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Pariah Prisoner

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"In prison, there is no creature lower than a sex offender. Even snitches get a pass before these guys. S-O's, chomos, pedophiles; the nicknames all mean the same thing, and they help average convicts differentiate themselves from those they like to believe are the real monsters."

Mainstream criminals have a morality scale of their own (though in some cases, said morality may involve them being worse). Many of them despise police officers and prison guards (including cops/guards sentenced to prison), snitches, sexual offenders (especially child rapists), and sexual minorities or members of certain racial/ethnic groups. Truth in Television featured in many works of fiction.

If prisoners of these groups get locked up together with mainstream criminals, they might be beaten up in a Prison Riot, become the victim of Prison Rape (a kind of Karmic Rape for sexual offenders), or even murdered, typically with a Sinister Shiv.

These groups might fear prison worse than death. If they survive a prison sentence, expect them to be willing to do anything to avoid going back.

See also Asshole Victim as a possible outcome, Moral Event Horizon for atrocities that may make them unwanted, Blue-and-Orange Morality for the peculiar rules that dictate what is acceptable and whatnot, and Even Evil Has Standards for one possible reason that some prisoners become this.



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    Comic Books 
  • The Punisher:
    • Frank once visited a not-quite Luxury Prison Suite where it was mentioned that the occupants (who can have just about anything smuggled into their cell except women) made use of cross-dressers with toothless mouths who knew how to use them, considered the lowest of the low.
    • Frank himself is generally put into solitary after a while, as the first thing he does when he's in prison is kill a few inmates, whether they come after him for vengeance or street cred.
  • Played for Laughs in Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, in which Warren White pleads insanity to escape going to prison for white-collar crimes — only to discover that in Arkham, home of any number of psychotic murderers, scamming people out of their money makes him even more hated than The Joker.
  • In Watchmen when Rorschach is captured and put in prison, other prisoners plan to kill him for his vigilante activities, but he turns the tables on them. "I'm not locked up in here with you. You're locked up in here with me."
  • Serial killer Cletus Kasady usually gets a cell of his own due to possessing a carnivorous alien parasite and being more than happy to use it to kill anyone and everyone in his vicinity. When separated from it in Superior Carnage Annual, he was re-introduced into the general populace in an attempt to rehabilitate him. The other prisoners treated him with contempt and one of them — who had been hired by his therapist — shanked him. After the symbiote returned, Cletus returned the favor.
  • In Top 10, Atoman - publicly a veteran hero, but actually a pedophile and ringleader of a child porn business - chooses to commit suicide rather than surrender to the police, as he believes he'll be permanently de-powered before thrown into prison, making him an easy target for his many past enemies there. Just as the police hoped, since they wanted to avoid Atoman breaking out and wreaking havoc with his powers.
  • In Hard Time, Lewis Gatherwood is in State for the rape and murder of a young (implicitly very young) black girl. Not only is he beaten by black inmates in the shower, but Sinister Minister inmate Gantry soon kills him by dousing him in gasoline and burning him alive. He was dead only a few days into his sentence.
  • Sinister Dexter has Sinister go into prison to find Dexter. Finny soon discovers that gun sharks like him are at the bottom of the food chain, mostly because of the hits carried out on mobsters whose friends are in prison. Even a paedophilic serial killer ranks above a gun shark in said serial killer's own words. Finny is outright told that a gun shark in prison is screwed precisely because he's now a gunless shark.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Part of the motive rant of the villain in The Bone Collector is that he was a former cop who was thrown in prison.
    "Do you know what happens to a cop in prison? You are brutalised every single day over and over... you become a human toilet."
  • The Hunter (1980) (Steve McQueen's last movie before his death that year) had LAPD character "Detective Spota" facing this unenviable fate because he stole and sold drugs from an evidence locker but instead commits suicide to avoid facing this.
  • An Innocent Man (1989, Tom Selleck) has David Rasche's ex cop character facing this when he is sent to the same prison after being convicted of drug dealing.
  • The ending of Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects, where Duke, the main bad guy of the movie, is Hoist by His Own Petard following his imprisonment for his sexual crimes against children. It is heavily implied that Prison Rape ensues.
  • Matt Cordell, the eponymous character of the Maniac Cop films, was actually a heroic figure in his heyday. But he was framed for corruption and was placed in prison together with the scum that he had helped to put away, and was constantly a target for them. He eventually got shanked so bad that it left him brain-damaged, and he became a villain who does the exact opposite of his former duty.
  • The McKenzie Break: Neuchel is the only prisoner who makes a signficant effort to abide by the Geneva Convention amidst the riots and escape plans that Schluter engineers. Due to this attitude and his suspected homosexuality, he's treated as an outcast.
  • The Shawshank Redemption. When guard chief Hadley is arrested, he breaks down. Implicitly, he knows he will not only go to prison but also together with inmates who hate him.
  • Short Eyes (1977), based on real life ex con Miguel Pinero's 1974 play of the same title's prison slang for child molester) in which Bruce Davison's character is accused of this while confined at Manhattan's Men's Detention.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alcatraz: Kit Nelson is beaten by a mob of prisoners in the yard because of his status as a child murderer. He's put into solitary confinement by the guards partly for his safety, and partly as punishment.
  • Better Call Saul. Mike says that cops fear prison more than death.
  • At the end of the Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode "Stress Position", Goren manages to shame each of the corrupt prison guards who killed the Victim of the Week (and are trying to make another witness suffer an "accident") into turning themselves in. The leader tries to stop the first to back down by warning them he'll face this trope; he says he'll do his time in solitary.
  • In the backstory of Life, police officer Charlie Crews was in prison for a crime he didn't commit and ended up spending most of his time in solitary just to keep other prisoners from killing him.
  • On My Name Is Earl, Randy (who has just become a prison guard) brings in a new prisoner and introduces him as a first-time prisoner, a convicted child molester, and a former police officer to the other inmates.
  • Oz:
    • The prison has a separate small wing to house inmates who used to work in law enforcement to protect them from other prisoners.
    • Zigzagged by one of the few child killers in the show, Malcolm "Snake" Coyle. He was arrested on a robbery charge, but when the truth about his other crimes came out (he couldn't help bragging about it), all the other gangs allied together to protect the guy who snitched on him. The Homeboys, however, were pissed off when Coyle ended up dead, albeit for "political" reasons rather than moral ones.
    • Mershah becomes this when he gives up information to the guards to get revenge on Saïd, triggering a search that leads to Em City's entire population being punished for hiding various weapons and drugs. He's eventually Driven to Suicide by the isolation.
  • Prison Break:
    • When Brad Bellick is framed for murder and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, he has the bright idea to request a sentence at the same prison where he used to be the captain of the guard, thinking that his old status will grant him protection by his former colleagues. It backfires because the new hardline Warden is adamant about no privileges being accorded to anyone, so he quickly becomes a target for reprisals.
    • The Sona prison in Panama has a specific prisoner who is designated as the pariah and is completely ignored by the other prisoners, not even giving them any food (they feed on leftovers). This happens to Brad Bellick (the guy can't catch a break it seems) when he refuses to give up his belongings on his arrival, and only gets accepted after winning a fight much later.
  • In Star Trek: Discovery, (former) Commander Michael Burnham is imprisoned for attempted mutiny against her captain; the other prisoners despise her because, in addition to the mutiny, she's held responsible for starting the war with the Klingon Empire in which over 8,000 Federation citizens have died.


  • In The Laramie Project, one of the characters mentions that Aaron McKinney and Brian Henderson, the murderers of Matthew Shepard, were not very well-received by their fellow inmates.
  • The 1974 play Short Eyes by Miguel Piñero (Obie Award, Drama Desk Award, Tony Nomination, made into a film) is about an accused child molester in prison. Nearly all the other inmates turn on him for his crime. The term "Short Eyes" is prison slang for a pedophile.

    Video Games 
  • Invoked in Mirror's Edge: one of the reasons Faith is so adamant about clearing her cop sister Kate's name before she stands trial is that "blues in jail don't last long", as she tells Captain Miller.
  • Prison Architect. A constant concern. Snitches and ex-cops need to get into a segregated unit.
  • This is the fate of Superintendent Pendrew in Sleeping Dogs. Wei is given evidence that confirms him as the killer of Uncle Po, meaning that he's not just going away as an ex-cop, but also the man who killed one of the underworld's most-respected figures.
    Pendrew: That's a fucking death sentence!
    Wei: Yeah, I'm counting on it.

    Web Comics 
  • In The Dragon Doctors, a captured member of Murder, Inc. mentions that her kind doesn't live long in Prison.
  • In Gaia, being in prison for alleged treason causes even the other inmates to turn on you.

    Western Animation 
  • The Magician: After one pirate-themed Villain of the Week was defeated and arrested for taking artifacts from a museum and trying to drown the protagonists, he was told by another inmate, "In this jail, we don't like people who steal from museums!" causing him to scream in fright!
  • Double Subverted in the episode "Peternormal Activity" of Family Guy. After Peter and the guys accidently killed an old war veteran, Joe talks Quagmire out reporting it out, telling him that they are going to prison for this and "you know what they do to cops in prison". It cuts to a Imagine Spot where a prison inmate asks a bored Joe several questions about the police like an excited, curious child ("when you were a cop, do they let you use the siren?") and then, right afterwards, this same inmate casually says that he and several others prisoners are going to kill Joe in the shower later.

    Real Life 
  • Contrary to popular belief, child molesters, bad cops and snitches are not the only prisoners targeted by inmates (or in some cases, by guards). (In this case, this is definitely not a case of Even Evil Has Standards.)
    • LGBT criminals suffer heavily in some prisons. This is due to the infamously homophobic sentiment shared among many guards and prisoners alike. they are seen as below even the worst of the child molesters, to the point where a common hoax circulated around the Double Standard: Rape, Male on Male trope was that the perpetrator in prisons was gay. In some years and areas, more LGBT people are killed by prisoners and guards than informants and child molesters.
    • People with racially egalitarian ideas are seen by prisoners of many stripes as "traitors" to their own "race" (thus feeding into the extremely bigoted environments all too common in prisons) and are frequently the target of Prison Rape and/or lynchings. However, many activists willing to go into prison in a hope to further advance progress on social issues would often realize how ill-informed the decision was due to the extremely prejudiced environments in many prisons and would often either leave with no way of employment or income (causing them to be driven to the Despair Event Horizon, leading to homelessness, terrorism and suicide, as not even their fellow activists are willing to attempt to prop up that victim's income after prison) or get killed in prison.
    • And just about any person with intellectual beliefs, or have no incentive for violence are seen as "worse" than informants and child molesters, due to them being seen as complete "cowards" who are "defenseless". Despite the obvious disparity in deaths, informants, bad cops, and child molesters disproportionately make up most of the pariahs in fiction and news coverage.
  • Many prison services have segregated units for vulnerable prisoners.
    • These are not always intentionally made. When inmates have to be separated after a conflict, it's obvious that the aggressor cannot be put around other at-risk inmates, so he will probably end up around other dangerous inmates. Over time, this creates pockets of at-risk inmates that serve as unofficial "PC" units.
  • It isn't just pedophiles:
    • Inmates on Retained Jurisdiction, or "riders", are being given a probationary sentence by a judge and are not officially in the custody of a Department of Corrections. They are only slightly higher than child molesters in the prison hierarchy.
    • Civil Commitments have been declared mentally incapable of living in society by a judge and have not been convicted of a crime. They are people who would have been in a state hospital in the '50s but are often held in prisons due to a lack of mental health facilities. Mental health offenders often require special attention, but Civil Commits are extreme cases.
  • There are a few Urban Legends around of Even Evil Has Standards where prisoners murder newly arrived pedophiles.
  • In female prisons, it's reportedly women who kill their own children who are at the bottom of the prison food chain. People who murder children in general are considered only slightly "better" than child molesters.
  • The authors of the Hi-Fi murders were despised by their death row cellmates, to the point that Gary Gilmore, en route to the firing squad, exclaimed he would see them in Hell.
    Gilmore: (paraphrased) Adios, Pierre and Andrews. I'll be seeing you directly.
  • Russia has special prisons for high-ranking civil servants, such as policemen, judges, and taxmen. Such inmates tend to have a rather short life expectancy in normal prisons.
  • Supposedly, rapists and pedophiles were despised by The Mafiya-run prison gangs in older times, and tended to end up as sex slaves while locked up. In modern times, this "custom", most likely, is dead.
  • In Nazi concentration camps, the prisoners most despised by other prisoners were the homosexuals and former Nazis that fell out of favor with Hitler's regime and got sent there.
  • Pedophile Priest John Geoghan was murdered by Joseph Druce, who was serving a life sentence for murder (and now serving a second life sentence for Geoghan's death). It was suggested at the time that Druce killed Geoghan to gain prestige in the prison hierarchy.
  • Serial Killer Jeffrey Dahmer was beaten to death by Christopher Scarver in 1994 while serving barely three years into his multiple life sentence. He was declared mentally competent to answer for his crimes, thus placed in the general population. What is notable about this incident is that Dahmer was white while Scarver is black. Normally, undesirable inmates such as pedophiles are always "handled" by inmates of their own race. To cross racial barriers on such an issue is a violation of prison politics, regardless of the end justifying the means. However, Dahmer was considered an acceptable exception due to the fact that while he was a white man, the majority of his victims were black males.
  • James Eagan Holmes, the gunman who gained infamy for The Dark Knight Rises shootings in Aurora, Colorado, became this as not only that the judge expressed absolutely zero sympathy towards the shooter for maiming if not slaughtering scores of people including children who were at the theatre for the premiere, declaring that Holmes may "never set foot in free society again" and giving Holmes a Longer-Than-Life Sentence,note  a fellow inmate named Mark "Slim" Daniels attempted to murder him ostensibly to avenge the deaths of Holmes's victims. Whether Slim's motivation for sending the Dark Knight spree shooter to hell is sincere or not is debatable though, as he might have done this merely for the notoriety.