Sometimes justice is in the eye of the beholder.
And some people may think a unique crime called for a unique solution.
And sometimes someone might find themselves in a scenario they find scary or painful enough that they think they're being punished even if the idea isn't on anyone else's mind.
Whether you're a delinquent taken to attend a reform school you think is going to be a Boarding School of Horrors when it's actually quite the opposite (which may be worse if you're actively trying to avoid getting reformed), or your friends make you tag along with them on vacation and you time here is unpleasant enough that you're convinced they purposefully brought you here to suffer.
Either way, people might get upset or confused that you think of a scenario they find benign as punishment, or angry someone put you through that same thing with the intent to punish you.
Contrast Unishment, when something actually is intended from the start to be a punishment, but the person being punished actually benefits from it, and Cool and Unusual Punishment, when something which is not normally seen as a punishment by others is used as a punishment against someone who doesn't like it. Also contrast Too Kinky to Torture, when the punishment doesn't work because the person likes it a bit too much.
- Up: The "Cone of Shame" that Charles Muntz uses to punish his dogs is actually an Elizabethan collar, a medical device designed to keep dogs and cats from licking or scratching their wounds.
- After the Irish assassin Ray, from In Bruges accidentally kills a child while assassinating a priest, his London Gangster boss Harry sends him and his partner Ken to Bruges on a vacation, which Harry intends as a last happy memory for Ray before he has the latter killed for breaking Harry's code. Unfortunately for all involved, because Bruges bores him to tears, Ray sees Bruges as a punishment, which causes him to throw a wrench into Harry's plans multiple times.
- Toyed with in Inception, where Dom and his team are hired to convince the heir of a major energy company to break up his father's company so that it won't compete with their client. In order to accomplish this, the team goes into his dreams and implants the idea that his father was not going to give him the company. Since the heir had a strained relationship with his father, they try to convince him that the disinheritance was not a punishment, but rather an encouragement to build his own legacy.
- In Knives Out, Walt Thrombey was fired from his father Harlan's company just before his father's untimely death. This was not supposed to be a punishment - Walt's job was largely ceremonial, and Harlan feared that his son was squandering his potential there and hoped that losing the job would encourage him to find his own endeavors - but Walt certainly saw it that way.
- Biker Joke: A biker is driving on the road. Suddenly, he feels a thump on his helmet. He stops, looks around, and sees a sparrow on the grounds which had obviously hit him by accident. He picks it up, and sees it's alive but unconscious. "Poor bird", he thinks. So he brings it to his house, puts it in a cage to recover, places in some breadcrumbs, a dish with water... A few hours later, the bird wakes up:
Sparrow: What is that? Bread... water... iron bars... Oh my god! I killed that biker!!!
- Freezer Joke: There was a man that received a parrot for his birthday. This parrot was fully grown with a bad attitude and worse vocabulary. Every other word was an expletive. Those that weren't expletives were, to say the least, rude. The man tried hard to change the bird's attitude and was constantly saying polite words, playing soft music, anything he could of. Nothing worked. He yelled at the bird, and the bird got worse. He shook the bird and the bird got madder and ruder. Finally, in a moment of desperation, he put the parrot in the freezer. For a few moments he heard the bird squawking and kicking and screaming, and then, suddenly, there was quiet. The man was frightened that he might have actually hurt the bird and quickly opened the freezer door. The parrot calmly stepped out onto the man's extended arm and said: "I'm sorry that I might have offended you with my language and actions and ask for your forgiveness. I will endeavour to correct my behaviour." The man was astounded at the bird's change in attitude and was about to ask what had changed him ... when the parrot continued: "May I ask what the chicken did wrong?"
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, when Jon Snow is chosen to become the Lord Commander's personal steward, he initially assumes it's a punishment, as he had wanted to become a ranger instead, but as Samwell informs him, personal stewardship to the Lord Commander has historically been a fast track to becoming the next Lord Commander, so Jon has essentially been put on the fast track for a major promotion.
- When Ned Stark announces to his daughters they are going back to the North from the capital, Sansa's first thought is that he is doing it to punish her and Arya for their constant fights. However, Ned explains that, the capital being the snakes' nest it is, he is only sending them to the North for their own safety, not as punishment for anything. Sansa still doesn't get it and sneaks to Queen Cersei to tell her about the plan.
- In the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Armor of Contempt, a tank driver is assigned to an older-model Leman Russ tank with a large weakpoint: a seam in the bow that makes it especially vulnerable to Anti-Armor weapons, which he thinks is a Uriah Gambit. However, this particular tank is known to be just as good as, if not better than the newer ones, faithfully serving the Tanith 1st for centuries, and it was given to him (or perhaps, he to it) for his exceptional skill in battle.
- Played with in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, where Harry is being punished with detention, but is spending it with Professor Lockhart, who is under the impression he's giving Harry a treat instead. Since Lockhart is a vain, obnoxious bore who's appointed himself Harry's mentor, this works out as four hours of torture as Harry helps him answer his fanmail while hearing bits of advice like, "fame's a fickle friend, Harry," and "celebrity is as celebrity does, remember that." At the end, Lockhart warns Harry he mustn't expect a treat like this every time he gets detention.
- How I Met Your Mother: In the pilot, Ted the narrator announces to his teenage kids he's going to tell them an incredible story of how he met their mother. The kids look confused and the son asks if they are being punished for something. Ted says no. The kids stay sitting on the couch but look annoyed.
- Porridge: Upon arriving at Slade prison in the first episode, Fletcher immediately takes to charming the governor in the hopes of securing himself a cushy job in the kitchens or library. Unfortunately his efforts backfire, as due to posing as an animal lover (so he could talk to the governor about his exotic fish collection) the governor instead gives him a heavily labour job working on the prison farm out of the belief its what he'll enjoy the most, with Fletcher unable to do anything but pretend he was right.
- Played for Laughs in Bug Fables. In the penultimate chapter, Team Snakemouth travels into the Rubber Prison, a prison for Bugaria's most dangerous criminals, which was occupated by wasps. In the help dialogue for the library room, Vi deduces that forcing inmates to read all those books feels like a really mean punishment, much to Kabbu's chagrin, who does not agree with Vi's view that books are tedious and says that they're most likely not meant to be for punishment.
- Dragon Age:
- Dragon Age: Origins: After defeating Loghain, Warden Riordan suggests to the player that instead of killing him, they could recruit him as a Grey Warden. Alistair naturally takes offense to the idea, saying that being a Grey Warden is an honor, not a punishment.
- In Dragon Age II, one mission sees Aveline using her new powers as head of the city watch to move a favored officer, Donnic, to a safer patrol route. He is offended and assumes that she's demoting him for some unrevealed slight. In reality, she chose the route because she's in love with him and wants him to be safe, but is too socially inept to reveal her feelings to him.
- The Wolf Among Us has Snow White and Bigby discussing The Farm and whether or not Mr. Toad should go there because of his lack of Glamour. At one point Snow White reminds Bigby that The Farm is meant to be a safe haven for Fables who lack Glamour to disguise themselves from humans and wishes people didn't view it as a prison.
- Modern MoGal: One chapter has a cyclops that had escaped prison and gone on a rampage earlier being returned to jail. The jail is decorated like a little girl's bedroom, complete with pink, frills, stuffed animals, and ponies, because the warden is seeking to reform the prison and make things more comfortable for the inmates. For the cyclops, who prefers a more brutal, violent lifestyle, this leaves her huddled in the middle of the room in the fetal position thinking about how she has got to escape.
- The Simpsons: Homer and the kids hate church and are relieved when it's over.
Marge: Church isn't supposed to be a punishment, it should be something that helps you in your daily lives.
Homer: It should but it isn't.