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Here's the thing, sweet potato; you ain't leavin' Sunnyside.
Lotso, Toy Story 3

A Prison-centered installment in a larger work that is otherwise not about prison. It might be an episode in a serial, a sequence in a video game, or a few chapters in a book.

Usually this involves one or more major characters being in prison, or at least in noticeably prison-like circumstances. In some cases, they might run the prison.

Despite this being only a segment of the series, it might end up having permanent effects on the tone of the series from that point on. For example, it may portray major characters as becoming more inclined to crime as a result of said imprisonment. More generally, a prison episode is often used to show and/or begin a Darker and Edgier Tone Shift.

Examples of Prison Episode include:

Anime and Manga

  • In One Piece, Monkey D. Luffy breaks into Impel Down, the Marine Forces' top maximum-security prison, in an attempt to free his brother Ace. He arrives barely too late.
  • In King of Bandit Jing, Jing heads to the prison Seventh Heaven in order to find Campari and steal his dream-making power.

Comic Books

  • The Batman comic books have featured at least a couple of stories involving Batman being a prisoner in Arkham Asylum: "This Way Lies Madness"/"Asylum Sinister" in Batman #327-328 and "The Last Arkham" in Batman: Shadow of the Bat #1-4 to name two.
  • The Ms. Tree arc "Prisoner in Cell Block Hell.
  • Both movie and comic versions of Sin City include a very existential-looking prison for John Hartigan.
  • Both Daredevil and The Punisher have had arcs or issues set in prisons. One time actually had Daredevil put into prison and the Punisher had himself committed to watch Daredevil lose his mind.
  • In issues #34 and 35 of the Invader Zim comic, the title character fails to pay his bills to the for-profit prison, Moo-Ping 10 and is arrested by the staff. The conflict is resolved when it turns out Zim simply forgot his paything in his ship when he arrived and he promptly settles his debt.


  • Toy Story 3 has strong prison themes, with Sunnyside Daycare as a prison-equivalent, complete with a Great Escape. Bonus points for the shock value of a prison-themed installment in a G-rated Pixar series.


  • Subverted when Chip gets thrown in the brig in The Rats, The Bats, and The Ugly: He wants to stay in the brig where he gets a mattress and three meals a day. At the front, he doesn't get that.
  • The novella The Borders of Infinity in the Vorkosigan Saga is set in a very nasty but technically legal prisoner of war camp.

Live Action TV

  • The MacGyver episodes "The Escape" and "Jack in the Box".
  • CSI: NY episode "Redemptio"
  • My Name Is Earl has a several-episode-long imprisonment arc.
  • Farscape's Rashomon episode "The Ugly Truth" features most of the crew on a disc like prison-thing.
  • In Arrested Development, the first season has George, Sr. in prison. However, as part of an "Illusion", his son GOB goes to prison for an episode to prove he can escape in 24 hours time. He escapes when an inmate shivs him and he's taken to a hospital.
    • Later, Tobias spends some time in prison to research the role of Frightened Inmate #2.
  • The Ellen episode "Three Strikes" revolves around her being arrested for participating in an animal rights protest and ultimately remanded to the custody of her parents.
  • NCIS: McGee gets tangled up in a women's prison riot in "Caged." The plot revolves on him trying to resolve the conflict and the other characters trying to get him out alive. Notably, he is significantly more badass afterwards.
  • In the The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode "Mistaken Identity" both Will and Carton are arrested due to racial profiling. In "There's the Rub" Will and Phil are mistakenly jailed for solicitation.
  • Supernatural, "Folsom Prison Blues"
  • On Leverage, the season 3 pilot features this after Nate is voluntarily sent to prison to protect the rest of the team . Notable in that it avoids a dark feel due to the team staging an escape in typical Leverage fashion.
  • In House, the titular character is sent to prison after his actions during the season 7 finale. The first episode of season 8 sees him on the verge of being granted parole. The following episodes go on to inconsistently reference his status as a conditionally released prisoner (he is forced to wear an ankle-mounted GPS, which viewers are sometimes reminded of).
  • Victorious had a one hour special where the gang visits a country named Yerba, and eventually, one missing eye and dead octopus later, everyone gets sent to prison. Andre and Beck have rocks thrown at them, Jade is nearly beat up by another prisoner, and Robbie is put on the girl's side. They manage to escape thanks to their teacher, though.
  • Seinfeld the rare example where the Prison Episode is the series finale.
  • Xena: Warrior Princess had "Locked Up and Tied Down" where she went to prison for killing a girl long ago except the girl became the prison's warden.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine:
    • In the closing arc of the third season, Amy goes undercover as a Pregnant Badass in a Texas maximum security prison.
    • The Season 5 opener has Jake and Rosa in prison, following their being framed for a series of high profile robberies in the Season 4 finale.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In at least 1/6th of nearly every serial of the classic series, the Doctor and his companions are thrown in a cell. Even in "An Unearthly Child", he and his companions were locked up by cavemen. Russell T. Davies claimed that he introduced Psychic Paper into the series so that the writers could avoid this part of the stories.
    • "The Mind of Evil" is set in Stangmoor Prison.
    • "Shada" is set in the eponymous Time Lord prison.
    • "Revolution of the Daleks" opens with the Doctor having been imprisoned for twenty years in a maximum security prison.
  • In the Grand Finale of Sherlock, "The Final Problem", John, Sherlock and Mycroft confront the latter two's sister Eurus Holmes in Sherrinford Prison.
  • In "The Excelsior Acquisition" in The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon is found in contempt of court and thrown in jail until he apologizes to the judge. He caves when he sees where he's expected to go to the bathroom.
  • In the fourth season of The Flash, Barry is thrown into Iron Heights for a mini-arc after being framed for the murder of Clifford DeVoe.

Video Games

  • Used a number of times in the Zelda series.
  • Chrono Trigger had one sequence in a prison cell. It followed a very humorous scene and preceded a challenging boss though and thus was better than most. It is especially interesting because the prison lets you keep your sword.
    • There are two prison sequences in Chrono Trigger. The second one strips the party of equipment, inventory, and cash after the party is distracted by a Look Behind You!. Ensues a Stealth Based Mission unless Ayla is in the current party.
  • Metal Gear 1: Snake is thrown in a jail cell which the player can escape from within seconds simply by punching the wall. The prison escape sequences of Metal Gear Solid 1 and 3, however, were fun and memorable.
  • The 1982 Escape From Rungistan game starts with "escape from a jail cell". You had to (a) ask a guard to bring you dinner (b) give a piece of cheese to a mouse (c) move your bed under a window (d) give a piece of candy to a child and (e) dig a hole in a wall to get out.
  • Command and Conquer: Renegade has you captured and stripped of your weapons.
  • There are several examples of this is the Final Fantasy series.
  • Kaim and company in Lost Odyssey are at one point obliged to escape from the brig of a royal yacht, dodging security drones and pussy-footing across pressure-sensitive floor tiles. Hilariously, they begin their escape by wiping the memory of their guard and convincing him that they were jailed by accident, so even if the player makes a mistake and the party gets caught again, the guard will apologize and let them back out.
  • The last segment of Tex Murphy: Overseer takes place on the island prison of Alkatraz. Tex Murphy finds himself trapped a cell and must escape and make his way deep into the prison while avoiding deadly security droids.
  • In Penny Arcade's parody RPG, On The Rain Slick Precipice Of Darkness Episode 2 the main characters are at one point placed in a sanitarium. While your two companions are locked up, tied down or what-have-you, your character is allowed to run completely free, albeit disarmed. On the other hand, when you rescue your friends, they haven't been disarmed.
  • Starting an Elder Scrolls adventure in prison seems to be the default. Apparently it's the sort of world where Ex-Cons really do have a chance a rehabilitation...
  • Tales of Symphonia had Lloyd, the main character, tossed into a Desian prison in the middle of the desert. He busts out on his own, just before the party shows up... too late.
  • In Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire, the titular hero gets his behind tossed in the prison of Raseir. This is the first time in the game where it's not an instant death and involves breaking out, but this was all a plan by the game's villain, who then proceeds to show up after your break, and have his evil ways with you.
    • And again in Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness where the undead evil vizier Ad Avis from Trial by Fire traps you in his dungeon. Yet again part of a bigger plan, seeing as he hopes you figure out how to break out and kill the Master of Darkness. Too bad the Master of Darkness is someone you know and by hammering a stake trough the vampire's chest, you earn a Game over! Ad Avis... will you never learn.
  • The Frozen Throne had a campaign mission where Lady Vashj and Kael'thas free the Blood Elves from the Dalaran dungeons, which were full of UltraHorrifyingMonsters. It wasn't a bad level, but at of the day it wasn't as challenging as the normal base-building campaign missions.
    • World of Warcraft has the Stockades, an instanced prison dungeon in the centre of Stormwind serving prior to the Cataclysm as a continuation of the Defias questline and now updated to fit current miscreants.
  • Dead to Rights had an extremely long prison level early on in the game, where the player has to compete in various minigames and do a lot of hand-to-hand combat to arrange a prison break.
  • XIII featured one (two?) levels inside Plain Rock Asylum, a mental institution.
  • In Max Payne, Max is drugged, tied up, whacked with a baseball bat, and still manages to get out and continue his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • The last level of the 2005 Punisher game features Frank Castle in Ryker's Island during a prison riot led by Jigsaw. He starts out unarmed, but quickly gets guns from the mooks.
  • Tomb Raider III puts Lara in this.
  • Grand Theft Auto II had a level where you specifically had to get arrested and then spent time in prison before escaping again.
  • Illusion of Gaia throws Will into the castle dungeon near the beginning of the game.
  • Dragon Age Origins had a side-quest called "Captured!", which saw your active party thrown into prison, with an option given to either fight your way out or wait for rescue from the rest of the party. The latter option is probably the single biggest source of hilarity in an otherwise Grimdark game.
  • In Space Rangers 2 engaging in criminal activity may result in the character being sentenced to several months in jail. This triggers one of the game's many text-based minigames. Throughout his stay the character can join a fight club, race cockroaches, become a stool pigeon for the guards and, if he plays his cards right, come out much richer than he was going in. Granted, he may also die, but that's a minor detail.
  • Discworld Noir has a brief prison-escape scene at the Patrician's Palace, which takes Lewton into Leonard of Quirm's secret workshop. A subversion because, once he's broken out of his cell, Lewton has to repeatedly break back into the secret location he'd escaped through to close the case.
  • Case 2 of the second Ace Attorney Investigations. Notably the victim here was the killer in the first case, and the murderer from the very first case in the series appears as a witness.
  • In Splinter Cell Double Agent, Sam goes undercover as a prisoner to infiltrate a domestic terror organization and earn their trust.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons has several of them, mostly involving the villains, but occasionally major characters (especially Homer, sometimes Marge) end up in jail as well.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender had two prison episodes (Technically three, since one was a two-parter):
    • Season one has "Imprisoned", where Katara deliberately gets herself imprisoned by the Fire Nation in an attempt to free a friend from said prison.
    • Season three has "The Boiling Rock", where Zuko and Sokka infiltrate a Fire Nation prison in the hopes of locating Sokka's father, who had been captured in the war a few weeks earlier.
  • In Aaahh Real Monsters, Ickis gets put in jail because he was mistaken for a fugitive.
  • The Looney Tunes Show, "Jailbird and Jailbunny".
  • American Dad!:
    • The first is "Rough Trade". After trading lives with Roger, Stan is mistaken for a Domestic Abuser and gets arrested.
    • In "Man in the Moonbounce", after joining Steve in egging a house, Stan is sent to a minimum security prison. The warden however is such a pushover that all the prisoners enjoy staying and doesn't want to leave.
    • Klaus and Roger are both arrested and sent to prison in "Kloger".
  • Family Guy:
    • In "One if by Clam, Two if by Sea", the guys are framed for arson and sent to prison.
    • In "Dial Meg For Murder", Meg goes to jail for harboring an escaped convict. Only a few seconds' worth of Meg's jailtime is shown on-screen, (though there's half a minute's worth of her visit to said convict before his escape shown) but the key theme of the episode is that Meg emerged from prison as a hardened criminal. (It was not permanent, though; Brian talked her into going back to being her old self.)
    • In "Shanksgiving", the guys deliberately get themselves arrested, by Police Superintendent Chalmers, so they can avoid Thanksgiving. They hoped to just go to jail, but since so many dads pulled this scheme, they get sent to prison.
  • In the season two premiere of Gargoyles, "Leader of the Pack" Coyote, at the behest of Xanatos, breaks out the rest of the Pack.
  • In "Opening Night" of The Spectacular Spider-Man, Spidey volunteers to test the security system of The Vault, a prison designed to house super villains. Unfortunately the prison's computers are hacked by the Green Goblin, locking all the guards up as the prisoners are let out of their cells.
  • In "Terrors" of Young Justice, Superboy and Miss Martian go undercover into Belle Reve to ascertain and foil a break out attempt.
  • Phineas and Ferb has Phineas And Ferb Get Busted. While what they are sent to is called a reform school, it is most certainly run like a prison.
  • In "Escape From Beta Traz" in Voltron: Legendary Defender, Lance, Pidge and Shiro infiltrate the eponymous facility to rescue Slav.