What does kite mean?

These aren’t the kites they sing about at the end of Mary Poppins. In US prison slang, a kite is a message or note, historically contraband notes passed between prisoners or smuggled out of prison.



Examples of kite


Examples of kite
[in prison] *sends a kite to the next cell over* *inmate opens it and gets glitter all over himself* "OWNED!"
@Goth_Puppy, November 2014
When room mate has company over in living room, I refuse to leave my bedroom. Send a kite under my door like they do in prison to him asking how long they’ll be here, I really gotta pee bad
@Bro_Im_Slow, October 2018
The rules also set forth guidance for communications. The most common and accepted methods for communicating are "kites" (letters that are written from prison and are delivered to other prisoners, or smuggled in and out of pti son facilities), cellular telephones, contraband cellular telephones, text messaging, prison visitation, face to face meetings, and social media.
WSOC, May 2017

Where does kite come from?

Bundyspooks / Tumblr

Kite as prison slang for notes passed between inmates goes back to the 1920s. It apparently takes its name from prisoners flinging notes on a string to one another, like flying a kite, as the activity was called.

In contemporary prison culture, kites are sent in a variety of creative ways, including when a prisoner passes a note while doing work such as laundry or delivering food. Kites may also be passed by addressing a letter to a fake address, putting the name and address of the intended recipient as the return address, and waiting for the post office to return to the “sender.”  

Kite has become common enough in prison culture that any message, especially a written request, is referred to as a kite, including among staff. Want to see a doctor, get moved to another cell block, or complain about a guard? Send a kite or kite it. And kites complaining about prison staff, by the way, are known as fan mail.

Who uses kite?

Both inmates and correctional staff may use kite for messages and communication. Messages from inmates to people outside prison may also be called kites.

To Shoot A Kite, based on prison slang for sending a message, was a 2014 art exhibit in New York City which focused on the harsh realities of prison life.

Note that kite has had many other historic slang senses, ranging from “passing bad checks” to “smoking crack cocaine.”

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