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There is an old saying that claims “necessity is the mother of invention.” The overwhelming evidence that proves that saying is true can be found behind prison walls. Inmates have extremely limited access to items that people in the free world take for granted. This means that everything is repurposed and nothing goes to waste.
Limited access to items also forces inmates to get creative if they want any creature comforts from home. If you want a warm pair of socks to wear during winter, you have to knit them (or pay someone to knit them for you). If you want to read a good book, you have to make a request through the library or ask your family to mail a popular title through Amazon.
If you want to drink alcohol and forget about your troubles for a few hours, an inmate’s only option is to make prison hooch. This leads us to today’s topic: what is prison hooch and how do inmates make it?
In this blog post I will cover the following topics:
Prison hooch is known by many different names. Some call it prison wine or toilet wine, others call it pruno. But no matter what you call it, one thing is for sure – you won’t enjoy drinking it. Hooch is made from moldy bread and other food items inmates can get their hands on. It’s also cooked in showers and strained through nasty prison clothing. Trust me, you don’t want to drink it.
There are basically three different types of hooch that you can make in prison: fruit wine, potato wine, or tomato wine.
Before an inmate gathers their hooch ingredients, they must make sure they have the proper tools ready. Most inmates will use a pair of prison khaki pants to cook and store their hooch. Yes, a pair of pants.
First, you have to cut off the legs as high as possible. Then, you have to sew up the bottoms and line the legs with two trash bags.
As one former inmate told The Fix, “You need sugar and water; two pounds of sugar per gallon of water. Unless it’s fruit wine—then only one pound of sugar per gallon.”
Once you have your pants lined with trash bags, pour two and half gallons of water into each leg. Next, add five pounds of sugar, five cups of your main ingredient (diced tomatoes, oranges, apples or fruit cocktail) mashed, and one cup of ketchup per pant leg.
This will “help kick it off and make it turn faster.” As the fruit rots, the hooch cooks and ferments, turning the sugar into alcohol. But, this is a process, and you have to know what you’re doing. Ventilation is extremely important.
“Wind the top of the trash bags together around a pen case—leaving an opening—as close to the liquid as possible, to let it breathe,” the prisoner says. “You rubber band around the tubing tight. Then take the pant leg and roll it up to right above the opening and tie it off. Then you have to find a place to hang the bag at.”
Finding a warm place that a prison guard won’t notice is a challenge. But, you have to have a warm place because it will cook the wine quicker. It has to be able to sit for a week untouched. Even longer without a kicker. Most inmates will find a place in the shower, behind a toilet, or in a vent.
Inmates can make a kicker out of old potatoes or tomato paste. But, the best kicker option is yeast. Of course, that’s extremely difficult to get your hands on inside of a prison.
“You can make a kicker in a small vitamin bottle,” the prisoner says. “You get some old fruit, like orange wedges, and put it in the bottle with some sugar and water and let it rot,” the inmate said.
Once the wine has cooked, you have to strain it through nasty prison socks.
Every inmate makes their prison wine in their own unique way, based on what they have access to. Here is one recipe from a former inmate.
What You’ll Need:
Combine all the ingredients and tie off the bag leaving plenty of room for the gasses to expand into. Let it sit for five days, “burping” the bag once a day to let off the gases. (Best to do this right after nighttime ID count, since the guards won’t be by for a while and the odor of fermenting juice is pungent). If the odor starts to get sour, add more sugar.
After about a week, it should be ready to drink…if you dare.
If you know how to make hooch – and it is drinkable – you can make good money behind bars. A half-gallon can be sold for as much as $25. And, you can get five gallons into a pair of pants. Making hooch is a good hustle. But you have to really know what you are doing to make a good hooch and to get away with it.
There are a lot of ways to get busted while making prison wine. Burping it at the wrong time can cause a smell the guards won’t ignore. Placing it in the wrong spot to cook can also get you busted.
“When you’re making wine it’s about when you’re doing it and how. It’s illegal, so you got to be smart,” said one former inmate.
Would you drink hooch if you were behind bars? Let us know in the comments below.
Sources: How to make prison hooch https://www.thefix.com/content/how-make-hooch-prison90986 How To Make Prison Wine (The Craft Version) https://www.lamag.com/drinkrecipes/how-to-make-prison-wine-the-craft-version/
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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