The stereotypical prison TV show or movie will generally make light of, make fun of and romanticize making prison wine.
Liquor or wine made by inmates in prison is known by many names:
- Raisin Jack
Most people watch old movies related to the Prohibition Days, and find themselves rooting for the bootleggers. It’s a general consensus that although illegal, consumers desperately wanted liquor in their lives.
You probably gasp with the rest of the audience when the sheriff comes through and busts up the still. How dare he deprive an entire community of that moonshine… that white lightning???
Fast forward to prison life today. In federal prisons, there are some really good moonshiners. “Everyone” wants to be their friends. They’re considered to be true craftsmen, which gains them major respect from other inmates.
However, there are serious consequences that come with being caught cooking up a batch of Pruno. Even getting caught under the influence of Hooch could land a prisoner in a world of trouble.
That means that when prisoners make their own wine in jail, it must be on the “hush hush” at all times. This requires just as much skill as prison brewing does.
NY Daily News reports:
Prison wine (often called “hooch” or “gut rot”) is made by combining water, sugar, citrus fruit and a little bit of bread.
A common recipe consists of using several cans of V8 or orange juice, a pound or two of sugar (or several bottles of honey), pieces of fruit (oranges, pineapple, etc.), and a piece of bread for the yeast.
Usually, a “kicker” (a bottle from a prior batch) is also used to jumpstart the brewing process. A batch can be ready in as little as three days, or — without the kicker — up to a week.
Regular prison wine is sold in 16.9- or 20-ounce water bottles, or a similar amount is placed in a tied-off piece of a plastic trash bag. Each bottle or bag retails for about $5. It typically takes two bottles of prison wine to get visibly drunk.
Prison moonshiners take the craft a bit further. They start with only the highest quality and strongest wine, which is directly related to the quality of the moonshine they’ll cook off it.
They take this strong batch of regular prison wine, place it in a bucket or trash bag, and then distill it using a “stinger” — a stripped piece of wire plugged into a wall socket — to heat the wine.
As it heats, the alcohol evaporates into an affixed hose, which is then placed into a second container to collect the moonshine. The best prison moonshiners will cook off this initial batch a second time so that it is of the highest potency.
It sells for much more than the wine: A bottle of prison moonshine (called “clear”) goes for about $50. Generally, it takes only half a bottle to become visibly intoxicated. It’s stiff stuff, brewed to burn.
You might be wondering how prisoners get away with this type of operation under the watchful eyes of the guards. Prison winemakers hide their containers in their lockers, bury them in the recreation yard or hide them in supply rooms or behind tile walls for the few days it takes to brew.
It’s much riskier for those making moonshine. After the wine is done brewing, they still must cook it — and that results in a noticeable foul odor. (It’s been compared to extreme flatulence or a dirty diaper.)
They tend to work in the dead of night in their cells, taping up the doors and vents to keep the smell from escaping. During the day, they might cook in a prison storage area where the guards don’t often go.
And, of course, sometimes they get caught.
Being found under the influence or in possession of prison alcohol is a serious violation of Federal Bureau of Prisons disciplinary regulations. Anyone caught is escorted directly to the “hole,” solitary confinement, where he will sit until he sees the discipline hearing officer.
When he finally has his hearing — the wait can be more than a month — he will be sanctioned to more time in solitary (30, 60, 90 days or more) and will lose certain privileges, such as using the phone or the commissary, or visitation.
He’ll also be placed on the “hot list” for two years and periodically will be subjected to a breathalyzer screening.
There’s also the possibility that a bad batch will cause severe illness. In June, officials said an outbreak of botulism affecting 20 inmates at a Mississippi prison was possibly linked to drinking contraband moonshine.
It’s a dangerous business, but a very lucrative one. In a place filled with lawbreakers, many of them substance abusers, there will always be someone willing to pay for that quick high — and someone ready to help them scratch the itch.