In a Nutshell
Although banned from prisons, inmates have found ways to make their own alcohol. Called “pruno,” the substance is made from smuggled odds and ends from the cafeteria. Its taste has been described as almost unbearably vile.
The Whole Bushel
Few places on earth are more aptly suited to cocktails than prison. Unfortunately, alcohol is banned in almost every penitentiary in the world. Of course, that doesn’t stop the incarcerated from making an illicit prison wine.
There are dozens of recipes to make pruno, each more revolting than the last. Typically it is concocted from fruit acquired from the cafeteria, mixed with sugar, water, and bread (to provide the yeast needed to begin fermentation). In some facilities where the consumption of pruno has proven a real issue, wardens have banned fresh fruit altogether. However, inmates in search of a buzz are nothing if not resourceful and can use other ingredients including, but not limited to, orange juice, ketchup, yams, raisins, fruit cocktail, cake frosting, jelly, potatoes, and even sauerkraut.
Pruno is most easily made in a simple plastic bag. The fruit and water are mashed into a paste and then slowly fed a diet of sugar over the course of a week. The mixture then needs to be submerged daily in hot water to hasten the fermentation process. It takes about a week to reach the right potency. While this might not seem like the most elaborate recipe to prepare, there are pitfalls. First, the bag needs to be carefully monitored. The gases of the fermentation process will cause it to explode if left unattended for too long, covering your cell in an acrid paste. Second, the process needs to be hidden from the guards. An anecdote related in an issue of the San Francisco Chronicle indicates that guards finding pruno might not confiscate it, but instead urinate in it for their own sinister amusement.
The alcohol levels of the finished product vary, but are generally between those of beer and wine and tastes mostly like rotten fruit. This rudimentary distillation is not without its risks. In 2004, four inmates from a prison in California were stricken with botulism from a pruno made with “unpeeled potatoes smuggled from the kitchen, apples from lunches, one old peach, jelly, and ketchup,” which they described as “smelling like baby poop.” In 2005, another California prisoner in a different institution also developed botulism from drinking pruno and had to be kept alive on a respirator.