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"You've chosen a magnificent prison, but it is a prison nonetheless; take one step outside, and you're mine."
Judge Claude Frollo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

A setting is treated as equivalent to prison in many ways, even if it does not explicitly call itself a prison. It is often a place of "refuge" that for all intents and purposes is a prison. Often, this means there is some threat just outside the refuge itself.

Note that this portrayal often revolves around the idea that "confined against will" is equivalent to prison, even if the living conditions aren't as bad as they would be at a prison. The old saying that "a gilded cage is still a cage" acknowledges the idea of a prison being a prison, no matter how comfortable, and there is some overlap of the Gilded Cage with this trope.

In historical works, this trope frequently affects people seeking respite from hostile forces (often government or law enforcement) in a church or temple. Their refuge effectively becomes this trope if they must stay within its buildings or grounds to remain unmolested. Alternatively, wayward clerics might find themselves consigned to a monastery for a period as part of their penance.

In modern usage, this trope can be explicitly judicial or more a matter of political control. House arrest (a common punishment for juveniles and a sentence pronounced by actual courts of law) and not being allowed to leave the city (because there is a pending court procedure involving you) are examples of the former. Whenever the government of a country doesn't allow its citizens to travel abroad, or at least significantly limits their possibility to do so (a notable example was East Germany) would fall under the latter category. Of course, some of the judicial uses of this are for political "offences".

Supertrope to Locked Away in a Monastery.

Examples of Implicit Prison include:

Comic Books

  • In Marvel Comics "Decimation" event, the Xavier Institute was called a "Haven" for remaining mutants, but was really an internment camp for them.

Fan Fiction

  • The "Sanctuary Communities" of The Road to Cydonia, if the evil government agency decides you need "sanctuary" you will be placed in one and never allowed to leave...ever.


  • The cathedral from Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame and most adaptations, including Disney's, in that Esmeralda goes there to avoid Frollo, and in order to avoid arrest has to stay in that building, until Quasimodo decides to help her get past the guards.
  • Religious houses are occasionally used this way in the Deryni works:
    • Prince Javan Haldane spends time in a monastery run by the Custodes Fidei. While Javan bides his time there, studying and trying to avoid the regents' notice, he is still flogged for disobedience at one point and is pressured towards taking religious vows and resigning his position as his twin brother's heir.
    • The prologue of The Bishop's Heir shows Archbishop Loris confined to a monastery (in the custody of the Fratri Silentii) after being stripped of his ecclesiastical offices.
    • As part of The King's Justice, Kelson decrees that Caitrin Quinnell, the Mearan Pretender, will live out her life in a convent.
  • In Gary Corby's historical mystery The Ionian Sanction, Nico and his allies (including a high Persian imperial official) pursue a killer to the Temple of Artemis. Once the killer is past the white boundary stones, a priest stops the pursuit and a negotiation ensues over the conditions. The temple is not obliged to feed the killer, but his friends can bring food. The official summons extra guards to be posted around the perimeter to prevent the killer from leaving.

Live-Action Television

  • The Village from The Prisoner.
  • The waiting areas in the Doctor Who serial The Happiness Patrol are specifically not prisons ... but step over the line that marks the edge of the area, and "you're a dead man".

Western Animation

  • Sunnyside Daycare from Toy Story 3, in that toys donated there are locked up, required to stay, and security is tight to deter inmates from escaping.

Real Life

  • When the Yorkist King Edward IV was defeated, during the Wars of the Roses, his Queen Elizabeth Woodville fled into sanctuary with her daughters at Westminster Abbey. Supporters of the Lancastrian King Henry VI held the capital around the abbey, as well as the machinery of government. Her son (who would've been Edward V) was born there, and King Edward IV wasn't presented with his heir until he won back his throne months later.
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