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C1 humor column: The top prison nicknames

Nicknames: We hear inmates use them all the time, but they aren't the only ones to go by a second name

By Samuel “Sam” Cowey

Nicknames: We hear inmates use them all the time.  Some of them you hear, some you don’t. Some of them are obvious and others not so obvious.

My favorites are the ones we come up with for other staff members.  But you must remember that when using a nickname, you could possibly offend the person that bears the name, so use care and good judgment before using one. The following are some examples I’ve heard over the years. I will start with the three I’ve had and a little explanation of each. 

The first one I ever got was when I was about 8. My aunt started dating a who used to call me “Mohair Sam,” based on a comic he read when he was young.  Incidentally, I started calling him “Guitar George” from the song “Sultans of Swing” by the band Dire Straits.

The second one is a little more humorous.  While working a control booth in 1998, I was standing at the back window and giving directions to an inmate porter who was sweeping around the sally port entrance when all of the sudden a bird flies in through the open window and smacks into my chest.

I naturally jumped and swatted it away only to realize that it was actually a bat. Needless to say, I really lost composure and when my partners heard about it (because we all know porters tell everything) I became known as “Batman.”

The last one came about in 2000, when I was responding to a fight on the yard, I began yelling very loudly for the combatants to “get down.”  Now I’ll admit, I added a few colorful metaphors to my verbal orders.

My partner who was a yard officer responding walks up (the inmates had already stopped fighting and were in a prone position) and says take it easy “Mad Cow” and it stuck for a long time.

Some of the ones we have are pretty funny.  We have a few hairier officers who have a nickname of “Wookie” or “Chewbacca.” We have a few officers who are difficult to understand on the radio “Mumbles” or “Subtitles.” We had a guy called “Barbie” because of his car (he had an exact duplicate of her car at the time).  Another guy was called “Lobster” because of he had very red skin pigment.  We have quite a few “Paisa (add popular Hispanic surname)” for the guys that are fairly new citizens or still have heavy Spanish accents. 

We have a “Catfish”, a “Buck”, several “Gonzo’s, and a “Red.” I’ve known a few “Crash's over the years.  An officer who had a less lethal projectile ricochet and hit a staff member usually was called “Cop killer” for a couple of weeks after.  A yard officer started wearing a Camelback about the time that the Adam Sandler movie Big Daddy came out and I started calling him “Scuba Steve” (he was the one who called me “Mad Cow”). 

Another was called was called “Toilet” because everyone said he was full of crap.  A few are kind of cruel like “Princess Fiona” or “Princess Jasmine” (the latter was for a male officer).  Most of the nicknames are known to the staff member and accepted with, dare I say, a touch of pride or humor.  A few are unknown and I myself refuse to use them out of respect for my partners.

As for me, I don’t have one right now other than “Sarge.” While I look forward to someday being called “LT” or “Lieu”, I kind of enjoyed being called “Mad Cow” and wouldn’t mind if that one was recycled.

Tell us: What nicknames have you been given?  Which one was your favorite?



Samuel “Sam” Cowey
Sam Cowey has been a Correctional Sergeant with CDCR for more than 15 years and spent more than three years as Sgt. Currently he works as a relief Sergeant at Centinela State Prison in California.  He served six years in the US Air Force as a Aircraft Armament Systems Specialist. Questions or comments can be sent to



About the author

Sam Cowey is a Correctional Lieutenant with CDCR and has more than 18 years of service, with 12 as an Officer and 5 as a Sergeant. Currently he works as a relief Lieutenant at Calipatria State Prison in California. He served six years in the US Air Force as a Aircraft Armament Systems Specialist. Questions or comments can be sent to

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