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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.


Examples:

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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 
  • At the end of Crumbling Down, after being sent to juvie, Lila attempts to start up her old tricks. However, due to her fellow inmates both being aware of her status as a chronic liar as well as having no restraint in physically attacking her, Lila quickly ends up in the infirmary several times before being sent to solitary confinement for her own safety after one too many tries to assert herself ends with almost the whole prison trying to kill her.
  • In Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, Belladonna's abusive mother is outright loathed by her fellow inmates, who have attacked her on multiple occasions. Truth in Television: child abusers are considered among the lowest of the low in women's prisons.
  • Crops up a couple of times in With Pearl and Ruby Glowing.
    • Danny is framed by Darla for raping her, and since she's eight years old and a beloved child star he immediately becomes a target for officers and prisoners alike. He's eventually found innocent, but only after he suffers a Career-Ending Injury from being raped and beaten so many times.
    • Mako is a police officer who gets framed for a robbery, and is targeted by prisoners on whom he'd used excessive force before, resulting in his infection with HIV, which he perceives as a Karmic STD.
    • Invoked when Cuphead, an eleven-year-old falsely placed in adult prison, gets put in the Vulnerable Prisoners Unit with known child molesters to punish him for trying to escape.
    • Inverted with Beth, who kidnapped her son Boog across state lines to keep him away from his abusive father, and is praised by the cops for protecting him.
    • The members of God's Will First, upon their arrest, are noted by the narration to have barely spent any time in the main prison population before getting sent to the Vulnerable Prisoners Unit or the infirmary, implying they weren't all that popular with the other prisoners.

    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."
  • Gamora of Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is this on The Kyln due to her being affiliated with and working for Thanos, which made her a lot of enemies. Indeed the first night there a group of prisoners plus Drax try to kill her and she survives only thanks to Peter.
  • 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 (prison slang for child molester) in which Bruce Davison's character is accused of this while confined at Manhattan's Men's Detention Complex (the Tombs).

    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.
    • Inverted by Saul himself. When he's finally arrested for his part in Heisenberg's crime syndicate at the end of the series, he ends up sentenced to over 80 years in what would normally be a Hellhole Prison filled with some of the worst scum imaginable. However, it ends up not being that bad for him, since all of the prisoners there practically worship him. After all, he spent his entire career as an Amoral Attorney keeping guys like them out of prison. The worst thing he can say about it is that he's working in the kitchen there, essentially doing the exact same thing he did in his boring life as Gene the Cinnabon Manager.
  • 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.
  • The "psycho" Serial Killer who murdered 9 married women in Big Mouth (2022) is hated by everyone in jail and no one comes near him because they also fear him. It becomes quite a shock to everyone when Changho provokes the said psycho and makes him cry when he mentions his mother.
  • 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.

    Music 

    Theater 
  • 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 (2012). 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: That's the plan.

    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 of reporting it, 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 
  • 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.
  • 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.

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