Drinking in prison seems to be a popular topic among people who are interested in prison life and what it’s really like to live behind electric fences and locked doors. Any movie or TV show that is about prison always seems to have at least one character who knows how to provide the rest of the inmates with alcohol.
I’m not a big fan of Orange Is the New Black because it is so incredibly inaccurate about what life is really like in a women’s prison. But, there was some truth to the character of Poussey, who knew how to make “toilet hooch” with “Kool-Aid, old fruit, ketchup, and moldy bread.”
If you’re familiar with the series, the episode where she gives a bottle of her hooch to some inmates after the death of a friend has a lot of truth to it. However, her turning down the opportunity to make money with it really didn’t fly because that is the number one reason people make the stuff.
So, today let’s talk about alcohol and inmates. People are always asking: can you drink in prison?
In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:
Some people ask if you can drink beer in prison, and this question is baffling to me. The answer to this is a huge, “NO.” Beer isn’t available to buy at the commissary, and making it is absolutely impossible.
There is never a Shawshank Redemption situation where a group of inmates get to drink a beer provided by an officer. It will most likely never happen in a modern American prison.
From my experience, the only beverages provided to the inmates at the chow hall are milk or coffee at breakfast, and “juice” at lunch and dinner, which is actually watered-down Kool-Aid. Sometimes, they had the option of tea. I’m not a tea drinker, so that never interested me.
On the commissary list, there were four different types of soda that you could purchase, and the brands changed on a quarterly basis. As a rule, you could buy Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Root Beer, and Dr. Pepper. But, the prison’s canteen council—which was made up of inmates—would usually change out the Root Beer and Dr. Pepper and bring in other options like Cherry Pepsi or Sprite.
There were also flavored drink packets and juice that you could buy, as well as coffee and hot chocolate.
When it comes to alcohol in prison, it’s all about pruno, or prison wine. Also known as toilet wine, hooch, brew, raisin jack, and moonshine, some inmates can make alcohol with items they can get their hands on from the chow hall or the commissary.
The basic recipe consists of old fruit like oranges or grapefruit, sugar, and water. Then, you basically mash up the fruit, add the sugar and water, then mix it together and seal it up in a plastic trash bag. The last step is to wrap it in a towel and let it sit in a dark place. After a couple of days, you need to add some kind of yeast, which is usually pieces of bread or a biscuit from the chow hall. Then, you have to let it sit for several days so it can ferment.
The reason it’s known as toilet wine is because in prison cells that have a toilet inside, inmates usually put the sealed bag up inside a toilet to reduce the chance of officers finding it. I lived in dormitory-style housing that had a community bathroom at the end of the hall, so hiding the bag in the toilet wasn’t an option.
I witnessed inmates hiding their bags in the wing’s laundry room underneath the washer or the dryer. This way, if an officer did find it, it was just thrown out and no one got in trouble because it wasn’t in anyone’s possession.
To fight the problem of prison wine, many facilities have banned fresh fruit at the chow hall and they won’t sell sugar on commissary. To get around the sugar problem, all you have to do is buy ketchup because it is loaded with sugar.
If they have banned fresh fruit at chow hall, it is often replaced with canned fruit of some kind. Food service workers will smuggle out the canned fruit and potatoes to help start the wine-making process.
I have never been a drinker, so I never tasted the hooch that inmates made. However, I have heard from those who have tried it that it tastes horrible, but it definitely does its job and can get you hammered.
Worse than the taste is the smell. It literally smells like crap. So, during the fermentation process, it’s a huge risk to open the bag to check on the progress because the smell can get you busted.
But, you do have to burp the wine so it doesn’t explode. This is an extremely quick process, and you always have someone looking out for guards while you do this. To cut down on the smell, people will put a dryer sheet on their fan for an air freshener.
Inmates who have a knack for making toilet wine—and have access to the items needed to make it—can make some decent money if they make this their hustle. A cup of the stuff can cost an inmate numerous soups (packs of ramen noodles), stamps, or cigarettes.
Do you think you could drink toilet wine? Are you surprised that this is a real thing and not just something in the movies? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: A Handy Guide To Drinking In Prison https://punchdrink.com/articles/a-handy-guide-to-drinking-in-prison/ Pruno, or Prison Wine https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pruno Do People in Prison Really Make Toilet Wine? https://people.howstuffworks.com/prison-toilet-wine.htm
Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.
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