Green’s Dictionary of Slang

tank n.2

[SE tank, a storage receptacle]

1. (Aus./US prison) a cell.

[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 28 Mar. 10/1: The rev. brudder replies subsequently in the Rum, and admits that he was lumbered in Launceston because he was poor, and was reduced to sharing a tank and cadging for grub with another Christian.
[US]Cincinnati Enquirer (OH) 28 Nov. 19/3: Since then no quarrelsome drunk or lazy bum has escaped a night in the tank.
[US]S.F. Call 17 May 2/2: The boys [...] were arrested [...] and locked up in the ‘tanks’.
[UK]D. Lowrie My Life in Prison 30: I glanced at the number on the cell door. It was 34 – 34 Tank.
[US]F. Williams Hop-Heads 25: Whenever I get a ‘jolt’ in the can (county jail) they make me ‘kick out’ my habit in the ‘tanks.’.
[US]D. Lamson We Who Are About to Die 8: The trusties [...] brought up a man from the big tank to be my cell mate.
[US]N. Algren ‘El Presidente de Méjico’ in Texas Stories (1995) 82: Jesse was the bad man of the tank.
[US]C. Hamilton Men of the Und. 325: Tank, A prison cell.
[US]H. Whittington Forgive Me, Killer (2000) 61: Maybe three or four days in the tank will change your mind.
[US]B. Jackson Thief’s Primer 123: He and the other officer [...] were arrested for rape. Put them in the same tank with me.
[US]E. Bunker No Beast So Fierce 95: I don’t remember the case number. It’s up in the tank.
[UK]J. Morton Lowspeak.
[Aus]J. Byrell Lairs, Urgers & Coat-Tuggers 155: [They] cart them all off to the nearest wal-shop (which is at Darlo) where they are booked and slung in the tank.
[US]E. Bunker Mr Blue 46: The tanks were racially segregated for the most part.
[US](con. 1964–8) J. Ellroy Cold Six Thousand 13: DPD pulled these three guys, bums or something, out of a railroad car [...] We’ve got them in the tank.

2. (Can./US prison) a holding cell.

[US]Irwin Amer. Tramp and Und. Sl. 187: Tank.– The general cage for prisoners in a county jail, or the hall in which they are permitted to exercise.
[US]R. Chandler ‘Finger Man’ in Pearls Are a Nuisance (1964) 101: The only reason you ain’t in the tank upstairs is they’re not sure.
[US]W.R. Burnett Asphalt Jungle in Four Novels (1984) 225: Females of all shapes and sizes [...] were milling hysterically around the jammed women’s tank.
[US]R. Chandler Long Good-Bye 44: Cell No. 3 in the felony tank has two bunks, pullman style, but the tank was not very full and I had the cell to myself.
[US]L. Bruce Essential Lenny Bruce 68: It’s just like in the tank, like four, five, six people in the cell there.
[US](con. 1960s) D. Goines Black Gangster (1991) 276: With that many in the tank, somebody’s got to start singing.
[US]S. Morgan Homeboy 47: They didn’t have Rooski, calling him out of the tank proved that.

3. (Aus./N.Z. Und.) a safe, thus tank-opener, a safe-breaker.

[UK]W.S. Walker In the Blood 143: To ‘open tank’ I yearn, ‘screw in’ or ‘make a turn.’.
[Aus]Truth (Brisbane) 1 Jan. 18/2: There is the tank-opener — safe blower — hold up man, burglar, and common thug.
[Aus]S.J. Baker in Sun. Herald (Sydney) 8 June 9/2: If the crook has robbed a safe he says he has ‘blown a tank.’ According to Detective Doyle, the expression ‘tank car’ is used to describe a motor car used for the purpose of safe-breaking.
[UK] ‘Screwsman’s Lament’ in Encounter n.d. in Norman Norman’s London (1969) 67: Now things was very dodgy, like the tank being very low, / So we drank down our pigsear, and crept out to have a go.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 26 Apr. 46: To a professional safe-breaker a peter is a safe or tank. It derives from the fact that in the convict days bank vaults were not only built in the same shape as prison cells but constructed from the same sandstone blocks used to build the prisons.
[NZ]G. Newbold Big Huey 255: tank (n) A safe.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. 25: blow a tank Dynamite a safe open. From c1920. [Ibid.] 208: tank A safe, from c1932. Used in phrase blow a tank to open a safe with explosives.

4. (Can./US prison) a prison, a prison wing.

[US]Goldin et al. DAUL 220/1: Tank. [...] 2. A small local jail.
[US]C. Shafer ‘Catheads [...] and Cho-Cho Sticks’ in Abernethy Bounty of Texas (1990) 216: tank, n. – dormitory- type living quarters for convicts.
[US]Cardozo-Freeman & Deloreme Joint n.p.: The ‘keeper’ does not prepare the fish ahead of time for the ordeal that awaits them in the tank . . . new fish who do not learn immediately how to swim will undergo a devastating initiation rite [R].
[US](con. early 1950s) J. Ellroy L.A. Confidential 286: I put Bill McPherson in the tank for you.

5. an isolation cell.

[US] in S. Harris Hellhole 34: She was taken to the ‘tank’ which is where they allowed narcotics addicts to sweat out their withdrawal symptoms.

6. a bank; also attrib.

[UK]F. Norman Too Many Crooks Spoil the Caper 34: Once the lolly was in the tank the firm was off and running.
[UK](con. 1950s–60s) in G. Tremlett Little Legs 197: tank bank.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Layer Cake 90: You’ve helped me out with tank money in the past.

7. money.

[UK]K. Sampson Outlaws (ms.) 91: There’s this little crew [...] who’re just pure grafters. They’ll come back from London with tank.
[UK]J.J. Connolly Viva La Madness 17: I realised I would require tank money.

8. see tank town n.

In compounds

tank artist (n.) (also tank bloke, tankblower, tankman)

(Aus./N.Z. Und.) a safe-cracker.

[Aus] ‘Whisper All Aussie Dict.’ in Kings Cross Whisper (Sydney) xli 4/2: tank: A safe. People who specialize in robbing tanks are naturally known as tank men.
[NZ]F. Sargeson Hangover 87: By profession he’s a tank-artist [...] That’s what they used to call a cracksman.
[Aus]J. Alard He who Shoots Last 1: You tank blokes sure make lots a blues. [Ibid.] 259: tank blokes Safe blowers.
[Aus]R. Aven-Bray Ridgey-Didge Oz Jack Lang 49: Tank Man Safe Robber.
[Aus]Tupper & Wortley Aus. Prison Sl. Gloss. [Internet] Tank. A money safe. [Ibid.] Tank man. Safe breaker.
[NZ]McGill Reed Dict. of N.Z. Sl. 208: tank A safe, from c1932. Used in phrase blow a tank to open a safe with explosives. ANZ underworld extensions to the craft of tank artist/tank blower/tankman.

In phrases

daddy tank (n.) [daddy n. (14) ]

(US Und.) an area set aside to provide protective custody for effeminate homosexuals or lesbians.

[US]E.E. Landy Underground Dict. (1972) 65: daddy tank [...] Prison cell where lesbians are isolated from the rest of the prisoners.
Palm Beach Post (FL) 2 Oct. 8/1: At Sybil Brand institute [a woman-only prison] there is a separate cellblock for women who come in wearing pants or looking maculineit is rferred to as athe ‘Daddy Tank’.
L.A. Wkly 30 Apr. 28/1: Should she wear enough patently female clothing to avoid being tossed in the Sybil Brand Daddy Tank if busted?
[US]Bentley & Corbett Prison Sl. 10: Daddy Tank A segregated prison cell block reserved for lesbians or feminine homosexuals, protecting them from other inmates.
[Aus]Sydney Morn. Herald 11 Oct. 200/2: ‘daddy tank’ A jail cell reserved for lesbians.
drunk tank (n.)

(US) the police station holding cell into which arrested drunks are placed.

[US]A.R. Bosworth S.F. Murders 264: The day a police reporter had to pick him out of the collection in the drunk tank [OED].
[US]C. Chessman Cell 2455 3: He was placed in a drunk tank.
[US]E. De Roo Young Wolves 123: I won’t play patty-cake with the police department. They and their god-damned drunk tank.
[US]K. Kolb Getting Straight 85: We start fighting in the street and we end up in the drunk tank.
[US]C. Bukowski Erections, Ejaculations etc. 371: They let me out of the drunktank where they all slept on boards.
P.G. Bourne et al. Alcoholism 393: It may be argued that the drunk tank serves to incapacitate the intoxicated person in that it keeps him out of circulation for some time.
[US]E. Bunker Little Boy Blue (1995) 207: the drunk tank [...] full of punk winos with d.t.’s and shit.
[US]B. Hamper Rivethead (1992) 91: It would be like having a guy in the drunk tank asking to switch spots with a loser on death row.
J.L. Burke Cimarron Rose 32: The men in the drunk tank were fed first, then Lucas Smothers, who had been moved into an isolation cell by the showers.
J. Haddam Glass Houses 41: You go to the drunk tank, they take your wallet and your other stuff and hold them until you’re let out.
[US]‘Jack Tunney’ Split Decision [ebook] He’d wake up in a druink tank tomorrow with the worst headache he’d ever had.
sissy tank (n.) [sissy n. (2)]

a holding cell in which homosexuals are segregated from the general population.

[US]J. Wambaugh Glitter Dome (1982) 165: They have me in the sissy tank with all the other gay people.