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Pruno, or prison wine, is an alcoholic beverage variously made from apples, oranges, fruit cocktail, fruit juices, hard candy, sugar, high fructose syrup, and possibly other ingredients, including crumbled bread. Bread is incorrectly thought to contain yeast for the pruno to ferment. Pruno originated in (and remains largely confined to) prisons, where it can be produced with the limited selection of equipment and ingredients available to inmates. The concoction can be made using only a plastic bag, hot running water, and a towel or sock to conceal the pulp during fermentation. The end result has been colorfully described as a "bile flavored wine-cooler". Depending on the time spent fermenting (always balanced against the risk of discovery by officers), the sugar content, and the quality of the ingredients and preparation, pruno's alcohol content by volume can range from as low as 2% (equivalent to a very weak beer) to as high as 14% (equivalent to a strong wine).
Typically, the fermenting mass of fruit—called the motor or kicker in prison parlance—is retained from batch to batch to make the fermentation start faster. The more sugar that is added, the greater the potential for a higher alcohol content—to a point. Beyond this point, the waste products of fermentation (mainly alcohol) cause the motor to die or go dormant as the yeasts' environment becomes too poisoned for them to continue fermenting. This also causes the taste of the end product to suffer. Ascorbic acid powder is sometimes used to stop the fermentation at a certain point, which, combined with the tartness of the added acid, somewhat enhances the taste by reducing the cloyingly sweet flavor associated with pruno.
In 2004 and 2005 botulism outbreaks were reported among inmates in two California prisons; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suspects that potatoes used in making pruno were to blame in both cases. In 2012, similar botulism outbreaks caused by potato-based pruno were reported among inmates at prisons in Arizona and Utah.
Inmates are not permitted to have alcoholic beverages, and correctional officers confiscate pruno whenever and wherever they find it. In an effort to eradicate pruno, some wardens have gone as far as banning all fresh fruit, fruit juices, and fruit-based food products from prison cafeterias. But even this is not always enough; there are pruno varieties made almost entirely from sauerkraut and orange juice. Food hoarding in the inmate cells in both prisons and jails allows the inmates to acquire ingredients and produce pruno. During jail and prison inmate cell searches, correctional officers remove excessive or unauthorized food items to halt the production of pruno. Pruno is hidden under bunks, inside toilets, inside walls, trash cans, in the shower area and anywhere inmates feel is safe to brew their pruno away from the prying eyes of correctional officers and jailers.
In 2004 at the American Homebrewers Association's National Homebrew Conference in Las Vegas, a pruno competition and judging was held.
A variety of other prison-made alcoholic potables are known to exist. These include crude wines, famously fermented in toilet tanks. Sugary beverages like orange drink may also be fermented and distilled using a radiator or other available heat source. Though popularized in prison fiction, these techniques are slow and laborious, and generally result in a low alcohol content.
- B. Lance, Courtney (February 2015). Pruno, Ramen, and a Side of Hope. Post Hill Press. p. 266. ISBN 978-1618689252.
- Hardesty, Greg. "'Pruno' brew is the toast of the O.C. jail". The Orange County Register. Retrieved 2 May 2021.
- Vugia DJ, Mase SR, Cole B, Stiles J, Rosenberg J, Velasquez L, et al. (January 2009). "Botulism from Drinking Pruno". Emerging Infectious Diseases. 15 (1): 69–71. doi:10.3201/eid1501.081024. PMC 2660710. PMID 19116055.
- Hensley, Scott. "Botulism From 'Pruno' Hits Arizona Prison (7 February 2013)". NPR. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
- Hensley, Scott. "Botulism Outbreak Tied to Contaminated Prison Hooch (5 October 2012)". NPR. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
- LeDuff, Charlie (1 January 2003). "No Vintage California Pruno for New Year's? What's a Jailhouse Oenophile to Do?". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 February 2013.
- Wilkinson, William Richard (2005). Prison Work: A Tale of Thirty Years in the California Department of Corrections. Ohio State University Press. pp. 78–79. ISBN 0814210015.
- Masters, Jarvis Jay (2005-06-16). "Recipe for Prison Pruno". PEN America. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
- Finkel, Michael (21 December 2009). "How I Convinced a Death-Row Murderer Not to Die". Esquire. Archived from the original on 8 November 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
- Hardesty, Greg (8 June 2011). "'Pruno' brew is the toast of the O.C. jail". The Orange County Register. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
- "Jailhouse Hooch: How to Get Liquored Up While Locked Down" from Modern Drunkard Magazine
- Blacktable.com—a complete pruno recipe, including detailed instructions and frequent disclaimers.
- "Steve Don't Eat It, Vol. 8: Prison Wine"—extensive, humorous account of pruno preparation and tasting, with photographs, from The Sneeze.
- "How to Make Pruno: 8 steps"—on wikiHow
- "Jailhouse Pruno -- Homemade Booze: It'll Kill You"—story about pruno-making methods, pruno stashing, and the cost of pruno in Sacramento, California's New Folsom prison circa 1995.