MAKE YOUR OWN PRUNO AND MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON YOUR SOUL.
Pruno, a prison wine created from fruit, sugar and ketchup, is such a vile and despicable beast in the California state penal system that prisoners can't eat fresh fruit at lunch.
Back in December 2002, the warden at Lancaster prison in Los Angeles County removed fresh fruit from box lunches in the maximum-security lockup, as an effort to reduce violence. Apparently, sober, scurvy-addled felons are much easier to control than drunken, violent convicts.
So, perhaps this plan is flawed. And perhaps it's also worth noting that exactly one year earlier at a different L.A. County prison -- the Peter J. Pitchess Detention Center in Santa Clarita Valley -- hatched
a scheme to let inmates pick grapes at a winery and shag golf balls at a local driving range. While the County's effort to combat pruno are suspect, there's no deny that pruno is a huge problem, increasing the levels of violence and allowing convicts to continue their had habits while in prison.
In the first 270 days of 2002, staff at Lancaster prison were assaulted 102 times -- about once every three days.
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
Even people who have never had any trouble with the law can learn to make this horrible, putrid beverage!
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.
What's all this fuss about? The Black Table decided to investigate.
The Recipe For Prison Pruno*
* -- derived from the Jarvis Masters poem of the same name -- SEE SIDEBAR.
Ten oranges. In our prison commissary, Valencia oranges were on sale, ten for $2. Your prison commissary may differ.
An eight ounce can of fruit cocktail. In this case, an 8.5 ounce can of Del Monte's "fruit cocktail in heavy syrup," for 90 cents.
Forty to sixty sugarcubes. Either hang out with old people who still use sugarcubes or steal a ton of sugar packets from the local deli.
Sixteen ounces of water. Tap is fine, since like, you *are* in prison.
A big plastic bag that can be sealed. Trashbags and rubber bands are totally cool. We used Ziploc bags.
Some ketchup. Six packets of ketchup from the local deli should cover things nicely. Please use Heinz, because anything else is kinda nasty and will ruin your Pruno.
STEP ONE -- PEEL, SMASH AND HEAT.
In a San Francisco Chronicle article from 1990 called "The Games Guards Play," author Dannie Martin describes how prison guards -- or hacks -- would search prison cells for any sign of pruno. But instead of taking it away, the hacks who were really hell-bent on getting even would piss in it. As Martin quips, "Wine that has been urinated in several times is far too presumptuous, even for a convict's palate."
Several times? So, like, you could piss in it once and some people just wouldn't notice, or wouldn't care, and they'd drink it anyway? Pruno is vile. Perhaps it's the vilest beverage ever concocted. Time to see how the other half lives.
REMEMBER TO FEEL THE HATE.
1. Toss the oranges into the Ziploc bag. 2. Open the can of fruit cocktail and dump it into the bag, along with your own emotional cocktail of nihilism, depression and crippling boredom. 3. Mash them furiously, feeling the anger of being unjustly sentenced to hellish bourgeois existence of cable television and suburban shopping malls. 4. Squeeze in
a state of frenzied self-involvement.
You now have a big bag of gushy fruit. In order to take that fruit to the next level, you're going to need to heat it up to get the process going. But prison cells aren't outfitted like the local Crate and Barrel, so you're going to use hot water to warm the bag enough to get it up. to snuff.
DROWNING YOUR SORROWS.
1. Go run the hot water in your bathtub. 2. Now that the fruit has been beaten to a pulp, throw in sixteen ounces of water and mingle together. Double check that Ziploc seal to ensure you don't spill orange goo all over the place. As the water begins to steam, allow the sneaking feeling that you'll never amount to anything run down your spine. 3. Place the bag under the tap for 15 minutes to heat it up.
BE PATIENT AND SLIGHTLY PARANOID.
1. You will now have a large, ominious Ziploc bag of warm crap. 2. Take the pruno, tenderly, like a proud parent of a newborn and wrap it in a towel, so it can stay warm and speed along the fermentation process. 3. Stash "Baby Pruno" extremely well, so none of the authority figures in your life will start asking questions and have to be shanked later on. Once your bag of festering fruit is hidden, wait 48 hours while constantly paranoid someone will find your pruno and steal it. Accuse everyone. Refuse to sleep.
STEP TWO: A SPOONFUL OF SUGAR.
After 48 hours of sitting in a warm place, that bag of mashed fruit will attempt to become a crud-filled beach ball, as the gases released from the start of the fermentation process swell the plastic bag.
Once the bag is opened, you'll immediately smell something yeasty and foul, like bread dough that's been raised on the mean streets of South Central. This smell is a good thing. It means you're ready to feed your pruno.
To speed along the fermentation and also to impart a better taste, you're going to have to add something sweet to the mix.
1. This means it's ketchup and sugar time! After you've befreinded that old person and raided the local Burger King, 2. add two big old squirts of ketchup 3. and 50 sugar cubes. Swish around the ketchup and sugar a bit, which will give the pruno a reddish tint, then go run that hot water. Stinky Baby Pruno needs a bath. Real bad. 4. Instead of 15, run the pulp under the faucet for a full 30 minutes to ensure the sugar is fully absorbed into the fermenting fruit juice. 5. After heating the bag, wrap it up again -- we used a bigger towel for our
Baby Pruno is smelly-welly.
growing Baby. 6. Remember this image, for it is the last time you'll see Baby for three days.
STEP THREE: RINSE, LATHER, HEAT, REPEAT.
With the sugar feeding the fermentation process, Baby Pruno will continue to give off gas as alcohol is produced. Make sure to keep a close eye on Baby Pruno, because if you're not careful, the bag holding Baby Pruno will pop, letting nasty orange pulp and mushy fruit cocktail seep all over the place. This happened when we were making pruno and the apartment smelled like Newark for three days.
Now that everything's together, all you have to do is wait, heating the bag up under hot water for 15 minutes once a day for the next three days. Once you're done with this last push, the pruno is "ready" to drink.
THE HOME STRETCH
The last three days of pruno making are not very strenuous, but in the spirit of providing complete, easy-to-follow
directions, we present the final steps. 1. Heat the bag. 2. Wait a day. 3. Heat the bag. 4. Wait a day. 5. Heat the bag. 6. Wait a day. 7. Prepare to die.
Since it's a reflective moment, what with you preparing to die and saying your prayers and all, lets take a look back on the pruno making process and celebrate your considerable achievements. Below you can find, the Prunar Calendar, which outlines the entire process you've gone through. Look at all that waiting you did between steps! Well, the wait is almost over.
STEP FOUR: CUT THE CRAP, LEAVE THE JUICE.
All of the hard work is just about finished now and rivers of illicit -- and possibly toxic -- prison hooch await you. The final step merely involves separating the rotting fruit from the quasi-alcoholic juice, and it smells. Oh lord, does it smell.
1. After a week's worth of being heated up and wrapped in a towel, your pruno will be a mushy bag of fruit glop. 2. As this picture shows, pruno looks almost exactly like vomit. Oddly it smells like vomit, too. 3. Spoon out the fruit mash, leaving behind only the liquid. 4. You middle-class wannabe felons can use a strainer to ensure none of the fruit remains slip into the beverage. 5. Of course, this strainer does little to stop the mold, which you can see in that white splotch right there. 6. Without the fruit you will have
enough pruno left over to fill about two pint glasses.
STEP FIVE: TIME FOR A LITTLE ROMANCE, NO?
There's nothing quite like a hand-crafted vintage of pruno to get those embers of lust burning bright. Ask that little prison batch you've had your eye on to split one of these with you and he'll be tossing
salads like the caterer at a weight-loss convention.
Pruno does, in fact, seem to have some kind of alcoholic content. An odd burning sensation accompanies the first sip and the liquid gives off the tell-tale stink of booze goodness. In a place were violence is common and household cleaners double as anti-depressants, you can see why pruno is so very popular.
The only drawback pruno has, aside from its unappealing tannish-orange color, the white flecks of mold floating on the top and the smell you can't wash off, is its taste. For lack of a better
metaphor, pruno tastes like a bile flavored wine cooler. It tastes so bad, in fact, that it could very well be poisonous or psychedelic, which might explain the violence it induces in prisoners.
In the end, pruno stands as testament to the lengths man will go to in order to suckle on freedom's teat, even if it means getting food poisoning in the process.