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Never Going Back to Prison

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"You dogs'll never take me alive! I ain't goin' back to prison, so just get on out of here before I do something dramatic!"
Crazy Hermit, The Zombie Knight

Prison is not a nice place. There are lots of reasons for this: the loss of freedom, cruel or brutal guards and wardens, possibly being treated like you're not even human, vicious sociopathic inmates, wondering which fellow prisoner might decide that some petty grudge needs to be paid back by killing you, the toll that things like Solitary Confinement or Prison Rape can take on your mind, bad food, and it can always get worse.

So, it's not surprising that a character who has finished serving their prison time or has managed to escape makes "never again" their motto. To them, being imprisoned, especially for life, is a Fate Worse than Death. They frequently show an intense fear or hatred of going back, and this can make them all the more determined to be and stay a Reformed Criminal... or it may lead to deciding that Suicide by Cop or killing themselves is better than being confined again. The latter sort may be considered akin to a Dangerous Deserter, as they may do anything during the course of a crime to avoid capture.

Contrast Self-Restraint, Desires Prison Life, Prefer Jail to the Protagonist, and "Get Out of Jail Free" Card.


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    Comic Books 
  • Ultimate X-Men: Wolverine has escaped from the Weapon X program and will never, never go back there. Colonel Wraith made a pair of attempts to re-capture him and ended up very badly.

    Fan Works 
  • Ultra Fast Pony:
    • In "Purple Party Pooper", Twilight threatens to rat out all of her friends. Fluttershy responds, "I can't go back to jail again! The warden is evil!"
    • In "Making Babies", Sweetie Belle says "I can't go back to prison! They don't have any soap, it's friggin' unhygienic!"

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Averted, even inverted in The Shawshank Redemption. Brooks, an elderly prisoner released after more than 50 years in jail, can't adjust to a society that is entirely different than the one he knew and toys with the idea of intentionally finding a way to go back to prison but winds up committing suicide instead. When Red is released, he has similar feelings, although he handles it better than Brooks.
  • In Heat Anti-Villain Neil McCauley plays this straight and thinks that guys who "get institutionalized" ala The Shawshank Redemption, and want to go back to jail are losers. When his Friendly Enemy Lieutenant Hanna shoots him at the end, McCauley, as he's dying, says "Told you I'm never going back."
  • Dominic Toretto from The Fast and the Furious did two years in Lompoc for assault. He tells Brian he'll die before he goes back. In the final act of Fast & Furious, Dominic is arrested and sentenced to spend twenty years in Lompoc for all of the crimes he'd done so far in the series, especially the ones he performed in his Roaring Rampage of Revenge to get Letty's killer. The look on Dom's face when he hears this could be best described as "stony despair".
  • A variant involving Pounds Are Animal Prisons occurs in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. Chance, who spent some time in the pound, struggles to escape from a pound worker, yelling, "I'm not going back! No way!"
  • Tank Girl. Tank Girl thinks that Jet Girl has come to take her back to the Water & Power prison she escaped from.
    Tank Girl: I ain't goin' back there. You're gonna have to kill me first.
  • In the remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Ryder states that he is never going back to prison, and forces a Suicide by Cop rather than be captured, claiming that the man who killed him is a hero for doing so.
  • The Blues Brothers. The title characters are pretty determined not to go back to prison... at least until they can pay the assessment taxes on the orphanage they grew up in.
  • In White Heat, Cody chooses Suicide by Cop over going back to prison, although in that instance he'd have been executed, rather than locked up.
  • Roy "Mad Dog" Earle, of High Sierra, has nightmares about prison, and is determined never to go back. Like many of the above examples, he eventually chooses Suicide by Cop instead.
  • Hudson Hawk. The titular Hawk starts the movie just getting out of prison, and is intent on never going back, even though they try to rope him into One Last Job. He manages to do the job and have his happy ending, though.
  • In Collateral, one of Vincent's targets is a jazz club owner named Daniel who informed on The Cartel. During their meeting, Daniels sums up why he did it by saying "They said I could help them or go back inside. And I'm not going back inside."
  • Ant-Man: Scott's goal is this, as he wants to be a good role model for his daughter. He does prove willing to risk it when circumstances conspire to keep him from the child support he needs to see her, though.
  • During Jem and the Holograms (2015) one of the girls, as they commit breaking and entering, declares in a panic that she "can't go back to juvie!"
  • The Wives in Mad Max: Fury Road are determined to never return to Immortan Joe's Gilded Cage at the Citadel. Cheedo the Fragile, thanks to her youth and Stockholm Syndrome, has issues with this at times.
  • At the end of The Town, Jem realizes he's out of ammo and surrounded by the FBI and Boston Police. Rather than go back to jail, he steps into view of the police with his weapons drawn and is promptly gunned down.
  • We're No Angels (1989): Jim repeatedly says that he's not going back to the harsh prison they came from and Ned seems to feel the same way.
  • In The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery, Gino is paranoid about about going back to prison. When he realizes he is trapped in the bank, he suffers a Villainous Breakdown and eats his gun.

  • In Shea and Wilson's Illuminatus!, convicted bank robber John Dillinger makes this vow.
  • In the Artemis Fowl short story "LEPRecon", Turnball Root decides he would rather kill himself by swallowing a Tunnel Blue spider than let his brother Julius incarcerate him.
  • In The Zombie Knight, the house that Lynnette asks for a phone at when she's walking back to Atreya contains a crazy old guy who thinks she's some kind of weird cop come to get him, and shoots her in the chest with a shotgun when she doesn't go away. However, since she now has a major Upgrade Artifact, he only succeeds in hurting himself with the ricochet.
    Hermit: You dogs'll never take me alive! I ain't goin' back to prison, so just get on out of here before I do something dramatic! I'm unstable, ya hear?! I'm crazy!
  • Ostap Bender, the con artist from The Twelve Chairs and The Little Golden Calf, is very careful about direct violations of Soviet criminal law; his modus operandi is "bend it, not break it". It is very heavily implied that he started his adventures in the first novel right after being released from jail and doesn't want to return there.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Wire
    • Avon Barksdale, the kingpin of the Barksdale drug empire, managed to be a hardcore criminal from at least his early teens into adulthood without ever going to prison, but is finally busted at the end of Season 1. When he gets out in Season 3 he voices his determination to never go back. Unfortunately for him, a falling out with his longtime best friend and Number Two winds up resulting in the same unit that caught him before getting to him again at the end of Season 3.
      Man, I'm feeling real good to be out of this motherfucker. You know what, there's a sign on the other side of this gate that says "Never Again" and that's the only thing I want to take with me from this place.
    • Omar Little's older brother Anthony apparently felt this way as well. Cornered and unable to escape from a huge police force coming after him, he attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest rather than go to jail yet again. Somehow he managed to only come away with a contact wound instead and got a new nickname thanks to the incident: "No Heart" Anthony.
  • One episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit features a Red Herring who's terrified of going back to prison because of his experience being locked in solitary (he even holds his arms behind his back and whimpers he didn't start anything while he's attacked by a relative of the victim). Said fear leads him to throw Stabler off a roof, thinking he was going to be arrested. The rest of the episode follows Stabler's (of all people) attempts to keep him from being sent back to solitary.
    • In a variation, a schizophrenic man who agreed to a "not guilty by reason of mental disease" plea on a murder charge panics when he learns he's going to be placed in the custody of the Department Of Health, convinced that "they" are trying to shut him up about another murder. Detectives ultimately determine that while his fear was misplaced (the Department of Heath had nothing to do with it), he really did witness something and that someone was, in fact, trying very hard to keep him quiet, or at least ensure no one would take him seriously.
  • Life. Charlie Crews met his Heterosexual Life-Partner/accountant Ted while they both were in prison. At one point Charlie is threatened by someone in authority by sending Ted back to prison on a trumped-up murder charge. Shortly before he's sent away Ted says flat out that he won't go back to prison; he'd kill himself first - but in the end, he can't avoid it. While he's there Charlie has hired another prisoner to be his 24/7 bodyguard so he won't get beaten up too much.
  • Burn Notice has used this a few times.
    • In "Identity" Michael approaches a Con Man named Quentin King by pretending to be someone who did time with King's old cellmate. As part of selling the ID Michael claims to have jumped parole, acts nervous around cops, and at one point tells King that he isn't going back to prison and is willing to do a Taking You with Me/Suicide by Cop rather than go back.
    • In the episode "Scatter Point", Mike is hired by a Reformed Criminal named Trevor who explains that he can't go back to jail, (Trevor's son was born during his last stay in jail and he doesn't want to abandon the kid) but that his old gang is trying to recruit him for a job, the boss will kill Trevor and his whole family if he refuses, and if he tries to get out of it by skipping town he'll be violating parole and sent back to prison. Michael agrees to find a way to disrupt the heist so Trevor won't be in danger of being killed or going back to jail.
  • In Season 3 of Justified Dirty Coward Dickie Bennett swears that he can't go back to prison, and actually attempts Suicide by Cop by pulling a gun on Raylan. Raylan clips him in the leg and sends him back to jail anyway.
  • In an episode of Bonanza Hoss attempted to take in a prison escapee. The escapee ranted that he couldn't go back to prison because they always told him when to get up, when to eat, when to work, when to sleep. It was like he was in prison! (Oh, wait....)
  • An episode of The X-Files has a mysterious blind woman stalking a recently released criminal, trying to stop him from doing anything that would send him back to jail. It's revealed she's his daughter from the rape that sent him in the first place, and can see through his eyes: She's seen nothing but prison all her life, and eventually murders him on a beautiful seaside rather than let him get arrested again.
  • Cops: L.A.C. has Zac Butler state this word for word.
  • NUMB3RS: In "Trust Metric", Dwayne Carter draws his gun on multiple police officers before Colby intervenes and they get away. When Colby asks what he was thinking, he replies, "I was thinking 'I'm going to die before I go back to jail'," to which Colby nods grimly. We never do find out what happened to them in prison, but given the nature of the crime as well as the fact that Colby had been a cop, it probably wasn't an easy time for either of them.
  • A New York Undercover episode had the detectives suspecting that a recently paroled rapist is responsible for another attack. When the little girl confirms that he was her assailant, they chase him to the roof of his building, where we actually get a tearful version of this as he laments himself as a sick bastard—"I was out for five minutes and I did it again!"—and that more prison time will do nothing to rehabilitate him—and leaps to his death.
  • CSI: NY: While handcuffed, Mac's season 3 nemesis, serial killer Clay Dobson, throws himself off a rooftop in an attempt to frame the detective for his murder rather than return to prison.

  • Project Pat's aptly titled "I Ain't Goin' Back To Jail"
    ''Crime done on the daily, pay attention to this here
    I ain't goin' back to jail and that's what these suckers fear!"

    Video Games 
  • In Baldur's Gate III, Karlach is a tiefling barbarian who had the misfortune of being Shanghaied into the demonic armies of Zariel, the archduchess of Avernus. Karlach described the plane of Avernus as a prison and, when Zariel's goons come to take her back, she refuses so hard that she starts Burning with Anger.
    Avernus was never my home! It was my prison! I'm free now! AND I'M NEVER! GOING! BACK!
  • In Deus Ex, if you question the drug dealer Rock about stolen vaccine, he'll say "Bitch, I ain't going back to jail!" and start shooting. Note that he doesn't have anything to do with that particular theft, though.
  • In Borderlands 2, one of Krieg's skins gives him black-and-white striped pants and a prisoner number tattooed on his chest. The skin's called "ILL NEVER GO BACK".
  • Fallen London: If you flash a Special Dispensation during a dockside brawl (indicating the Constables have deputized you), a successful showing will send many brawlers fleeing, with some possible runners yelling they're not getting arrested again. While one is an older crook that rambles about a time before New Newgate and refuses to see its inside, another recognizes exactly where that badge came from and nearly has a panic attack.
    Unlucky crook: Evenlode... You're not putting me back in the water! I'm not going back in! I've seen what happened to the others! No one's sticking a lamp on my head, keep your claws off me!
  • In Invisible, Inc., Central states that, if Incognita runs out of power (thus allowing the corporations to find and easily capture what remains of Invisible Inc.), that "we may as well just crash this thing into the ocean."
    Central: You've never seen the inside of a corporate deprogramming chamber. I won't see the inside of another.
  • In Silent Hill: Downpour, Murphy Pendelton says this to Anne Marie Cunningham, a cop who is trying to send him back after the prison bus crashes in Silent Hill.
  • Players on the Criminals team in Battlefield Hardline will occasionally say phrases to this effect in firefights.
  • Ange never had a good time a good time at Arzenal, to put it lightly, where she was only sent there because she was a Norma in a society of magic user. However, Super Robot Wars X came along, where she found herself comfortable with the X-Cross and all of its allies. From that point, she ensures that instead of accepting the Hellhole Prison as a home like in canon, she makes it clear to never live there again. Even when they are forced to make a few stops for plot reasons, it only lasts less than a day, and she has brought even more people to abandon the place.
  • In World of Warcraft, the boss Jes Howlis of Tol Dagor will, on higher difficulties, free his younger brother Bobby to assist him. If Bobby is still alive when Jes is killed, he'll run off and say that he'll never go back to his cell.
  • When you take out Chaos stronghold in Dawn of War, Eliphas' master is displeased at him. Eliphas then breaks down that he is not going back to the Basilica of Torment again. Fortunately, Eliphas' master assures him that he won't have to.

    Web Animation 

  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, the Nemesites run a gulag called the Lint Mines of Dustworld. The Pirates of Ipecac have been there. They really, really don't want to go back.
  • The titular school in Joe vs. Elan School is an ur-example of Juvenile Hell, abusing its inmates 24/7, so anyone who leaves by escaping or by "graduation" does not want to return. It's so bad that it's what drives Joe's successful (but temporary) escape during an outing with his parents; later on, after Joe "graduates," he sleeps with his door barricaded and with makeshift weapons within reach. He explains that while he didn't like the idea of taking the life of another person, he would have done it back then if the choice was between that and going back.

    Web Videos 
  • Applying this to Monopoly can have dire consequences, as seen in a comedy skit that is now deleted from YouTube. When one of the friends playing is told he got a "go to jail" card, and he responds by whipping out a knife, saying that he's not going back, and stabbing his friends.
  • Played for laughs by Todd in the Shadows during his review of "Look What You Made Me Do" by Taylor Swift. Todd says that the song sounds like a Black Eyed Peas song from 2009 and that Swift has enough clout as a trendsetter that she could bring such a sound back. The very idea terrifies Todd.
    Todd: Hell no! Hell to the to to the the to the no! I am not going back there, man! I won't go back! I can't go back!

    Western Animation 
  • Francine often talks about when she was in jail in American Dad!, usually about how violent and wild the other prisoners were. Whenever something dark happens in her family, she claims that she would rather be back behind bars than face up to the situation.
  • Kevin Levin in season one of Ben 10: Alien Force is not getting sent back to the Null Void, to the point of possibly giving up on stopping an alien invasion when the friendly neighbourhood Space Cop starts questioning the team's actions. (Note this doesn't stop him from doing anything illegal, just from doing anything that draws attention.) He calms down a bit after helping to save the planet/galaxy/universe.
  • The Buzz on Maggie uses a variation on this trope in "Sick Days, Inc.", when Maggie and Rayna sell kits at school to help students fake sickness. When Rayna freaks out at the possibility of getting detention, she pleads to Maggie, "I can't go back there!"
  • The villains for Season 3 of The Legend of Korra, the Red Lotus, were all confined in their own Tailor-Made Prisons after their previous attempt to get to Korra when she was a child failed. They discuss how they all hated their different prisons and their determination to never go back, regardless of what happens. In the season finale, after P'li and Ming-Hua are killed and Ghazan is about to be overwhelmed by Mako and Bolin, he commits suicide rather than be captured.

    Real Life 
  • Soviet Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky claimed to carry a loaded revolver at all times, even in bed; hed been in the Gulag before being restored to command in 1940 and did not intend to go back under any circumstances.
  • A Florida mayor was heard shouting "I'm not going back to prison!" as law enforcement came to arrest him for practicing medicine out of his house and without a license. At the time, he was also high and firing a gun at the SWAT team that had been called in. Apparently, before being elected, he'd become infamous among local law enforcement for numerous drug and domestic violence charges. Only in Florida.


Video Example(s):



The soldiers of the hellish archduchess Zariel have come to drag Karlach back to Avernus. Karlach, however, has other ideas...

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