Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Fruit of the...Garbage Bag?

It was a Friday evening after dinner was over and I walked into the laundry room to see if a washing machine was open. As I turned the corner, one of the other inmates was standing on the top of the washing, closing a "supposed" locked ceiling door. He looked at me with suspicion as I turned and left the laundry. As I walked back to my cube, a couple of questions crossed my mind.

"How did he get into that locked trapdoor in the ceiling?"

"What was the garbage bag doing up in the ceiling?"

A few weeks later as we were waiting after the 10:30 standing count to go to lunch, I was intrigued as I watched one of the men climb up onto the six foot high walls that surround our cubes and look up on top of the heating ducts that crisscrossed the ceiling of the unit. The CO's had gone to the unit on the other side to count so we were unsupervised for a few moments. I watched as the inmate popped open a vent on one of the heating ducts and pull out the end of a garbage bag, look at it for a moment, and then push it back in and set the duct cover back in place. He had soon let himself back down so that when the CO came back, every thing in the unit was perfectly normal.

I have to admit, sometimes I'm a bit naive. I didn't have a clue about what was going on as these different inmates checked on their contraband in these hiding places. But I had the wisdom not to ask any questions, either to the inmates or to any of the staff. The truth was, these were the local "moonshiners"...the makers of "pruno."

Until entering prison, I'd never heard of pruno. With my past, that's really kind of surprising. I was a very heavy drinker in my youth and I thought that I had heard of just about everything there was to drink...but I was definitely wrong. Pruno is prison "hootch"...prison wine, and it can be made out of just about anything that can ferment.

I found this description of pruno from, and it pretty much describes pruno to a T:

"By most accounts, pruno isn't something a normal human would want to drink, so potent that two gallons is said to be "a virtual liquor store," enough to get a dozen people mindblowingly wasted. And while it tastes so putrid that even hardened prisoners gulp it down while holding their noses, they'll go to incredible lengths to make it, whipping up batches from frosting, yams, raisins and damn near everything."

I heard a lot of horror stories about this prison creation, but the scariest was one that I actually saw first had. The CO's occasionally make their sweep through the unit looking for any kind of contraband, including pruno and one evening, they find a batch that was hidden in the ceiling of the showers. Now, if you know anything at all about prison, you know that they don't allow the inmates items that are made of glass or metal, so pruno was commonly fermented in large garbage bags. And the batches were not small and in fact it wasn't uncommon for an inmate to have to use a wheeled mop pail to move his stash around from place to place.

On this occasion, the CO's found the pruno and they were taking it back to the bathrooms to dispose of it. Unfortunately, the garbage back holding this liquid nectar had a hole in it and started to drip on the floor. One of the CO's called for an orderly to grab a mop and clean the mess up, but before the inmate could get back with the mop, the pruno was already lifting the wax off of the concrete floor. This is nasty stuff!

The fact that there was so much pruno production taking place on the compound impacted all of us...even those of us with enough brain cells not to even smell the stuff. Because inmates would use any kind of fruit or vegetable to make the stuff, we soon found that our access to fresh fruits and vegetables from the commissary was restricted. At first, the number of items we could purchase was limited, but didn't seem to slow the production down. Then, most of the fresh fruit was eliminated completely and only a few vegetables were sold.

This doesn't stop the creative pruno maker, however. He would just mix up a batch of "green pepper" pruno or perhaps "ketchup" pruno. Add a few slices of bread and some packets of sugar, and soon a new batch of wax stripper would be fermenting.


Deb said...

My stomach hurts just reading this. Did you ever taste it just out of curiosity?

Isn't is interesting how little real control the COs had over prisoners? Do have to take away fruits and vegetables so pruno wouldn't be made, and still have it not work.

This story made me think of all the fear floating around in that place. And how in an attempt to control by fear, the jailers become imprisoned by fear as well.

I love your stories. I love you.

Toivoa ja Elämän said...

wow, that's mind blowing, how desperate one could be for alcohol to go to those lengths...
It puts so many things into perspective, the differences between prison life and what it is for the rest of us; and the lack of control the prison guards, or, CO's i think you said, actually have
Definitely an eye opener
Your writings are intriguing, i will definitely be coming back! (: