A character gets sent to the slammer. He or she might fear or dread several aspects of the incarceration, including lack of freedom, abuse by other prisoners/guards, and bad food
. But none of those are the scariest thing about the prison. Nope, it's the warden.
The prison's warden will be a heartless, soulless monster dedicated to abusing and bullying prisoners in the most brutal ways possible. Alternatively, he or she will torment prisoners emotionally by saying hurtful words and putting them down. Or it could be both.
Bonus points if his or her actions are illegal themselves. Double bonus points if he/she gets busted and becomes an inmate in the prison they once ruled with an iron fist.
Don't even think about thinking about crossing him or her, and don't even think about thinking about escaping. If you do, the punishment will make you wish you were dead
(assuming it doesn't involve death).
Note that this doesn't necessarily have to be a prison warden; it could just be the commander of a prison-like institution. Compare Corrupt Politician
, Screw the Rules, I Make Them!
Contrast Reasonable Authority Figure
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Anime and Manga
- One Piece: While he really means well for the world, Chief Warden of Impel Down Magellan qualifies. He has stated (and demonstrated) that he has the authority to punish or kill any prisoner there as he sees fit, and along with being a Poisonous Person, it's the reason he's so feared there. He's not without limits, though; his former colleague Shiliew is far worse, brutally massacring the prisoners for the fun of it. This disgusted Magellan so much that he ordered Shiliew to be imprisoned.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, there was Takasu, the obese warden of the prison facility. Among the unpleasant tropes that could be applied to him were The Bully, Politically Incorrect Villain, Bad Liar, Sore Loser, and Cheaters Never Prosper. A key part of his plan to break Yusei was to make ending a long lockdown depend on his success in a duel, and make sure he couldn't duel and was disqualified, the end result being the inmates hating him. But he forgot one thing: The inmates, without exception, despised Takasu, and weren't as stupid as he figured. They not only figured the plan out fast, helped Yusei to makes sure he could duel. In fact, Takasu was such scum that his boss (Rex Godwin, the Big Bad of the first season, was disgusted with him, and fired him after his brutal treatment of inmates became known.
- Batman and the Outsiders #4: Warden Brewster of Gotham State Prison deliberately denies a prisoner (codenamed "Meltdown") needed medical treatments and then lies that the Prison Board was responsible. He does this to trick the dangerously radioactive felon into escaping so he can be killed to save the public. Turns out the warden has decided rehabilitation doesn't work, so he's been finding ways to "legally" off prisoners.
- Gregory Wolfe warden of Iron Heights Penitentiary in The Flash Comics.
- Doctor Who Magazine features Thinktwice, a space prison whose inmates are kept under control through memory-wiping. At best, this leaves them with no sense of identity and thus nothing to fight for; at worst, it fries their brains. The warden claims to be doing all this for their 'rehabilitation' while loving every minute of it. Oh, and his memory-wiping machine? It's being used to feed some very nasty, very hungry aliens.
- In Escape from Alcatraz, the contrast between the unnamed Wardennote and the rest of his staff is quite obvious. The guards and the Deputy Warden are just people doing their job and don't resort to plain brutality at any point. The Warden on the other hand is a cold, vain bully. He drives an old prisoner to madness by taking his painting privileges away just because he didn't like a painting the man made of him. His mission to ensure that Frank Morris will remain in prison is also portrayed as more of a personal obsession than just fulfilling his duties as head of the prison.
- Cool Hand Luke. The Captain is the sadistic warden of a chain gang prison. He ruthlessly mistreats the title character by locking him in a punishment box and having him beaten.
- In The Shawshank Redemption the warden is skimming money off of the price he charges for prisoners to work for various buinesses/public works/etc. When Andy reveals the corruption the warden commits suicide.
- Death Race: Warden Hennessey of Terminal Island Prison is a cold-hearted bitch which shanghais Jensen Ames (in more ways than one) into taking part of the titular Deadly Game (and plans to either keep him racing forever or kill him as soon as his usefulness as the season's Frankenstein is over-not that she had a plan to have anybody win). The Prequel movies also retroactively show that she had some amount of Small Name, Big Ego-she says on the first movie that she was the creator of Death Race, but in reality it was the corporation she works for, and they knew she would take credit around anybody who could buy it.
- The Last Castle: James Gandolfini 's Warden Winter is an excessively brutal, excessively petty bastard. Doling out rules about prisoners not being able to act like soldiers anymore? OK, tough, but understandable. Using a number of brutal methods to break prisoners' wills (especially when Determinator Badass General Eugene Irwin arrives), and ordering prison guards to shoot prisoners in the head with 12-gauge rubber bullets (which is highly lethal) if they somehow manage to piss him off (which is unfortunately often)? Firmly cements him in this trope.
- In The Count of Monte Cristo, the warden of the Chateau d'If is a sadist who among other things has the prisoners flogged and given a lash for every year of imprisonment. Incidentally, this is a case of Adaptational Villainy, since in the novel the guards (the warden doesn't appear) are presented as good men doing a bad job.
- The Boss from Big Stan is a near-perfect example.
- Warden Drumgoole (played with gleeful smugness by Donald Sutherland) in the Sylvester Stallone prison flick Lock Up has a grudge against Stallone's character Frank Leone for getting him demoted by succesfully escaping a prevous prison he was responsible for (because he refused Leone the chance to see his dying friend, even with armed escort). Frank just wants to sit out his remaining time and reunite with his wife after his release, but the warden would like nothing better than to see him in prison for life or on the electric chair. He tries to provoke Frank throughout the entire film so that he'll lash out and turn himself into a lifer, even murdering Frank's best friend and pulling a Batman Gambit on Leone to make him try to escape, involving threatening his wife with rape.
- Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky has a Warden as the Big Bad. He grinds his prisoners up in the kitchens to make food out of them.
- Death Warrant: The Warden agrees with corrupt state officials to kill his prisoners to harvest their organs. Unlike the mastermind behind this scheme, his own motive is just profit. He's also a violent racist and a sadistic bully.
- On Runaway Train, we have Warden Rankin, who holds a brutal vendetta against Manny. Granted, Manny is mentioned (and then shown) to be an escape artist (who had escaped before) and a violent thug, but Rankin himself is a Rabid Cop that welded Manny's solitary confinement cell shut (and felt content to have managed to keep him inside for three years before the court forced him to cut it open), arranged for other prisoners to try (unsuccessfully) to kill Manny, and violently strong-arms a train technician to tell him where the runaway train is so he can give it chase personally.
- In Chicago, Matron "Mama" Morton isn't exactly evil, but corrupt to the core. Her motto (and introductory song) is "When you're good to Mama, Mama's good to you."
- The guards in ''Mad Dog Morgan regularly hand out beatings to the prisoners, but Sergeant Smith is particularly brutal. His boss, Cobham, is even more sadistic.
- An interesting case in Discworld. The Ankh-Morpork City Watch is generally portrayed as heroic, but the city prison, the Tanty, is apparently answerable to the Patrician rather than the Commander of the Watch. When the protagonist of Making Money is springing a prisoner, he is pleased to find Bellyster, an evil cuss who doesn't even have the grace to turn his back when gobbing in a prisoner's food, on duty, because of the problems he's about to make for the man. Later in the book, when Moist's been arrested, the guards treat him pretty well because of said trouble (it seems Bellyster's not too popular).
- Holes: The Warden at Camp Green Lake crosses the Moral Event Horizon when she slashes Mr. Sir across the face with her rattlesnake-venom-polished nails. Later, it is revealed that she established Camp Green Lake for the sole purpose of using inmate labor to find the relics of outlaw "Kissin' Kate" Barlow.
- Al Capone Does My Shirts: Warden Williams is a tyrant who threatens to fire Moose's father just because Moose said something rude. A slight subversion in that his victims aren't prisoners, though.
- Averted in Oz. Prison warden Leo Glynn is tough and takes no crap, but is, in general, a fair and understanding person who never abuses his power.
- In Red Dwarf VIII, when the crew are back on the Dwarf as it was, but are sent to the onboard prison for correction: the Warden is a sadistic grudge-holding bully who takes delight in having Rimmer beaten up.
- Edwin James, the warden of Alcatraz. He has been shown to resort to psychological torture in order to learn crucial information about prisoners, such as manipulating Ernest Cobb's attempts to be placed in solitary confinement or threatening to leave Kit Nelson in a small dark room until Nelson admits the truth about his first crime (although Kit Nelson really had it coming, having been sent to Alcatraz for being a child killer). His deputy Tiller is corrupt and more open in his cruelty towards the inmates.
- On The X-Files, Warren Brodeur, the corrupt petty tyrant of a Florida death row in "The List."
- Subverted in Prison Break, where the warden Henry Pope is more of a reasonable authority figure who genuinely believes in reforming the prisoners. A straighter example would be the skull-cracking captain of the guards, Brad Bellick.
- In NBC's Hannibal, Dr. Frederick Chilton oversees the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and has shown himself to be an evil, conniving man. In season 1, Chilton brainwashes Abel Gideon into believing he's the Chesapeake Ripper. In season 2, he secretly records nearly all of his inmate's conversations, and secretly shares Will's conversations with Hannibal without Will's consent. He hires Matthew Brown as an orderly despite Brown's history of mental illness.
- In the Leverage episode "The Jailhouse Job," Nate finds himself in a prison run by a corrupt warden who is imprisoning innocent people to keep his occupancy rates up.
- An episode of Quantum Leap has Sam leap into an inmate at a women's prison who must prove the innocence of another inmate accused of murdering yet another inmate. The actual culprit turns out to be the male warden who had gotten the deceased inmate pregnant, forced her to have an abortion, and then allowed her to bleed to death when the procedure was botched. After exposing the corruption Sam is told that, as a result, a sympathetic guard who had helped Sam throughout the episode eventually becomes the new warden (who, presumably, would avert this trope).
- In Orange Is The New Black, the prison's warden is often discussed and referred to, but never seen. The assistant warden, however, is a cold-hearted and self-serving woman who frequently turns a blind eye to the prison's problems or covers them up, blames the rest of the staff for everything that goes wrong, and is embezzling money from the prison's budget.
- Doctor Who: The unseen warden of the prison space station that Davros is kept on in "Resurrection of the Daleks" is supposedly a real tyrant who even the staff of the station are afraid of. However, he is killed when the Daleks storm the station without ever appearing onscreen.
- Basic Dungeons & Dragons module DA1 Adventures in Blackmoor. The warden of the Prison Out Of Time is a sadistic former slave master who has been ordered to kill King Uther rather than let him be rescued. He carries out this order by trying to magically torture the King to death.
- Classic Traveller Adventure 8 Prison Planet. The warden is a lying, hypocritical crook who orders cruel punishments for minor offenses, violates prisoners' rights in order to make his quotas and takes out his anger at his superiors on prisoners by arbitrarily denying parole.
- Mutants & Masterminds has a character actually called the Warden, who let his desire to keep Freedom City's crooks in the Cardboard Prison overtake his empathy and turn him into a brutal petty tyrant, reasoning that they forfeited their rights when they became criminals. When he was fired, he turned to supervillainy.
- Mr. Lockit from The Beggar's Opera is corrupt and abusive. When you arrive in his jail, he picks out your chains. The bigger your bribe, the lighter your chains.
- In Mass Effect 2 the prison ship Purgatory is run by Warden Kuril, a corrupt mercenary who extorts planetary governments to keep convicts off their worlds, sells convicts to people who want to mete out "personal justice" and, inevitably, tries to double-cross Shepard.
- SaGa Frontier: The Warden is so evil that he's actually one of the felons imprisoned within The Alcatraz.
- Maiev Shadowsong from Warcraft III is a downplayed version- when you control her, she's chasing after Illidan, who was her prisoner for ten millenia, but there's no evidence that she mistreated him (and given that in the previous game, you freed him by killing her troops, her anger is understandable). She turns into a Knight Templar over the course of the campaign, willing to sacrifice her own allies in order to motivate the others to hunt him down.
- Baldur's Gate II has an extra-dimensional prison whose warden is a Cambion, a half-fiend. He clearly doesn't care at all if his prisoners are guilty, and fits them with collars that allow him to kill them at will.
- Subverted in Ace Attorney Investigations: Procecutor's Path. The warden is quite nice and is the hugging type. It is such a pity that her paranoia about Dogen is driving her mad. Mad enough to kill. Double Subverted perhaps?
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- Walker from Danny Phantom is an obsessive Rules Lawyer when it comes to the rules of The Ghost Zone, and will go to great length to belittle his prisoners and keep them under control by any means necessary. His prisoners are ghost, but he can ensure a Fate Worse Than Death.
- Storm Hawks: Mr. Moss is the Cyclonian warden of a high-security prison located on Terra Zartacla. He wields an energy whip and takes sadistic glee in hunting escaped prisoners.