Prison Slang and the Language Between Inmates and Correctional Officers

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Prison Slang and the Language between Inmates and Correctional Officers
Prison society has always had its own language and over the years, prison language has evolved. Correctional officers have to deal with a considerable number of offenders with a large variety of issues. All the inmates segregate themselves by race or religion in prison. At times dealing with each race or religion in a prison environment can be difficult. Prison staff are trained to understand how inmates live and the issues they face everyday being incarcerated. Correctional Officers have to communicate with inmates that speak foreign language, understand their prison slang, and their non-verbal communication. Ethnic groups and gangs in prison have their own slang or language. There are certain words or phrases that mean nothing to one person but mean everything to someone else. Inmates also communicate non-verbally by their tattoos. Tattoos are used to identify inmates as members with specific gangs. A gang member that has spent time in prison will have numerous tattoos. These tattoos could include one or more symbol that has special meaning to that unique gang. Tattoos in prison are most commonly used to establish allegiance to a specific gang. Moreover prison tattoos are intended to display the inmate’s specialties, skills, and convictions. Love to Know Tattoos depicts some of the most frequently found prison tattoos as follows: * Double lightning bolts. This is a symbol borrowed from Nazi Germany * The number 88. "H" is the eighth letter of the alphabet. Double 8's stand for "Heil Hitler" * Teardrops. In some places, a teardrop means the wearer has killed someone. It may also mean he or she has lost a close friend or family member * Ornate lettering spelling out the inmate's gang name

* The number 13 stands for the letter "M" (the 13th letter of the alphabet). It's sometimes used as a reference for marijuana use, but this design has also been linked to a street gang called MS13 * Chains and locks represent loss of freedom (S, Beth)

There are many different functions for prison slang or language. In prison environment it is expected that inmates will be misleading in their communications. “Corrections is a ‘communication-intensive’ profession. Understanding how and why language and the process of communication are linked is important in comprehending the interactions between staff and inmates (as well as between staff and staff and inmates and inmates” (Wittenberg). Inmates will use prison slang so that prison staff does not know what the inmate is discussing to another inmate. This is how inmates communicate with one another without detection. Inmates use a type of slang communication to arrange and commit additional crimes in and outside of prison. An inmate could be communicating about committing an assault on a prison staff. The language of lies that inmates communicate are undetected by prison staff. Inmates communicate in slang or gang language that only the other inmate would understand. All these issues are a security concern for prison staff.

The Journal of Correctional Education describes slang.
Two general types of slang exist (Jannedy, er al., 1994) ‘common slang’ consists of standard vocabulary words used in non-literal, insulting ways (e.g., “creep”, “jerk”, “loser”, or “turkey” for a person with undesirable characteristics). At other times, slang is the use of recently created words (e.g. “slamdunk”, “the web”), often with a suffix added (e.g. “brewski”, for ‘beer’). The second category, “in-group” slang, is more specialized, “slangier” variation used by particular groups at particular times. (192) Some of the prison slang examples are posted on many different websites. As the “Block Talk” indicates, there are a few of the slang words and their meaning. “Bo-bos” are prison-issued tennis shoes; the “bone yard” is where the trailers are located that married inmates use for conjugal visits; a “chin...
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