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Punishment Box

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That poor kid.

Carr: These here spoons, you keep with ya. Any man loses his spoon spends a night in the box. No one will sit in the bunks with dirty pants on. Any man with dirty pants on sittin' on the bunks spends a night in the box. Any man loud-talkin' spends a night in the box. You got questions, you come to me. I'm Carr, the floor-walker. I'm responsible for order in here. Any man don't keep order spends a night in—
Luke: — the box.
Carr: [to Luke] I hope you ain't gonna be a hard case.

Our protagonist is in a Chain Gang prison and has violated one of the Small-Town Tyrant sheriff's rules. So they send him to the Punishment Box (more commonly, "The Box.") The Box is commonly a small metal shed in the middle of the compound (in some cases too small to even sit down in), exposed to sun. They put you in and you are tortured by sweating it out in 120-plus degree heat, basically frying you alive. Unless it's a cold night, in which case you have to keep from freezing to death.

Various forms of this have been an unfortunate Truth in Television (see The Other Wiki for a few examples), which is probably where the trope originates from.

Although the box could be made of cardboard, especially in comedic examples, this is not to be confused with Cardboard Prison. See also Iron Maiden, which is even less beneficial to your health, and Closet Punishment.


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    Anime And Manga 
  • In Hetalia: Axis Powers, a particular incident similar to this is Played for Laughs. A strip shows Sealand ignoring his "Papa" Sweden and watching TV. Sweden gets a big cardboard box, writes "England" on it, and then sneaks up behind Sealand, and throws the box over him and shakes it with him inside, calling it a "Dambolis" with Sealand saying "Please stop it!". It's even funnier because the strip is presented as a step-by-step of how to make a Dambolis (it will take 3 minutes, it claims).
  • In Kill la Kill, Gamagoori briefly mentions that Honnouji Academy has a "time out chamber" which students can be sent to for months at a time. This being Honnouji, it's not surprising.

  • In Three Strikes, McKinsey's infamous threat of solitary is explained as confinement in a small metal shack in the beating hot sun.

    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Black Mama, White Mama: Lee (played by Pam Grier) and her fellow prisoner Karen get into a fight during a meal and are punished by being put in a sweatbox barely big enough to hold both of them. For some reason they are both stripped to the waist and they struggle to avoid touching the hot metal with their bare skin.
  • Boot Camp: After being recaptured after their escape, Sophie and Ben are imprisoned in concrete oubliettes where they are subject to the tormenting of the guards and other teens, and the extremes of the weather.
  • The Japanese prison camp in The Bridge on the River Kwai has a metal punishment box that stands outside in the sun. Prisoners don't get any water.
  • 'The box' in Cool Hand Luke is probably the Trope Codifier here.
  • The hot box used in Django Unchained on the plantation owned by the sadistic Calvin Candie. It's a metal enclosure in the ground exposed to the humid Southern heat, which was used on Django's wife Broomhilda as punishment for trying to escape Candyland.
  • In Escape Plan, The Tomb is home to one of the most punishing examples of solitary confinement. Prisoners in solitary are kept in a small enclosed space that's probably no wider than a casket, with barely enough room to stand up, and a set of powerful halogen lamps that shine bright intense light and heat on them like a reptile in a terrarium, while the lights go on and off after an amount of time. These lamps are a torture instrument designed to inflict sensory overload (bright lights, intense heat, loud buzzing of the lamps), sleep deprivation, and accelerated dehydration on a prisoner, essentially weakening them without laying a hand on them, or cooking the belligerent prisoners in an oven.
  • Das Experiment, based on the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, recycled in Germany.
  • Fortress 2: Re-Entry: Brennick is sent to one after being caught stowing away in a cargo crate bound for a supply shuttle. It is a very small cell that is cut off from the temperature control system of the prison, with a cupola window that gives him a pretty scenic view of the Earth, and that's not when he is subjected to the blinding light, extreme heat, and solar radiation from the Sun, or the frigid cold and darkness from the empty void of space.
  • In The Great Escape, it was The Cooler and it was reserved for attempted escapees. The fact that Steve McQueen (actor)'s character had been in it so many times, and had survived, led to him being termed The Cooler King. His bouncing a baseball around the Cooler has become a Stock Shout-Out.
  • The classic prison expose film Hell's Highway (1932) features a sweatbox in which prisoners are held erect by a metal collar. Early in the film, one prisoner passes out inside and is strangled, leading to a mess-hall riot.
  • In Hook, pirates who have failed are put into the "Boo Box", a chest which is also inhabited by several scorpions.
  • In Life prisoners are punished with time in "The Hole," which is an outhouse sized shed with no light or plumbing out in the sun in the South.
  • Also called the hot box in the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard. It's basically a tiny shack where prisoners bake in the desert heat for days at a time — and sometimes the guards "accidentally" forget to give them food and water.
  • In Matilda, the sadistic headmistress is fond of (among other things) using the "Chokey," a closet lined with massive spikes and blades, thus like an iron maiden in which there is just barely enough room to stand.
  • In Mermaid Down, Psycho Psychologist Dr. Beyer locks misbehaving patients in tiny, padded isolation rooms in the Creepy Basement.
  • Parodied in Muppets Most Wanted where Tina Fey's character opens the slot of one during a musical number, and the guy inside sings.
  • Discussed in Shock Corridor, where the hero is threatened by the warden to receive this treatment.
  • In Stir Crazy, Gene Wilder asks for an extra day in The Box when they come to get him out. He's just Too Kinky to Torture.
  • In Sullivan's Travels, Sullivan gets put into one when being caught reading the newspaper while Working on the Chain Gang.
  • In Take the Money and Run Virgil escapes from prison but is recaptured and sent to a labor camp. When that fails to break him, they lock him in a sweatbox with an insurance salesman.
  • In the Ozploitation movie Turkey Shoot the main protagonist is put in a cage out in the sun where he's forced to hold up a heavy weight.
  • The hot box, an old truck, in Von Ryan's Express.

  • In Captive of Gor, Elinor is locked into a slave box for eighteen days to break her spirit after repeated minor offenses.
  • In Dragon And Slave by Timothy Zahn, there are sheds that do this.
  • Matilda has the Chokey, more or less a non-lethal Iron Maiden.
  • In Soul Music, DEATH joins the Klatchian Foreign Legion "to forget". legionnaire Beau Nidle gets The Pit, the Foreign Legion's version of The Box. And still remembers everything.
  • In The Talisman, during the part of the book that takes place in the Sunlight Gardener Home, rulebreakers are sometimes locked in a refrigerator-shaped container simply called "The Box".
  • In An Unkindness of Ghosts, Aster is put in the brigbox, a cell too tiny for her to stand up or lie down, just sit with her knees curled to her chest.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In 7 Days (1998), Frank's background includes several days in such a box while being a captive (a form of interrogation). He never cracked that way, but the project recovered him from a madhouse.
  • On Adam Ruins Everything, Emily is put in a solitary confinement cell, where she hallucinates Adam and Kendra talking about why solitary confinement is a horrible and inhumane punishment.
  • In the The A-Team episode "Bad Time on the Border", Hannibal Smith is kept for some time in a box of corrugated scrap metal in the heat as the sun rises higher (the villain taunts him that it's not even noon yet). While it doesn't kill him (or even stop him from making with the wisecracks), it's heavily implied that it would have killed him eventually had the bad guys not decided to dump him off the back of the truck instead.
  • In the Firefly episode "Jaynestown", Jayne's former partner is kept prisoner in solitary confinement, in a small (looks to be maybe 5 foot by 5 foot) box on stilts in the middle of a swamp. It's said he was held there for four freaking years. It's a wonder he could stand and walk as nobody could survive a hot box for that long.
  • In "The One with Chandler In a Box" from Friends, after Chandler kisses Joey's girlfriend behind his back and says he'd do anything to get Joey to forgive him, Joey concocts a punishment of putting Chandler in a large boxnote . Chandler then spends Thanksgiving dinner inside the box (and Matthew Perry really did stay inside the box for his scenes).
    Rachel: So now, what exactly is the point of the box?
    Joey: Chandler?
    Chandler: (counting on his fingers through a small hole in the top) The meaning of the box is threefold: One, it gives me the time to think about what I did; two, it proves how much I care about my friendship with Joey; and hurts!
  • Hornblower, "The Duchess and the Devil": Midshipman Archie Kennedy tells Horatio that when he attempted to escape from Spanish prison, he was put in a small hole in the ground covered by a grate. The oubliette had neither room to stand upright or lie down, and he couldn't walk for a month after the punishment. The exposition was a Chekhov's Gun, as Horatio was held there too, facing rain, cold, hot sun and rats.
  • The Incredible Hulk (1977) episode "The Slam": David gets put in one. Strangely enough, he doesn't Hulk Out. Another prisoner in the box next door tells him how to survive: find a rock to suck on, put your head in the least exposed place possible, and don't move around.
  • Kung Fu (1972): Caine finds himself in a two-man Box, and teaches the other man in the box to meditate so as to avoid the torturous aspects of being in the box. The guards & other prisoners are amazed that they're able to leave under their own power instead of being carried out.
  • Life: During a college professor's annual "study" recreating the Stanford Prison Experiment, a small box is used for putting "prisoners" in solitary confinement, though the heat/cold portion of the torture is skipped.
  • My Name Is Earl: Earl goes to prison to cover up the fact that Joy really did the crime in question. The prison there has a 2 person "Hot Box;" there's a chain link fence between the two sides of the box, but there's also a hole in the fence big enough to put your arm through.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 does a shout-out to Cool Hand Luke in "The Day the Earth Froze," when Frank gets angry and refuses to push the experiment button even as Forrester threatens him with forceps and electro-shock, but falls into line when Forrester shouts, "The box, Frank!"
  • In Orange Is the New Black, SHU is depicted as such. Both times Piper is put in the SHU, she's depicted as desperate and even slightly crazy from the isolation. As if that's not enough, the food is even more disgusting and inedible than the usual prison fare.
  • A frequent occurrence in Oz, in which the guards would often throw a troublesome inmate into a special cell called "The Hole" for solitary confinement, usually stripped naked and given a bucket (in lieu of a toilet). Most of the show's cast spent some time in the Hole at one point or another.
  • Profit. It's the central object at the heart of the show. More specifically, it's a box emblazoned with the Gracen & Gracen logo. As a child, Jim Profit practically lived in it thanks to his abusive parents. A television set, visible from a small hole cut in the box, was his only way of learning about the outside world. Even as an adult, he still has that box...
  • The abusive Sierra Academy in the Quantum Leap (2022) episode "Stand By Ben" has these as extra punishment for the teenagers sent there. At the end of the episode, one of the teenage characters is being dragged to one of the boxes when her reporter uncle shows up with a news crew and catches the abuse on camera.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Paradise", a group of colonists who crash-landed on a planet 10 years ago use a particularly nasty variant of this trope — a metal box left out in the blisteringly hot sun that leaves the victim trembling and delirious from heatstroke — as punishment for any transgression. Like stealing a candle.
  • The heroes are subjected to this punishment in The Time Tunnel episode "Devil's Island" when they arrive on the eponymous French Penal Colony and are mistaken for prisoners.
  • The X-Files episode "Trevor" starts with a guy being punished by going into a small shed. The kicker, this was before a major tornado was about to hit. Of course, not only the guy survives, he somehow becomes an Intangible Man and murders the warden who put him in the shed.


    Newspaper Comics 
  • Crock has two never-seen prisoners who talk to each other from adjacent metal boxes.
  • In Dilbert, the Pointy-Haired Boss once threatened to put Dilbert in "the Box" if he didn't work harder. Dilbert asked if "the Box" was bigger than his cubicle.
  • In Pearls Before Swine, Rat has the "Box O' Stupid People," as well as several variations for different kinds of people he doesn't like.

  • In Welcome to Night Vale, Cecil expresses fear, or maybe just mild annoyance, about the possibility of having to attend "another HR re-training session in the dark box."

  • In Paul Green's one-act play, Hymn to the Rising Sun, one of the convicts, a newcomer, is unable to eat or sleep in his horror over the fate of the Runt, who has been imprisoned in the sweatbox for eleven days, on bread and water rations, for masturbation.

    Video Games 
  • In Fallout 3, the slaver town of Paradise Falls has a converted personal fallout shelter appropriately called The Box.
  • Referenced in the Fallout Tactics intro cinematic.
    Paladin Rychek: There are three simple rules to follow with Brotherhood equipment: If you damage your weapon, you will spend a week in the box. If you damage your armor, you will spend a week in the box. If you lose either, I'll kill you myself.
  • League of Legends' Thresh, a sadistic jailer-turned-undead Torture Technician, has his ultimate ability named "The Box" in reference to one of these.
  • In The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, some servbots sometimes can start not to obey you; when it happens Tron sends them to the punishment chamber (a minigame that basically is about applying Video Game Cruelty Potential on the servbot).
  • Camp Whispering Rock in Psychonauts has some old "geodesic psycho-isolation chambers" that used to be used as punishment for troublesome kids.
  • Randal's Monday: Randal is put in one during the prison chapter. Randal is hurried to find a way to escape, because due to the time loops it's pretty much a And I Must Scream fate for all of eternity, as he points out.
  • Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri has the "punishment sphere", which make the oppressed masses too frightened to ever riot no matter what. For some reason, constructing this city improvement is not on the list of atrocities that will turn the other civilizations against you. The quote you get the first time you build one reveals that one, the surface of the sphere is semi-transparent, and two, the family members of the punished have to watch their loved ones go through whatever is done inside it, which neatly explains why building one puts an end to rioting.
  • Found during the first Prague level in Sly 2: Band of Thieves, set in a prison. One of the first objectives of the level is Bentley rescuing Sly from the box after he and Murray were betrayed by Neyla in the last level. Sly got thrown in there for fighting, giving Bentley the best opportunity to bust him out by launching a train at the prison.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • A common trope found on Fluffy Pony works is the "sorry box", a type of punishment for bad behaviour that takes advantage of fluffies' inherent claustrophobia and fear of isolation. Of course, they, being as unintelligent as they are, feel anything that can contain them is a sorry box meant to punish them, even if they could easily escape their confinement (which they usually don't even attempt). In their most extreme depictions, fluffies can be tricked into thinking they are in a sorry box just by making them face a corner.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series has a reference to it:
    (Tristan says something stupid)
    Joey: Do you want to go back in the box?
    Tristan: Please don't make me go in there!
  • From Zero Punctuation's review of Dark:
    Imaginary father: All right son, we've had fun on this boat over the years, but now it's time to sink it to the ocean floor and let all the bottom feeders live on it.
    Imaginary son: But Daddy, couldn't we just put a better engine on the boat and not have to destroy all our cherished memories?
    Imaginary father: I think someone needs to go back in the naughty box!

    Western Animation 
  • In the "Boiling Rock" episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the titular prison has "The Cooler", a small refrigerated cell designed to contain fire benders. Plays the trope straight in that it's a small, confined box they're put in as punishment, and inverts the effect in that it's a punishment because it's freezing rather than hot.
  • In an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, an amnesiac Bruce Wayne becomes a captive of a forced labour camp made up of homeless people owned by a Fat, Sweaty Southerner in a White Suit. The main punishment for failure to work is being placed in a corrugated iron box in the hot sun. Being Batman, he regains his memory and breaks out.
  • In one episode of CatDog when Dog's disregarding of Rancid Rabbit's outrageous pool rules get the pair locked up, Cat deliberately gets them thrown into a hot box to teach Dog the value of the rules. Eventually, Dog breaks down and begins saying a Madness Mantra of "I will obey the rules", just when their time in the hot box is up...only for Rancid to decide to keep them in it for another two months, resulting in Cat realizing that Dog was right.
  • In the ChalkZone episode "The Label Police", Snap and several other zoners are sent to "Label Prison" because they ignored certain labels on their items. When they attempt to escape, the cops place them in "the box" — a giant cardboard box.
  • Dexter's Laboratory: On the short "Dexter Detention", it turns out that the detention room on Dexter's school has a tiny (as in, not even three-feet-tall-if-that-much Dexter fits inside without being shoved in) hole on the ground for "solitary confinement". Dexter almost ends up going insane within ten seconds of being put inside—until an animal burrows in, inspiring Dexter to turn the hole into an escape route.
  • Happy Peppy Gary and Happy Peppy Betty on The Fairly OddParents! are shown punishing kids by putting them in the "Fun Box", an inhumanely small cage. They even gave it a happy, peppy theme song.
  • The Fanboy and Chum Chum episode "Precious Pig" gives us the "Shunning Cave", a realistic deep cavehole which Fanboy as sent to as punishment for supposedly trying to murder the class pig (in reality, he was teaching the pig karate). The cave is revealed to be an actual cave when Fanboy steals the pig back and disappears into it.
  • I Am Weasel: In episode "I Stand Corrected", Weasel and Baboon are sent to a correctional institute that utilizes one of those boxes. Jailkeeper Red Guy doesn't seem to understand how they work considering he only locks himself inside them and gives ridiculously long sentences for them, culminating with 6 years.
  • Used in Johnny Bravo in the episode Cool Hand Johnny, where the female Warden throws Johnny into The Box, a small wooden shed in the corner of the prison yard after he hits on her. At first Johnny is non-plussed at the punishment until she throws CARL in there with him for 30 days, at which point Johnny breaks down and begs her for mercy. When she comes back to let them out 30 days later, they've somehow started up a party inside.
  • King of the Hill: Bobby is put into one of these at a military school when his grandfather Cotton takes over in an attempt to make him a man. It most assuredly does not break him. As Hank points out, you can keep pounding at something soft, but it'll never make it harder or break it.
    I've slept on a mattress. I've slept on cement. I'm a mattress guy.
  • On Recess, the Box is just a square drawn on the playground floor. T.J. at first laughs it off, but eventually it breaks him when he Goes Mad From The Isolation. It doesn't last, though.
  • One episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast has Space Ghost telling Zorak to do what he says, or he'll go to The Box. Zorak frightfully whispers "The Box?" before complying with Space Ghost's orders. Notable because Zorak is usually impossible to intimidate.
  • In TaleSpin, Baloo stays at a Thembrian penal colony which he has mistaken for a fitness camp. He is frequently sent to what he calls a "solar powered sauna."
  • X-Men: The Animated Series: In "Slave Island", several characters are enslaved with power negating collars. When Storm and then Jubilee attempt to escape, they are punished by being put in hot boxes. Since Storm has Claustrophobia, she starts cracking up before Gambit rescues them.


Video Example(s):


Hand Sliding Down

A suffering water thief inside a sealed glass container lets his hand slide down the wall.

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