I’d like to take a moment to shine a little light on an English sub-dialect, “Prison Talk.” This form of English is one-part slang, one-part 1940’s gumshoe detective jargon, and one-part ridiculous degradation of English itself.
To hear many of the phrases spoken on their own by anyone besides a person who has become accustomed to them would most likely sound completely confusing or hilarious. So I am going to attempt to run a dialogue between two inmates as well as the translation of what these inmates are saying. I hope you find this as entertaining as I did writing it. So, without further ado, I welcome all of you would-be-students to Prison Talk 101-––a college course you will most likely never see on any school’s available curriculum.
Inmate 1: What up wood? Word on the yard is that your bro Max just deuced up after he caught a hot one for sniping.
Translation: How are you my white friend? I heard your friend Max just went and talked to the officers in order to get moved to a different prison after he was forced to accept a punch in the jaw for picking up non-filtered cigarette butts from the ground so he could roll himself a smoke.
Inmate 2: Skin that!
Inmate 2: I’m not sure that I believe you because you often speak with total lack of integrity!
Inmate 1: Skin tight! Check it out: He’s a fish and the only time he’d ever chop it up is when he was trying to get shorts. You know? I knew he was bound to truck it off. Naw I me’?
Translation: I swear on my ethnic race’s skin pigment which I hold holy! This is the way that I see it: He had a brand new prison number–––it’s his first time in prison–––and the only time he’d ever talk to anybody is when he was asking for the last drags on other people’s cigarettes. I’m sure you made the same observations, right? I knew he was bound to mess up and get himself into trouble. Do you know what I mean?
Inmate 2: What a dirtbag! I cosigned on a bunch of store for that shot out twerp! We were road dogs on the outs and I would have held him down all day. You feel me? That’s crazy. When I saw him on the yard, I kicked him a pouch off the rip. Now all of a sudden he can’t handle the heat in the baño from the checks his ass was writing, and he cheesed up and P.C.’d up like a bitch? Let me find out Max is a punk.
Translation: I severely underestimated his character! I offered to pay his debts, in the event that he couldn’t, on a bunch of commissary items that he borrowed from another inmate who was running an illicit prison store –– that little guy’s brains are damaged from drug use permanently. We used to be friends and hang out together when we were both free citizens, and I would have given him anything he wanted in here if he’d only asked–––any time. Do you see how I feel about this situation? I can’t believe that these events have truly transpired. When I saw him on our prison unit, I gave him an unopened bag of rolling tobacco first thing. Now after everything we’ve been through, he can’t take what he had coming to him in the bathroom from the behavior he was subscribing to? Then he had the officers send him to protective custody like a person that is weak and can’t handle life’s issues like a man? I suppose Max is a lower life form that even us criminals loathe and despise.
Inmate 1: He is a punk! My homie Jason was keeping point while Max got his hot one; no sooner had the torpedos first connected with Max’s chin when Jason called out “One time!” And on some real shit, Max ran crying to the cop even though his punishment was already over! The torpedo didn’t even go beast mode on him, just gave him a light check to the chin.
Translation: He is a lower life form that even us criminals loathe and despise! My friend Jason was watching for walking officers so he could warn if they were in the vicinity, while Max was forced to accept a punch to the jaw. No sooner had the person who is assigned the task of taking care of our race’s violent and dirty work had his first connection with Max’s chin, when Jason called out “There is an officer in the vicinity! Act normal!” And, I’m not lying, Max ran crying to the cop even though his punishment was already over! The person who is assigned the task of taking care of our race’s violent and dirty work didn’t even bring an attack of unexpected power and violence on him, just gave him a light check to the chin.
Inmate 2: What a truck. Max did me dusty on the real –– and on some stupid shit. If I thought he was that janky, I would have called him out myself. Good lookin’ out, thanks for keeping it one-hundred about Max. He’ll get what’s coming to him for acting brand new, woopty woo.
Translation: He’s a complete idiot. Max took advantage of me without any regard, for real, and over something that should have been completely trivial. If I thought he was that shady of a shallow person, I would have personally announced to him that it was time to engage in hand to hand combat myself. I appreciate you bringing this to my attention; thanks for being completely honest about Max. He’ll get what’s coming to him for living his life like he has never had any kind of life experiences to teach him the necessary lessons, and everything that goes along with that.
Inmate 1: Well, with all that said, that’s not what I wanted to chop it up about. As you probably know, I’m serving all of the paper chasers with their paper, and I have keys to the city for sale.
Translation: Well, with all that said, that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about. As you probably know, I’m providing all of the heroin addicts with their heroin, and I have hypodermic needles for sale.
Inmate 2: That’s what’s up.
Inmate 1: I’m aware that you are allegedly the man to go to for the spice, I want to get a bunch of clips from you so I can break them down into boxes for some other people, so they can serve sticks out on the yard.
Translation: I’m aware that you are allegedly the man to go to for spice. I want to get a bunch of Chapstick caps full of spice from you so I can break them down into quarter-Chapstick caps of spice for some other people, so they can provide tiny rolled spice joints within the prison unit.
Inmate 2: Can’t do it, player.
Translation: I can do it, but I won’t because you most likely are a drug abusing individual that will likely not pay me back.
Inmate 1: Don’t trip. I got you. I’m not asking for it on the bubble–––I don’t even have to store it out–––I got it on the wood, right now.
Translation: You have nothing to worry about. I’m going to handle this exactly how you want it handled. I’m not asking you to front it to me until I am able to fill out a store order bubble sheet and make you wait until the following week for payment–––I don’t even have to incur additional debt by visiting inmate ran illicit prison stores that charge interest–––I got it on hand and ready to pay you with, right now.
Inmate 2: I see where you’re at. With both of our resources pooled, we will have total control of the yard –– it’s a wrap. Handle that!
Translation: I completely understand. With both of our resources pooled, we will have total control of the inmates on this prison unit –– then that’s that. Do what you just said you were going to do.
Inmate 1: Bet!
Paul Gardner has served his time and is now a free man, working and living in Arizona.
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