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What Are You in For?

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He said, "What were you arrested for, kid?" And I said, "Littering." And they all moved away from me on the bench there...

A stock line whenever a prison is involved, often with I Always Wanted to Say That thrown in for good measure. Either one of the main characters will ask this to somebody else, or one of the 'locals' will ask the main cast. If the question is posed to the main cast, we often won't hear the reply, since we already know what went before, and it's probably far too bizarre to explain, anyway. If asked to someone else, the answer is almost always truthful, no matter how vile the crime or criminal. (Lying never seems to be an option.)

A Dead Horse Trope more often Lampshaded and Subverted than played straight.

Someone's crime will likely have involved pulling the tag off of a mattress or pillow. Bonus points if he's treated as the worst or scariest of the lot.

In Real Life (at least in UK prisons) they often already know — they read the daily courtcase roundup in the local paper so already know who's been sentenced for what and how long. In countries where this is not the case (Russia, for example), they still either already know or will soon be able to verify your words, using the rumor telegraph and illegally smuggling notes and letters from facility to facility.


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  • Brian Regan discusses this in his bit about crimes.
  • Chris Rock tries to sound as tough as possible to the other inmates when he's in for "driving too slow". In another stand-up, a white-collar criminal says he's in for embezzling funds, and his fellow inmate replies that he's in for stealing 48 pairs of socks.
    "My feet was feelin' good!"

    Comic Books 
  • Cinema Purgatorio: In the final issue, the staff members of the theater introduce themselves to the protagonist by name along with a crime they committed. They're prepping her for the revelation that the place is Hell by telling her what they did to get themselves condemned. They already know what she's in for, but due to her amnesia, she doesn't — that's what the next film they play is about.
  • Dynomutt: In issue #2, the villain Mastermind is apprehended and jailed for a very mundane crime: not returning an overdue library book. In jail, two bruisers tell each other what they're in for, then they ask Mastermind what he's in for.
    Mastermind: Oh, shush!
  • Marvel Adventures: Krage asks this question at the end of the Marvel Adventures: The Avengers comic he appears in to Fancy Dan (who mistakenly spam-called Iron Man).
  • Underground comics author Dan O'Neill was sued by Disney for using company characters in a couple of comic books. He defiantly persisted, drawing up his legal travails in a comic strip, concluding with his imagining how he'd fare in prison, his cellmate played by Pegleg Pete:
    Pete: Hi, mate, I'm in for rape and murder. How 'bout you?
    O'Neill: [nervously] Uhh... I drew a picture of Mickey Mouse...
  • Swamp Thing: Abby goes to jail for "crimes against nature" when her relationship with the title character becomes public knowledge. Her cellmate, after relating how she was caught shoplifting, asks her what she's in for. Abby, in no mood for small talk, says, "Hugging vegetables." The cellmate backs away to the other end of the bench.
  • The Walking Dead: The heroes ask this question of the small group of surviving inmates they encounter at the zombie-infested prison and are told armed robbery, tax fraud, drugs, and murder. It's probably not hard to pick out which one of these is eventually, horribly, revealed to be a bald-faced lie.

    Comic Strips 
  • In one Bloom County strip, Opus ends up in jail, and learns that his new cellmate is in for "strangling Oakland." And no, it's not a colorful sports metaphor. It means he strangled each and every single person in Oakland.
  • Dilbert:
    • In an older story, Dilbert is sent to jail after killing one of the company executives with an ear of corn. Mere seconds after he shares this with his cellmate...
      Dilbert: Hey, look! Corn for lunch. Can you believe that?
    • In another strip, the Pointy-Haired Boss decides to rent to firm's unused cubicles to the state — as cells for prisoners. Cue the criminal asking Dilbert what he's in for.
    • In yet another, Dogbert converts the house to an upscale prison. Dilbert bitterly explains this to the asking prisoner, who concludes that he's the wrong guy to talk to during happy hour.
  • In a MAD parody of The Longest Yard (first version), this results in a long list of murders, ending with "and strangling a tractor".
  • U.S. Acres:
    • As alluded to in the explanatory section, Wade steps on a rake, sending him into a musical number, followed by a short trial sentencing him to 9999 years in prison. Once there, two inmates brag about their crimes. When Wade sheepishly admits his, the other two pull on the bars, terrified of sharing a cell with such a psychopath.
    • Similar to this, in a comic strip, two criminals are bragging about their crimes, when their third cellmate says that he's in for beating up Santa, causing the other two to cower in a corner.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Danny Phantom fanfic "The Lunch Club", a fanon concept that Danny and Sam first met while serving lunch detention together, Danny asks Sam this. Sam retorts if they're in some '40s prison break movie.
  • With This Ring: Renegade!Paul (or Grayven as he's known by this point) invokes this trope in lock-up after his public execution of Klarion. Being held in custody is little more than a courtesy on his part, as he's making a political statement about lethally dealing with supervillains and there's literally nothing the jail can do to keep him in there if he decided to leave. The only other prisoners in there are a white-collar worker who got pulled over for a DUI, and a teenager arrested for vandalism.
    Grayven: So, what are you in for?
  • Pokémon fanfic "A Collection of Notes on Experiences with Legendary Pokémon" features Volo asking this of Cyrus... in the Distortion World. The narration even lampshades it.
    That question, so typical of criminals behind bars, only asserted Cyrus' sensation that he was imprisoned here.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • American History X has a scene in which the main character is talking to a black prisoner why they are in prison. The scene is played straight, however.
  • In Artemis Fowl, Holly Short asks Mulch Diggums what he's in for this time. He tells her the truth, that it's tunneling and entering, and asks her to put in a good word for him.
  • In the remake of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, the main character's cheating husband found himself in a spaceship with two other guys and one of them asked, "What are you in for?"
  • Played somewhat straight in Down by Law: the arguably tough looking Tom Waits and John Lurie are sent to prison on separate frame-up jobs. Their cellmate, the tiny, meek and bumbling Roberto Benigni reveals in the What Are You In For scene that he's in for a pool hall murder, which he provoked by cheating at cards.
  • Ferris Bueller's Day Off:
    Boy in Police Station: Drugs?
    Jeannie: No thank you, I'm straight.
    Boy: I mean, are you here for drugs?
    Jeannie: Why are you here?
    Boy: Drugs.
  • In The First Wives Club, when the three main characters' ex-husbands are coerced into congregating at the titular club's headquarters, the last to arrive, Brenda's ex-husband Morty, sees the other two in the waiting room and asks, "What are you guys in for?"
  • In the second Fletch movie the protagonist asks the cellmate — a huge, scary-looking guy — and the guy answers "molesting a dead horse". He then tells Fletch to bend over. Fortunately for Fletch, that's when the cops come in to move the guy. However it's later revealed this is all a plot to frighten Fletch, so we don't know if he really was arrested for that reason.
  • Henry's Crime: When Henry first becomes Max's cellmate, Max asks him what he is in for. Henry replies "bank robbery" and Max approves; commenting it is a "clean" crime. When Henry asks Max what he is in for, Max answers "Life".
  • In I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, the hero is asked this by a fellow inmate but refuses to answer. Clearly he was still not over the fact that he was convicted to 10 years of hard labor for stealing $5.
  • In Killer Klowns from Outer Space, one of the Klowns allows himself to be locked up in the town jail. A nebbish human prisoner then invokes this trope.
  • Happens in The Last Castle when Irwin asks the doctor why he is in prison. The doctor says he was busted for marijuana possession. Irwin points out that marijuana possession will get you discharged from the military but not normally earn you a stint in a maximum security military prison. The doctor agrees and starts to explain, but they are interrupted and the audience never does get to hear the full story.
  • The Manhunt has a variation in that someone else says what the prisoner is in for. When Ethan Wayne is first placed in the cell in prison, the cell's hard man Ford suspects he is a snitch planted by the guards. However, The Scrounger says that he isn't a snitch, but that he got one and half years for stealing two horses. When Ford demands to know how he knows that, the scrounger just says that he knows everything that goes on in the prison.
  • In the first Police Academy, Mahoney (detained for property damage) asks Jones what is he in for. Jones convincingly imitates the sound of a machine gun, creating panic in the police station. Mahoney decides to take him to the academy too.
  • In Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Asneeze informs Robin that he was in for "Jaywalking". In 12th century Jerusalem. It's a Mel Brooks movie.
  • Happens in The Santa Clause. The waitress at Denny's asks if Scott and Charlie if they're affiliated with the Japanese company seated in the front room. Charlie blurts out "Dad burnt the turkey." Speaking in a dry tone, the waitress leads them into another section of the restaurant, where they are surrounded by other single dads and their children.
  • Schindler's List: When Oskar Schindler is arrested by the German police in occupied Poland for possibly violating the Nazi racial acts by kissing a Jewish girl, his cellmate's first question is "What about you?" Schindler's answer prompts the incarcerated man to counter with a lurid anti-Semitic joke.
  • Played with in The Shawshank Redemption: Andy Dufresne maintains his innocence, making everyone else laugh: "everyone's innocent in here" and "[I'm in because] a lawyer fucked me" become Running Gags among Andy's friends, while Red wryly refers to himself as "The only guilty man in Shawshank." ( Andy's telling the truth about being innocent, though.)
  • Transformers (2007) had this on a helicopter:
    Maggie: What'd they get you for?
    Sam: Bought a car. Turned out to be an alien robot. Who knew?
  • In Undisputed, there's a code among the prisoners to not to ask such questions casually, as it is seen disrespectful.
  • White Wolves: The third and fourth movies both have kids who are in the wilderness as an alternative to reform school and discuss the crimes they committed which landed them there.
    • In the third film, Steve admits he's a tagger and Crystal says she was arrested for stealing a cheerleader's CD but falsely claims innocence, while Beri refuses to discuss her crime.
    • Early in the fourth film, Jack boasts about stealing a CD and leading the police on a chase, then asks Pamela what she did. She claims that she didn't do anything and is just going to the camp to write an essay about troubled youth, but she might be lying.

  • Winston muses that a question like this is essentially moot in Nineteen Eighty-Four. There is only one crime the Party cares about, so the answer is always Thoughtcrime.
  • In Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore, the protagonist, Tommy, is in jail. He asks his cell mate what he's in for, and the man replies "copyright infringement", which he admits isn't really the sort of offense they put you in jail for. Ripping a lawyer's arms out of their sockets, however, is.
  • Burke mentions that your cellmate will tell you his story eventually (or his version of it) but by the time he gets round to it you may not want to know.
  • In Help I Am Being Held Prisoner by Donald Westlake, the protagonist played a silly prank that ended in a traffic accident. Because said accident resulted in the exposure of a politician's unsavory sexual habits, said politician pulls strings so the protagonist will get punished as hard as possible. Because of this his sentence and the description of his crime, while ambiguously vague, make him sound like a hardened, inhuman murderer — so the toughest gang in prison recruit him to their schemes...
  • When Harry of Incompetence is arrested for Impersonating an Officer, he is forced into a massively overcrowded holding cell for people who are awaiting trial. He notes that asking What Are You in For? used to be a taboo question until an overabundance of regulations and laws that makes criminals of everybody means that hardened criminals need to know if they are mixing with real crooks or people who are arrested for displaying their fruits in pounds instead of kilos. A cellmate does enthusiastically tell Harry in excruciating detail exactly what bureaucratic cock-up led to him being detained, causing Harry's eyes to glaze over.
  • In Jacob Two-Two Meets The Hooded Fang: when Jacob enters the children's prison, he sees a girl in a cell, and asks what she's in for. The warden replies that she broke out in measles the day her father invited the boss to dinner, and ruined everything.
  • Lions & Liars: At one point, the kids in Cabin 13 all confide in each other why they're at Camp Omigoshee.
    • Specs is there for breaking a kid's glasses in two.
    • The Professor is there for refusing to sign up for his school's football team, which said school interpreted as him not being an agreeable person or team player.
    • Nosebleed is there because he wants to go to summer camp, and decided to go there as a trial run for the real thing.
  • In the second part of The Stranger, when Meursault is first put into prison, a few people ask him what he's in for. "Killing an Arab." Guess what kind of people are mostly in that prison.
  • In the first chapter of the Secret World Chronicle novel Invasion by Mercedes Lackey, former Nazi Super-Soldier Eisenfaust has been tossed in a holding cell, and one of his cellmates asks him this. He replies "I killed one hundred and twelve people that I know of."

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The 10th Kingdom, Tony is technically arrested for being found in the Queen's cell (wearing handcuffs) when everybody awoke to find her gone. When asked though, he says that he was arrested for a bank robbery. Which is technically true, he was arrested on Earth for the robbery before fleeing through the magic mirror.
  • Blake's 7: The moment Blake meets his future companions in "The Way Back", the Snark-to-Snark Combat commences.
    Jenna: What's your story?
    Blake: Well, I'm innocent... of what I was charged with, anyway.
    Vila: We have something in common, then. We're all victims of a miscarriage of justice.
    Blake: It's true!
    Jenna: Of course it is.
    Blake: What about the others?
    Vila: Oh, a very antisocial bunch. Murderers, liars, cheats, [looks at Jenna] smugglers...
    Jenna: [returns the favor] Thieves...
    Vila: —and they're the nice people.
  • Played straight ("What did they get you for?" "Oh, It's a long story. You wouldn't believe me even if I told you.") and then inverted in the Doctor Who serial "Frontier in Space", when the Third Doctor is sent to a prison full of political prisoners:
    Three: Now, that's stealing, you know.
    Warden's henchman: That's what I'm in for. Got a troublemaker, have we?
    Three: That's what I'm in for.
  • Farscape: After stealing their Prison Ship in the premiere, Zhaan and D'Argo have this conversation because they've never had a chance to become acquainted due to being confined in separate cells. Ironically, both turn out to be lying, or at least not telling the full truth, whereas untrustworthy Rygel gives the real reason straight off — deposed by his own cousin in a palace coup.
  • Friends: Chandler says this to a couple of girls while he's going to talk to Phoebe's policeman boyfriend. He thinks it's funny, they don't.
  • In a surprisingly dark joke from Full House, Danny and Joey end up in a holding cell with a man who was arrested for scalping. He was not scalping tickets.
  • In addition to regular prisons, Gotham also features Arkham Asylum for the criminally insane. When Barbara is sent there in Series Two, Jerome, taking an immediate interest in her, asks what she's in for. "Killing my parents," she tells him flatly. Which pleases him further as he's in for killing his mother.
  • An early episode of Growing Pains had Mike in jail for graffiti. One of his cellmates asks this question to which he replied, "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die."
  • In an episode of Heres Lucy, Lucy goes undercover in a women's prison. When she is first asked this question, she replies:
    Lucy: Highway robbery.
    Matron: Highway robbery?
    Lucy: Yeah. I stole Route 66.
  • In an episode of Home Improvement, Tim and Al were arrested for scalping tickets and end up in a cell with a man who "gave someone a tattoo." When they question why that was a problem, he states that the man who he gave the tattoo to didn't want it.
  • After Helena from The L Word is sent to jail, she's scared of her cell mate, who she's sure is a murderer. Actually, she's in for embezzlement, she just works out a lot.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: When Galadriel is sent in prison by queen Miriel for acting entitled, she has this exchange with Halbrand:
    Halbrand: Don't tell me. Tavern brawl.
    Galadriel: Sedition. [Halbrand starts laughing at Galadriel]
  • At the conclusion of the London episodes of Married... with Children, Al is chained up in a dungeon for stealing a towel from an upscale hotel. He asks this question of a fellow prisoner, who informs him that he stole an ashtray. Al despairs, but brightens up when the guy tells him that prisoners are fed bread and water.
    Al: This is truly the best vacation I've ever had!
  • In Martial Law, the cop duo go undercover in jail. The Asian one's backstory is killing a dozen people in a restaurant shootout, and the black guy, purse theft.
  • In "Black Gold and Red Blood" from The Mentalist, one of Patrick Jane's gambits results in him getting thrown in prison with a Scary Black Man who goes by "Boo."
    Boo: What you in for?
    Jane: Oh, eavesdropping on a state agent. You?
    Boo: They say I raped and murdered a guy. Stabbed him to death.
    Jane: Oh.
    Boo: But that's not true.
    Jane: Oh, good.
    Boo: We had consensual sex. Then I stabbed him to death.
    Jane: Okay...
    Boo: You get top bunk.
    Jane: ...I like the top bunk.
  • Monk once went to prison on an undercover mission. His cellmate quickly noticed that he was obviously unused to prison and didn't seem like a criminal type. When he asked this, Monk improvised and said "embezzlement."
  • Asked multiple times throughout Orange Is the New Black. Occasionally, new inmates like Piper will be under the impression that it's taboo to ask this question.
  • The prison drama Oz averts this frequently relative to their large cast of prisoners, instead introducing new prisoners via Augustus Hill's narration to the audience, in which he also lists the length of the person's sentence. Inmates usually become aware of other inmates' crimes by reputation or by implied offscreen conversations.
  • Porridge: New prison officer Mr. Beale briskly asks prisoner Oakes what he's in for, when trying to assert his authority. He also asks Fletcher the same question, who replies "got caught".
    Mr. Beale: (Brusquely) What are you in for, son?
    Oakes: (Coldly) Two years.
    Mr. Beale: I didn't mean time, I meant offence.
    Oakes: None taken.
  • In Queer as Folk (US), when a letter addressed to Ben arrives while he's at work and Hunter wants to open it:
    Michael: Well, you can't open someone else's mail. It's a federal offense.
    Hunter: I can see it now: I'm on death row, awaiting lethal injection. This mass murderer who killed 48 babies and ate them asks me what I'm being executed for. I say: "Opening Ben's letter."
  • An episode of Scrubs has Elliot and Carla arrested for soliciting a male prostitute (they wanted to do a favor for a female patient who didn't want to die a virgin). At the station, Elliot asks people going in what they're in for and brags that they're in for prostitution. Carla tells her to stop enjoying it so much.
  • Star Trek:
    • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Hard Time", this is used to establish the kind of society that has just imprisoned Chief O'Brien. His cellmate asks what he's in for, and then continues, "Let me guess. Sedition?" It's espionage, actually, but this establishes that it's not exactly a world with Federation values.
    • In the Star Trek: Enterprise episodes "Affliction" and "Divergence", Lieutenant Reed keeps getting into awkward conversations due to getting caught running a black op for Section 31 and being thrown in the brig for it. Since everyone is busy dealing with the Klingons, both he and Captain Archer have no time to explain why he's in the brig to anyone... except when one of the Klingons who attacked the Enterprise gets tossed into the cell next to him. When Reed replies to his inquiry on why he's in the brig with "That's a long story," the Klingon prisoner in turn replies "Entertain me." Reed then manages to give him a minimal-details summary in one line.
  • In the Supernatural episode "Folsom Prison Blues", Sam and Dean intentionally get themselves arrested in order to investigate mysterious deaths at a prison. When Sam tries to probe Randall, a veteran inmate for clues, Randall changes the subject by asking Sam why he's there. Sam, who wasn't happy with the plan in the first place, responds: "Because I've got an idiot for a brother."

  • A variation appears in Arlo Guthrie's song/monologue "Alice's Restaurant". While being examined by the draft board, Guthrie, who had been arrested and tried two years prior for littering, is directed to sit on the "Group W" bench with "mean, nasty, ugly people" such as "father stabbers, mother rapers [and] father rapers." One of the other draftees asks Guthrie, "What'd you get?" Guthrie explains that he didn't "get" anything except for a small fine and community service picking up the garbage. When Guthrie explains that he was arrested for littering, everyone moves away from him. "And creating a nuisance," he adds, and they all come right back.
  • Mike Harding performs a ballad called Strangeways Hotel (Strangeways is Manchester's main prison). There is a spoken interlude in between verses where Harding asks his fellow cons what they're in for:
    (deep butch voice) "Robbin' a wagon."
    (fey voice) "Waggin' me robin."

  • In the Mark Steels In Town episode about Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, Mark notes that it's a protected red squirrel area, and that bringing in grey squirrels is punishable by two years in prison. Since the Isle of Wight is also the site of the notorious HMP Parkurst, where the Krays were imprisoned, he imagines a London Gangster asking "What are you in for?" and being told "I took a grey squirrel on the hovercraft".

  • In the second Bottom Live stage show:
    Eddie: That's Geoffrey Nasty, the Psychopathic Penis-Remover.
    Richie: Oh! What's he in for?
    Eddie: [exasperated] Removing penises!
  • A Gulag Mouse. Prushka the Mouse reveals she's serving ten years for telling an "anecdote" — anti-government joke.
  • Madea Goes to Jail. Well, the title character's cellmate already knows why she's there.

    Video Games 
  • In Batman: Arkham Origins, when you infiltrate Blackgate Prison for a second time, you can overhear this exchange via Enemy Chatter:
    Criminal A: Oh man, I can't wait. I'm going straight to O'Kane's, havin' a pint.
    Criminal B: What's it been for you man, eight years?
    Criminal A: Twelve.
    Criminal B: And what they put you in for?
    Criminal A: Drinkin' and drivin'.
    Criminal C: Ha, an' you're gonna go have a pint?
    Criminal A: What are you, the damn parole board? I ain't rehabilitated, and I'm really thirsty.
    Criminal C: Whatever, just don't drive. You could kill someone.
    Criminal A: Yeah yeah, don't worry. What are you in for, anyway?
    Criminal C: [matter-of-fact] Manslaughter.
  • Dragon Age: Origins:
    Prisoner: What Are You in For?
    The Warden: I killed Arl Rendon Howe.
    Prisoner: You call that a crime?!
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim you can be thrown in the Markath prison mine. An Orc in there answers the question with:
    Orc: Murder, Banditry, Assault, Theft... and lollygagging.
  • In the first LEGO Island game, when you visit the Brickster in his lone jail cell next to the police station, this begins one of the quotes he says.
    Brickster: What are you in for? Oh, you're not in — I'm in. Heh heh heh. For bricking and entering. I hear they're gonna give me the chair. Maybe even a lovely matching table.
  • In Mask of the Betrayer, the Wychlaran of Mulsantir allows you to take one of the local prisoners to fight with you against the giant bear spirits waiting outside the gaits. Naturally, you get to ask what they're in for: Groznek killed some men who taunted him; Joeb's in for pickpocketing; and Gannayev is there because, well...
    Gannayev: My crime? It is a serious one — you see, I am too handsome to look upon.
  • Mass Effect 2: Shepard can ask this of an NPC on the Purgatory Prison Ship. He casually explains that he killed a few people — only about twenty or so — and blew up "that one habitat". This is apparently small-time by Purgatory standards.
  • Max Payne 2 features a long (and hilarious) conversation between two guys stuck in the police stations holding cell about how one of them ended up getting arrested because he stole a car that had a murder weapon in it. He asks the other guy what he's in for and he just says "Who, me? DUI."

    Web Animation 
  • In the first episode of Doris & Mary-Anne Are Breaking Out of Prison, Doris asks Mary-Anne this, but since Mary-Anne doesn't talk she doesn't get an answer.
  • In the final episode of Every Faggot Ever, the titular faggot's new cellmate asks him this question when he's locked up.

  • This Dueling Analogs comic (along with its many, many online redubs). A big, hulking convict sits on a prison bench, next to a smaller guy with Nerd Glasses.
    Big guy: I'm in here for kidnapping a guy, tying him to a tree and forcing him to watch me dig up and violate his dead mother's corpse.
    Smaller guy: I bought an Xbox 360 just to watch it die.
    [Big guy moves to the other end of the bench]
  • Freefall:
    • Florence (the sentient wolf) in the dog pound, asking this question to the pooch in the next cage.
    • Later, Sam talks his way into a night in jail (which requires effort because the Warden refuses to take him because of how many times he's escaped); when another inmate asks him what he's in for, he replies, "Meatloaf night!"
  • Girl Genius:
    • Phil Foglio's Author Avatar is in prison for including the Prince as a character in his story.
    • When Agatha enters Castle Heterodyne, she is asked if she can cook, and says yes. Then, when asked what she's in for, she says she poisoned thirty-seven people because they complained about her cooking. (In the print-novel adaptation of the comic, "mass poisoning" is indeed the charge listed on her forged commitment papers.)
  • Parodied in The Handbook of Heroes, where it's two Talking Swords in a cell.
    Goldie: What are you in for?
    Mr. Stabby: Blood. Blood-blood.
    Goldie: Yeah. I've been rolling like crap too.
  • In The Lydian Option, played straight with the prisoners revealing offenses ranging from the major (murder) to the minor (a bar fight), all with the same punishment.
  • Penny Arcade did a strip where a serial killer who cut out his victims eyes is in the same cell as a former Midway employee who made the decision to not put multiplayer in the now-obscure flight racer game Freaky Flyers.
    Killer: Oh man, I played that game, it would have been great online! You're crazy! I mean, I'M crazy, but you...
    Programmer: You cut out a man's eyes!!
    Killer: Hey, don't even compare my eye shit to what you did, it's not even close!
  • Pvp has a story where Brent took Skull to a veterinarian for a checkup, and ends up in jail for owning an exotic animal without a license (they thought he was a gorilla). When the other, significantly more hardcore criminals in lockup ask Brent what he did, he gives a legalese answer about not filing the proper paperwork, and receives blank stares.
    Brent: Uh, and I popped a cap in my old lady for giving me lip about it.
    Thug: Word!
  • The title character of Rosa sardonically asks her dead skeleton cellmate, Ol' Gil, this question.
  • Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic: Gertrude the Valkyrie (on visiting from Cowboys and Crossovers) asks this to another frog in a cage after being herself turned into a frog. Yeah, that tends to happen when you piss off a wizard.

    Web Original 
  • Asked of a demon within the Hell prison in Void Domain.
  • Seanbaby used this in a hypothetical scenario of an obnoxious geek arrested for disorderly conduct at Blizzcon:
    Inmate #2014410: What are you here for, fat boy?
    Cloudwhisper of Darrowmere: I'll have you know that I! Am a political prisoner! Blizzard keeps nerfing hunters and I! Had the guts to stand up and say no more! No one wanted to listen, but I! Wouldn't be silenced!
    Inmate #2014410: Wow. Well I have to say that takes a load off my mind. A lot of guys can be deceptively dangerous when you start raping them... so... you ready to go then?
    Cloudwhisper of Darrowmere: sigh

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs: Rita asks Runt this when they first meet in the city pound. Runt's answer is "wetting on the carpet".
  • Arcane. A variation when Caitlyn asks this of Vi. Caitlyn is asking because she's an Enforcer with no idea of who Vi is because the corrupt Enforcer who threw Vi in Stillwater Prison made sure there was no record of her incarceration.
    Caitlyn: There's no record of you, or your crimes. What are you here for?
    Vi: My sunny personality.
  • The Beetlejuice episode "The Birdbrain of Alcatraz" has Beetlejuice ask this to a fellow inmate of The Big House.
    Beetlejuice: What are you in for? Indecent decomposure?
    Rico: My name's Rico, and that joke stinks.
  • Family Guy:
    • In the episode "Chris Has Got a Date, Date, Date, Date, Date" Stewie and Peter send out a tweet that a movie was "Just okay" and promptly get arrested by the "Internet police". When they get to jail, they run into another inmate; Brian asks "What are you in for"? and he replies "I thought that Caytlin Jenner wasn't very courageous or good looking."
      Stewie: [terrified] Brian, there are some bad people in here!!
    • In "Dial Meg for Murder", Meg is sent to a women's prison, and her black cellmate asks her "Did you get caught trying to vote in Ohio?"
  • In the made-for-tv Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends movie "Good Wilt Hunting", Wilt ends up in prison. His cellmates are explaining what they're in for and comparing how vile their actions are, before Wilt solemnly states he could top their actions. Wilt just says "I crushed [a kid’s] dreams."
  • In Garfield and Friends, Wade, after ripping the a tag off the bottom of a couch and learning that it's against the law, imagines himself in a prison cell with two dangerous-looking criminals:
    First criminal: I've robbed 50 banks and 60 gas stations.
    Second criminal: Yeah? well, I robbed 70 banks, see, and 90 gas stations. And I stole the Klopman Diamond. What are you in for?
    Wade: Uh, I tore a tag off a pillow.
    [the criminals run for the bars and scream for help]
  • In an episodes of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Grim is sent to jail for taking off his robe in public when he is angry trying to prove he can't fart because he's a skeleton and it is coming from the evil invisible ghost duck that has been following him all day. His cellmate is a very tough-looking guy with tattoos on his arms. Grim nervously asks him what he was in for. His answer scares Grim, especially since the duck is still close by, grinning evilly.
    Cellmate: I beat the snot out of a guy... for FARTING!
  • Looney Tunes: Variant. At the end of the Bugs Bunny cartoon "Wabbit Twouble", after a typical Bugs once-over, Elmer Fudd angrily trashes a sign at Jellostone National Park, which leads to him getting arrested for destroying government property. In his cell, Bugs and the bear that chased Elmer earlier both ask "How long ya in for, doc?"
  • An episode of Men in Black: The Series features an alien race that's downright obsessive about law and order, complete with an ultra-brutal gulag for housing the many, many lawbreakers they round up. How strict are they? When Jay finds himself in the prison, he asks a fellow inmate what he's in for, and, well, it turns out they take their mattress tags very seriously.
  • In the season 2 finale of Rick and Morty, After turning himself into the Galactic Federation so his family can return to Earth in peace, an inmate asks this question to Rick. He replies, in a defeated tone, "Everything."
  • A Monopoly-themed sketch from Robot Chicken has a prison inmate ask the shoe, dog, thimble, and car what they're in jail for.
  • In "Sgt. Gravel to the Rescue" from PB&J Otter, Peanut has an Imagine Spot about being sentenced to row the book boat as a prison barge for returning a library book late. An otter who looks like an older version of himself with a beard asks him what he's in for. He tells him it was an overdue library book, but it was only one day late. The elderly otter replies that this is what they all say and the other prisoners laugh at him.
  • The Simpsons:
    • "One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish":
      Homer: What are you in for?
      Harmonica-playing Con: Atmosphere.
    • When Mr. Burns is jailed for stealing valuable art, he seemingly lucks out by being put in the same cell as another white-collar criminal... until he finds out said inmate went to Dartmouth College.
  • One episode of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated has the gang trying to get help from one of the people they've put away. Shaggy and Scooby, in their usual fashion, slink away to the cafeteria. One inmate asks them what they're in for, and Shaggy responds "The food!"
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In the episode "SpongeBob Meets the Strangler";
    Tattletale Strangler: [in prison] Well, at least I'm safe from that yellow idiot.
    Patrick: [in the same cell as him] Hey, mac. [the Strangler faces him] What're you in for?
    [episode ends]
  • One Timon & Pumbaa episode has the recurring bear acting as a fire warden for the forest, and swallows anyone whole that brings it into the woods, with the last ones being a couple of kids. At the end of the episode, after he gobbles up the man who had been forcing Timon and Pumbaa to fetch him fire, the little girl in his stomach asks him what he's in for.

    Real Life 
  • If you do get asked this in jail, it is generally advised to answer truthfully, since if you avoid answering you may be suspected of child molestation. And then, well... Although in most American prisons, it is generally considered more polite to phrase the question as "What are you accused of?" While either is acceptable, one should never ask the question "What did you do?" as it implies guilt.
  • While circumstances vary, it's generally impolite to point out what everyone in your room/unit/cell did for a newcomer, as is often done for exposition in fiction. Most newcomers to a group keep to themselves and are simply busier learning the new situation they are in than curious about what everyone else did to get there.
  • This has been made much worse by universal access to computers and the rise of social media. It used to be possible (if unlikely) for someone to successfully hide their criminal history. These days, it takes five minutes for an inmate's girlfriend/sibling/friend to look up court records, and prisoners will learn what each other did.


Video Example(s):


The Tattletale Strangler

By the end of the episode, the Strangler has been driven so crazy by SpongeBob's antics that he's actually relieved to be in jail and away from him. Unfortunately, he finds that Patrick is his cellmate

How well does it match the trope?

4.5 (42 votes)

Example of:

Main / PreferJailToTheProtagonist

Media sources: