a story from a guy who was leaving juvie and going to prison. He was telling his mate how he locked this guy into his cell and just 'pumped him', and was laughing about it. I thought he meant he raped him, as I pictured him pumping away sexually, and I was getting very worried that jail was going to be rough. In fact, "pump" means to bash someone, as I found out later.

Common jail slang

Activities buy-up: each month you are allowed to spend up to $150 on clothing, shoes, art supplies, TV, doonas, playing cards, radio, earphones, and other related items. (Electronic items such as TVs do not count to the $150 monthly limit.) Click here to read about what else you can buy in jail.

Blower: phone, usually referring to an illegal mobile phone

Boneyard: area of a prison where protected inmates stay, usually because they are sex offenders or dogs (informers)

Boneyarder: someone who is a sex offender or dog (informer), or anyone else in protection

Bourgeois: syringe

Brothers: Kooris (Aboriginals)

Bubble buy-up: each week you can spend up to $100 on grocery items, such as canned tuna, canned vegetables, instant noodles, soft drinks, chocolate bars, chips, stationery, envelopes, and more. 

Bunger: cigarette

Bupe: abbreviation for Buprenorphine, a prescription medication for heroin addicts. Commonly found smuggled and sold in prison.

Buy-up: purchases you can make in jail (bubble buy-up, peri buy-up and activities buy-up)

Buzz up: to press the emergency button in a cell to alert the guards that you are in danger

Cashed: to be loaded, either with money or contraband (drugs, tobacco, etc)

Celly: cellmate - someone you share your cell with

Chief: this is how inmates address male guards/officers, e.g. "Chief, what time do the buy-up forms need to be in?"

Coey: (rhymes with joey) short for co-accused or co-offender

Dog: inmate who tells officers information about other inmates

Drop: an illegal smuggling of contraband, that is dropped in the jail by friends on the outside, eg: "I'll get some in on the next drop".

Fee fee: a masturbating toy similar to a Fleshlight made out of a towel, a glove and a sock

Fit: another name for a syringe (see bourgeois)

Flop: loser, bullshitter (used as a noun), eg: "Steve is such a flop"

Greens: prison greens, the clothing you wear in jail

Gronk: derogatory term meaning idiot/dickhead, more offensive than 'flop'

Knock-in: similar to shotgunning something. If you say "he's got a knock-in on the phone after me", it means "he's in line for the phone after me".

Koori: Aboriginal (non-derogatory)

Lagging: a prison sentence. For example, "this is my second lagging" means "this is my second jail sentence".

Let-go: the time when inmates are let out of their cells in the morning

Lock-in: inmates locked in their cells, either a regular occurrence at the end of the day, or a full day lock-in because something out of the ordinary has happened

Ma'am: this is how inmates address female guards/officers, e.g. "Ma'am, can I get a phone form please?"

Maxo: slang for maximum security prisons

Muster: a roll call to check all inmates are accounted for

On the bottom: when referring to jail sentences, this is the non-parole period. For example, if you were sentenced to 6 yrs with 4 yrs non-parole period, you would say you are doing "4 yrs on the bottom".

On the top: when referring to jail sentences, this is the total sentence, including the parole. For example, if you were sentenced to 6 yrs with 4 yrs non-parole period, you would say you are doing "6 yrs on the top".

Peri buy-up: at some jails you can buy perishable food (frozen meat, fresh veggies, eggs, etc) each week

Pouch: bag of tobacco

Pump: to bash someone, eg: "he got pumped cos he called the other guy a gronk"

Put him on showto embarrass someone in front of others

Put him on the dog/gronk: slang for "calling him a dog/gronk". For example, "he put him on the dog", means "he called him a dog", or that he implied or insinuated that he was a dog.

Ramp: searching of cells for contraband, eg: "the screws took all the bungers when they ramped me"

Running head-miles: When you keep thinking about things over and over again, and it makes you anxious, eg: "You want to keep yourself busy, otherwise you'll be running head-miles"

Screw: term that inmates use to refer to guards/officers. Inmates will always refer to them as screws when talking to each other, no one ever uses the term officer or guard. But remember it's a derogatory term, so don't say it to a guard's face.

Scrim: a "screw-crim", an inmate who acts like a screw, telling others what to do, or always being friendly with the guards

Segro: abbreviation of segregation, referring to when an inmate is separated from the rest of the inmates, either as punishment, or because his safety is at risk

Send him: to send an inmate to another jail, by threatening to or actually assaulting them

Shiv: a home-made knife or other pointed tool used for stabbing

Spinner: someone who acts strange, usually because of mental problems 

Stand over (someone): to bully someone to get something from them (for example, buy-ups), eg: "he got stood over for his food cos he didn't stand up for himself"

Sweeper: an inmate whose job is to clean up and carry out other paid domestic tasks

Tipped: being sent to another prison as punishment, eg: "He got tipped cos they found a blower in his cell"

Two-out: a cell that houses two inmates. Can also be used to refer to two people pumping someone, eg: "Deano and Cam two-outed Jonno".

Uncle: a common way of addressing an Asian inmate aged 50 and over

Words you should NEVER call someone

There are certain words in jail that we use freely outside, but have very different connotations on the inside. If you use these words, there is a good chance you will start a fight.

Dog: On the outside, we call our mates a dog if they let us down, and there are many times we use it in a joking manner. On the inside, calling someone a dog (or worse, mutt) is going to cause big problems. The meaning of a dog in jail is an informer, so to call someone a dog is to accuse them of giving info to screws about other inmates. Dogs are one of the most hated people in jail, only behind boneyarders.

Boneyarder: If you call someone a boneyarder, you are saying they are either a rapist, pedophile or a dog. No one is going to take kindly to being accused of those things, and boneyarders are hated among the general prison population.

Champ: In NSW I had never heard of this until I watched an episode of Mr Inbetween, and a freshie in jail called someone a champ, not knowing what it meant. I asked the guys in jail, and they said it's more of a Victorian jail thing. Thanks to one of my commenters who served time in Vic, it's confirmed to mean a pedophile as the word champ rhymes with tamp (tamperer).

Gronk: A gronk is an idiot/dickhead which does not seem so offensive in and of itself. However, in a highly strung environment, insulting someone in any way is not a good idea, and the word gronk is very escalatory.

Want to know more?

If you want to read more about what jail is like, check out my article on prison life and how to survive jail, or use the search function at the top right of the page to find something specific. I am always writing more articles, and I may not have covered a topic that you are interested in. If there is something you want to know, please either leave a comment or send me an email via the Contact Form. I will reply to you as soon as I can, and I may even write an article about it so that others can also read about it. 

About the Author

I served a full-time custodial sentence in several prisons in NSW, and I hope that my experience can help others who are about to be sentenced. All the information provided on this site is based on my real personal experience, or experiences and anecdotes from inmates I have met during my incarceration.

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  2. In Vic prisons,it is 'champ' because it ryhmes with 'tamp' ie a tamperer/kiddie fiddler/child abuser. A pedophile. Do not call anyone that. I nearly learned the 'hard way' but luckily I had enough yard respect and an older inmate I'd used the term to, quietly warned me, rather than shiv me. DO NOT EVER SAY IT. You're implying they belong in the boneyard.

    I did so thinking I was saying 'thank you.' Not the case.

    1. Thanks for the input, and glad to hear some first-hand experience about that word from Victoria. Good to hear you didn’t get shivved!

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