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Behind Bars: “Prison handles” a common practice inside, rare on the outside

By Brian Wood - | Apr 25, 2016

If you know more than one guy named "Demon" or "Reckless" then you might be in prison.

It's a common practice for inmates to pick up a "prison handle" or nickname while here. For the most part, prisoners don't give themselves these handles, but I'm sure it happens.

There are those nicknames that are given to prisoners based on where they are from. It seems to be a more common occurrence when the person has an accent. I've run into more than one guy with the name "Florida", "New York", or "Mississippi". I've also hear someone being called "Utah" here, but I imagine he probably picked up the name in "the Feds" (Federal prison).

Another common way nicknames are given is to take the first letter(s) of a name and add something simple, like "T-bone", "D-boy", or "Co-Dogg". Just the other day, one inmate was yelling "Hey, D-boy" in the hallway, clearly within earshot, but "D-boy" just kept on walking, because there was a cop nearby.

Despite these easily deciphered handles, prisoners don't use these names around the prison staff. I've also seen the flip side of that situation, where a prisoner was not able to get the other inmate's attention, because he didn't know the prisoner's real name, and he knew better than to call out a prison handle in front of the police.

Some prison handles are easy to discern how they came to be, like "Caveman", "Happy", "Twitch", "Shorty", or "Big Fella". Other handles, like "Sneaky", "Evil", "Sinister", "Dopey", "Criminal", and "Train Wreck" are not entirely trait related, though I could be wrong as I don't know any of the guys with those handles personally. I've heard those handles and many more like them with several of them in use by different prisoners. Often, in those scenarios where individuals share a handle, they can be further identified by gang or what hood they are from.

Many of these names don't carry over the "outs" or outside world; however, some of these guys run in circles where it does happen and it is perfectly acceptable. It's hard for me to imagine someone telling a co-worker on the first day of work, "Just call me Thug-nasty", but to each, their own. That particular handle happens to be one of those given as an oxymoron, like Little John in Robin Hood.

It seems the more infamous a case someone has, the more likely they will be referred to with their first and last name almost exclusively used together. Last names are probably the most common way people are addressed, though I've used someone's last name, only to be told, "Don't call me that, that's what the cops call me."

I personally don't use my last name as an introduction because that is reserved for another group. Since I've been down I've learned a white supremacist is referred to as a "Peckerwood", or just a "Wood" for short. Before I knew this, I introduced myself to a guy by saying, "Hey, I'm Wood." I had my hand out to shake his, and was surprised when he grasped my arm right below the wrist, and said, "I am too, brother," Since then I have recognized the handshake and jargon in TV shows and movies in regards to white gangs. Oops. I don't have a prison handle; I guess I just haven't fully embraced the prison experience.

If you know someone named "Peaches", "Tinkerbelle", "Skittles", and "Bubbles". You might be in a strip- club, however, if those individuals happen to be men, then again, you're probably in prison.

There's a whole group of individuals that use handles like these and have fully embraced their prison experience, but that's another topic entirely, and probably not for the newspaper.

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