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Tailor-Made Prison

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"...she did confine thee,
By help of her more potent ministers
And in her most unmitigable rage,
Into a cloven pine; within which rift
Imprison'd thou didst painfully remain
A dozen years..."
Prospero, The Tempest

A personal Alcatraz made with special precautions to stop this one person from escaping. If they have a super power, then it likely incorporates either a Power Nullifier or mechanisms that are power-proof.

Eventually the villain will break out, but to be fair to the prison's designer, they usually can't escape on their own. They might get some help from their henchmen, some Unwitting Pawn, or an ill-advised upstart villain exploiting the prison's Fantastic Fragility. Since such prisons are designed for one occupant, they may be ineffective against the powers of another, leading to a variant on the Opponent Switch.

The purpose of the Tailor-Made Prison in a story is usually one to give a villain street cred: they must be really bad to merit it. Also, a previous Big Bad can be considered to be Commuting on a Bus when in the prison. They’re being kept around with a plausible reason to be cooling their heels instead of raising hell and can be sprung out when dramatically convenient. Considering that any villain who merits such attention very likely has Joker Immunity in a world of Cardboard Prisons, the builders of the place may be fully aware that this is a temporary solution but hope it will give them, at least, a few months of peace.

There are generally skeletons — Back Story Red Shirtshanging about to indicate that this is not a normally escapable place.

Sometimes this is the purpose of the Phantom Zone. Compare Sealed Evil in a Can for those immortal villains who can't be held by a mere custom-designed prison but can overlap if their can is custom made. Compare also Shipped in Shackles, which is the mobile version of this trope. For added psychological trauma, may be paired with The Aloner. Sometimes combined with Gilded Cage. See also Crystal Prison for a common cage.

Cardboard Prisons occur when these are circumvented way too often and way too easily.

Usually becomes a case of Crippling Overspecialization when someone else becomes an inmate of that prison.


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    Films — Animated 
  • Disney's Hercules sees Zeus imprison the Titans in an undersea vault in the prologue; the vault only becomes visible and vulnerable when the planets align, and even then, only another god could release the seal.
  • The Incredibles has Syndrome put the family into special restraints that involve a large metal ball around each hand and foot and the balls are then suspended by electricity, preventing most movement. This is shown to have two flaws. One, when it's just holding Mr. Incredible, he still has enough leeway for movement to lunge, grab, and super-strength-bear-hug anyone who gets too close. Two, it has no contingency for Violet's force fields, which she can simply put around herself to block the electricity and free herself from the device.
    • Incredibles 2: When she gets captured by Evelyn, Elastigirl is held inside a cell chilled to well below freezing, so not only can she not stretch very far, if she tries, as her captor puts it, she'll break.
  • Kung Fu Panda: Tai Lung's prison Chor Ghom was built specifically to hold him and no other prisoners. Built into a mountain, it consisted of multiple levels with the bottom level holding the evil snow leopard with some sort of acupuncture needles paralyzing him and his front paws held by iron chains fastened to massive boulders hanging over the chasm. The upper layers included pulley elevators, ballistae, dynamite tied to huge stalactites, and 1000 rhino guards (several hundred of them archers). He got out by using a fallen feather to pick the lock on his restraints — a feather from a duck sent there specifically to make sure that Tai Lung didn't escape. He then uses everything that was used to imprison him to pull off an elaborate escape.
  • Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return: When he captures the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion, the Jester places them in individualized containment that would be the worst for them to experience. Scarecrow is on a spinning wheel surrounded by magical flames that flare up at whim. The Tin Man is in a clear box filled to the top with water so that he would continue to rust. And the Lion is in a cage the tends to shrink and squeeze him whenever the Jester feels like it.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Classical Mythology: The Labyrinth was built by Daedalus to be a prison for the Minotaur.
  • Norse Mythology:
    • Loki can shape-shift his way out of any kind of fetters, talk his way out of any kind of incrimination, and seemingly almost by reflex think up plots to bring down the invincible. So the gods turn his sons into wolves ripping each other's guts out and tie him up with said guts, entomb him in an isolated cave beneath the world, and place a snake over his head that constantly drips venom into his eyes to keep him distracted.
    • The wolf Fenris was imprisoned with a specially crafted, unbreakable, ribbon-like chain, made from women's beards, cat's footfalls, bear's sinews, the roots of mountains, fish's breath and bird's spit. The reason that these things can't be found anymore is because the dwarves had to use them all up to create the chain.

  • BIONICLE: Belonging to a species that was subjected to an experiment Gone Horribly Wrong, Avak received the power to conjure cages made out of absolutely anything at will. These only exist as long as he keeps focusing, and require a knowledge of the captive's strengths and weaknesses rather than automatically disabling their abilities.

  • In The Dementia of Magic, Marzos was imprisoned by other mages, but escaped.
  • Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer!, of Girl Genius is introduced imprisoned in one of these in Castle Wulfenbach. He tries to get Agatha to release him from it, thinking her to be the Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter (she didn't do it, not wanting to be the easily duped minion that sets the insanely dangerous experiment free). "Professor Phil Foglio" is later found and inadvertently freed by a group seeking to rescue Agatha in Sturmhalten. He's singing "Oubliette, oubladaa, life goes on, yeah!". It was a pit filled with the bones of all those who pissed off the local Prince. The rescue party also ended up in another one but a comrade they'd been separated from earlier showed up through a secret door and let them out.
  • In Grrl Power, some of the supervillains from the "brawl" are shown in prison cells specifically designed to inhibit their powers (since there is no such thing as a universal power suppressant, this is necessary for anyone whose powers might be useful in staging a breakout). One who could create portals is put in a pressurized cell so that opening a portal would cause explosive decompression, while the violence-powered guy who started the whole thing is kept in solitary confinement with cute video games, My Little Pony posters, and a constant stream of marijuana smoke.
  • In Hero Oh Hero, three of the four "Special Prisoners" in the Baron's castle (Moe the Shifter, Ariara, and "Magic Shoes") were kept in these.
  • Lok's prison in Juathuur. He still gets visits, sort of.
  • In Roza, old Gil.

    Web Original 
  • The SCP Foundation makes these, both for anomalies which are dangerous to humanity and for harmless anomalies which would break the Masquerade if they got loose. The prisons can range from as extreme as keeping a regenerating Omnicidal Maniac immersed in a vat of concentrated hydrochloric acid to as minor as fencing off areas where weird stuff happens.
    • In fact, the Foundation is (indirectly) named after this. The Foundation calls a paranormal entity/object/etc an SCP, which comes from "Special Containment Procedures"; the list of things which must be done to keep a paranormal thing locked up, or at least reduce the danger it causes and keep the public ignorant of it, and the rules which must be followed by any researcher who wants to study it. SCP also stands for their unofficial motto: Secure, Contain, Protect.
  • Tech Infantry has the Federation (and later Imperial) Prison in the R45 system, a Death World with orbiting warships and magical fields to prevent escape or rescue, where the most dangerous supernatural criminals are sent. The more mundane version of the trope is seen when Andrea Treschi kidnaps Xavier Pollos and holds him prisoner in a deep pit to force him to carry out an assassination on Treschi's behalf.
  • The web novel Worm features the Birdcage, a prison designed to hold supervillians on life sentences. It is designed to counter a huge variety of superpowers through both active and passive measures, most of which are spectacularly lethal to those who attempt to escape. An escape is eventually effected with the aid of an individual on the outside who has the ability to create dimensional portals, but even that required cooperation from the prison's controllers.
    • Worm's sequel Ward features a lack of such a prison as a plot point: what exactly do you do with superpowered criminals when you don't have the resources to build a tailor-made prison? They eventually arrive at the solution of dumping criminals in uninhabited alternate dimensions, isolated and alone, but with regular supply drops to ensure they have the tools they need to survive. Everyone's aware that this isn't a very humane or sustainable solution, but they simply don't have the ability to construct a second Birdcage.
  • In the Whateley Universe, there are a few of these for the really high-class super-powered individuals, from Roxbury C (around Boston) to the Thunder Mountain Penitentiary, which is specially prepared for bricks and ragers. The biggest of all we've seen so far is the Arkham Research Consortiate's, at that Arkham, where they don't just keep the most demented Reality Warpers on ice, but a number of Eldritch Abominations as well.

    Real Life 
  • Back in the 19th century the worst prisoners spared from death penalty were boxed in into tiny alcoves that were then bricked shut save for a window through which they were fed. In practice this was a far more cruel punishment than death, as it meant slowly wasting away from infections — apparently the builders thought that Nobody Poops. Or they didn't care.
  • Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed of Sixteeth Century Hungary allegedly tortured and killed hundreds of young girls over several years. Upon being convicted, she was placed under house arrest for the rest of her life, where she was immured in her bedroom with only a small opening to provide her with food. She died after living this way for four years.
  • Stammheim Prison was the first supermax prison in Germany, purposely built to keep captured members of the Red Army Faction. As with many improvements in public security of the period, it was a huge failure; the captives were quite able to communicate with each other and even had firearms smuggled inside their cells.
    • The guns in question were allegedly used to commit suicide. However, persistent and not entirely baseless theories have circulated that, actually, the Baader-Meinhof gangers were executed by the German government. (Andreas Baader, for instance, fired his gun at least 3 times and supposedly shot himself in the back of the neck so the bullet exited his forehead.) So, how much of a failure the prison was is debatable.
  • Robert Maudsley, a British serial killer, was sent to prison in 1973. Whilst there he tortured and killed several people, allegedly cannibalizing one, until in 1983 it was decided he was too dangerous for a normal cell. He now is kept for 23 hours a day in a glass cell where the bed is a concrete slab, the toilet and sink are bolted to the floor, and the only other thing he has is a chair and desk made from compressed cardboard. He is escorted for one hour a day to an empty yard to exercise under the supervision of six guards. The cell was made eight years before Silence of the Lambs used it for our other famous cannibal.
    • The regime has been relaxed a little in recent years, however, and Maudsley is allowed a stereo in his cell and on rare occasions is permitted contact with people besides his guards, including at least one press interview.
  • The alternate name for the page, "The Oubliette", is a dungeon in the shape of a well or bottle (hence "bottle dungeon") with a trap door at the top to let people in via a rope or rope ladder. Seeing how these were only talked in the 1880s it's very likely these alleged "dungeons" were likely places to store ice or ammo for siege weapons like catapults.
  • There is the famous Man in the Iron Mask. He was held in various prisons throughout France in the late 17th and early 18th century, but was forced to always wear an Iron Mask and the man's identity was kept hidden from all the guards. It was often theorized that the Man identity was so confidential as the man was a secret brother of King Louis XIV to prevent any Succession Crisis. Other theories was that it was an Italian diplomat, so the identity was hidden to avoid a major diplomatic incident.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Oubliette


Rioichi's Cell

Rioichi's prison-cell is suspended over a gorge where the only bridge leading to it has fire-spewing dragon-statues and flashlight guards.

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