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Pruno: The Truth Behind Prison Wine

Clinically Reviewed by: Charee Marquez, LMFT

In correctional facilities across the world, inmates have devised ingenious methods to produce their own illicit alcohol, often referred to as “pruno” or “prison wine.” Using a combination of everyday items like fruit cocktail, all the sugar, and even plastic bags, these makeshift brewing processes have become part of the folklore of prison life. This illicit fermentation process, conducted in secret under the watchful eyes of correctional officers, transforms mundane ingredients like apple juice or orange juice into potent homemade alcohol, providing a temporary escape from the harsh realities of confinement.

What is Pruno (Prison Wine)?

Pruno is a form of homemade alcoholic beverage, often associated with its production in correctional facilities, particularly prisons. Inmates create pruno using a simple and makeshift fermentation process, making use of ingredients that are accessible within the constraints of prison life, despite it being considered contraband.

Consuming alcohol in prison, such as pruno, carries significant risks and consequences, including health hazards, disciplinary actions, and potential legal repercussions.

Types of Pruno Recipes

There are various types of pruno, each with its own variations depending on the ingredients available and the creativity of the inmates. Here are some common types:

  1. Fruit-based Pruno: Typically made from fruit cocktail, oranges, apple juice, or other fruit juices, which provide fermentable sugars needed for fermentation.

  2. Bread-based Pruno: Inmates sometimes use bread or other starchy items to add carbohydrates to the mixture, aiding in the fermentation process.

  3. Sugar Cube Pruno: Made using sugar cubes or granulated sugar to boost alcohol content during fermentation.

  4. Ketchup or Tomato Paste Pruno: Occasionally, inmates incorporate condiments like ketchup or tomato paste to enhance flavor or as a source of additional sugars.

  5. Yeast-enhanced Pruno: Some versions include yeast, which accelerates fermentation and can increase alcohol content, if available to inmates.

  6. Stinger Pruno: This type involves using heat sources like a radiator (stinger) to speed up fermentation, although it poses additional risks due to the use of non-food-grade materials.

  7. Trash Bag Pruno: Made in plastic trash bags or other containers that can be sealed and hidden easily within prison cells.

Each type of pruno reflects the ingenuity and resourcefulness of inmates in utilizing available resources to produce alcohol despite the constraints of prison life.

Why do Inmates Make Pruno?

Inmates make pruno, or prison wine, for several reasons, engaging in illicit brewing to create a temporary escape from reality:

  1. Escape from Reality: Prison life can be harsh and monotonous. Pruno provides a temporary escape and a way to cope with the stress and boredom of confinement.

  2. Lack of Access to Alcohol: In many correctional facilities, alcohol is strictly prohibited. Making pruno allows inmates to circumvent this restriction and indulge in a substance that is otherwise forbidden.

  3. Socialization and Bonding: Sharing pruno with fellow inmates can foster camaraderie and a sense of community within the prison environment.

  4. Economic Reasons: Purchasing alcohol or other substances in prison can be expensive or difficult. Making pruno is a cost-effective way for inmates to satisfy their desire for alcohol.

  5. Resourcefulness and Ingenuity: The process of making pruno involves creativity and resourcefulness, which can provide a sense of accomplishment and empowerment in a challenging environment.

  6. Routine and Ritual: For some inmates, making pruno may become a routine or ritualized activity that provides structure and purpose amidst the monotony of prison life.

Despite the risks associated with pruno production—such as disciplinary actions, health hazards, and the potential for increased tensions among inmates—it remains a persistent practice within certain prison subcultures.

Origins of Pruno

Pruno traces its roots back to the confines of correctional facilities, where inmates have long sought ways to circumvent restrictions on alcohol consumption. With access to limited resources and strict regulations prohibiting alcohol, prisoners have devised creative methods to produce their own homemade brews. The exact origins of pruno are unclear, but its practice is believed to have originated in the United States prison system, where it has proliferated in various forms over the years.

Cultural Significance of Pruno

Beyond its practical purpose as a source of alcohol, pruno holds cultural significance within prison communities, serving as a symbol of resilience, camaraderie, and defiance in the face of adversity. The act of brewing and sharing pruno fosters bonds among inmates, providing a temporary escape from the harsh realities of incarceration. Additionally, pruno is often associated with creativity, resourcefulness, and a sense of ingenuity in making do with limited resources.

How is Pruno Made?

The process of making Pruno is both creative and risky, as inmates have to work with whatever ingredients they can acquire discreetly. Here’s a glimpse into the steps involved:

A key ingredient in making pruno is the fruit mash, which is created by mashing up oranges and fruit cocktail. The mixture is often placed in a plastic trash bag for fermenting the alcohol. To aid in the fermentation process, inmates use hot running water and hot water to heat the bag of mashed fruit, sugar, and ketchup. Additionally, warm water is used to activate the yeast before it is added to the fruit mixture.

1. Gathering Ingredients

Inmates collect a variety of fruits, such as oranges, apples, and even raisins, which serve as the primary sources of fermentable sugars. They often hide these ingredients and secretly gather them over time.


  1. Fruit: Pruno typically involves the use of fruits with natural sugars, such as oranges, apples, or fruit cocktail.

  2. Sugar: Additional sugar, often in the form of sugar packets or other sweeteners, is added to provide fermentable sugars.

  3. Water: The mixture requires water for the fermentation process.

  4. Yeast: Inmates may introduce yeast into the mixture to facilitate fermentation. Yeast is naturally present on the skin of fruits, but additional sources may be used.

  5. Plastic Trash Bag: A plastic trash bag is often used for fermenting the alcohol.

2. Creating the Mash

The fruits are then mashed or crushed to extract their juices. In some cases, bread or leftover food is also added to the mix to enhance the sugar content. The resulting fruit mash is a key ingredient in making pruno, a type of homemade wine often made by inmates in prison.

3. The Fermentation Process of Pruno (Fermentation Process)

The extracted juice and mashed ingredients are combined in a container, commonly a plastic bag or a makeshift vessel. To kick-start fermentation, inmates rely on wild yeast present in the environment. The mixture is then sealed and hidden away for several days. To aid in the fermentation process, inmates often use hot running water and hot water to heat the bag of mashed fruit, sugar, and other ingredients.

Fermentation Process:

  1. Mashing: Inmates mash the fruit to extract juices and break down the pulp.

  2. Combining Ingredients: The mashed fruit, sugar, water, and sometimes additional ingredients like bread, are combined in a container. Warm water is added to activate the yeast before incorporating it into the fruit mixture.

  3. Concealment: The mixture is often placed in a concealed container, such as a plastic bag, pillowcase, or makeshift fermentation vessel.

  4. Fermentation: The mixture is left to ferment, allowing naturally occurring or added yeast to convert sugars into alcohol.

  5. Fermentation Time: The fermentation time can vary, but it may take several days for the alcohol content to develop.

Side Effects and Risks of Pruno

While pruno may be ingenuously crafted within prison walls, it carries significant risks and potential side effects due to its unregulated production, unpredictable potency, and the use of makeshift ingredients. Here are some of the risks and side effects associated with pruno consumption:

  1. Alcohol Poisoning: Pruno can vary widely in alcohol content, making it difficult to gauge potency. Consuming pruno with high alcohol content can lead to alcohol poisoning, characterized by symptoms such as vomiting, confusion, loss of consciousness, respiratory depression, and even death.

  2. Dehydration: Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production and can lead to dehydration. In a prison environment where access to clean drinking water may be limited, excessive consumption of pruno can exacerbate dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, potentially leading to health complications.

  3. Gastrointestinal Distress: The fermentation process used to produce pruno can introduce harmful bacteria and contaminants into the mixture, increasing the risk of gastrointestinal infections and digestive issues such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

  4. Liver Damage: Chronic consumption of alcohol, even in small quantities, can place strain on the liver and increase the risk of liver damage and disease over time. The unregulated nature of pruno production may exacerbate this risk, particularly if the brew contains impurities or toxins.

  5. Addiction: Pruno, like any alcoholic beverage, carries the risk of addiction and dependence with long-term or excessive consumption. Individuals who regularly consume pruno may develop tolerance, requiring higher doses to achieve the desired effects, and experience withdrawal symptoms when abstaining from the drink.

  6. Mental Health Effects: Alcohol abuse, including pruno consumption, can have detrimental effects on mental health, exacerbating symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders. In a prison environment already characterized by stress, isolation, and limited access to mental health resources, pruno consumption may worsen existing mental health issues.

  7. Legal Consequences: Possession, production, or consumption of pruno within correctional facilities is often prohibited and can result in disciplinary action, extended sentences, or other legal consequences. In addition, inmates caught with pruno may face charges related to the possession of contraband or illegal substances.

  8. Safety Risks: In addition to the health risks associated with pruno consumption, its production and distribution within prisons can create safety hazards for inmates and staff. The clandestine nature of pruno brewing may involve the use of makeshift equipment, unsanitary conditions, and potential conflicts over access to ingredients or finished product.

Overall, pruno consumption poses serious health, legal, and safety risks for individuals within correctional facilities. While it may offer temporary relief or escape from the challenges of prison life, the potential consequences of pruno consumption far outweigh any perceived benefits. The difficulty of determining how much alcohol is in pruno adds to its risks, potentially leading to both short-term and long-term health problems. As such, individuals are strongly discouraged from producing or consuming pruno and encouraged to seek safer and healthier alternatives for coping with stress and boredom while incarcerated.

The Dangers of Pruno

While Pruno may offer a brief escape from the harsh reality of prison life, it comes with significant risks:

Prison hooch, another term for homemade prison alcohol, also poses dangers such as uncertain alcohol content and the risk of botulism.

1. Health Hazards

Prison-made alcohol is unregulated and often unsanitary, leading to potential health hazards. The consumption of Pruno can cause various illnesses, including botulism, due to contamination from improper fermentation practices.

2. Legal Implications

Possession and consumption of Pruno are strictly prohibited in correctional facilities. Inmates caught with it may face disciplinary actions, lengthened sentences, or the loss of privileges.

3. Addiction Concerns

As with any form of alcohol, Pruno carries a risk of addiction. Inmates using Pruno as an escape may find themselves in a vicious cycle, leading to further complications.

Pruno represents a fascinating intersection of creativity, necessity, and defiance within the confines of the prison system. While its production and consumption are fraught with risks and legal consequences, pruno serves as a testament to the human capacity for adaptation and survival in the most challenging of circumstances. As we explore the world of pruno, we gain insight into the resilience and ingenuity of individuals navigating life behind bars, where even the simplest pleasures take on profound significance.


Despite the risks of disciplinary action and the potential dangers of consuming homemade alcohol, pruno recipes continue to circulate within prison walls. For inmates, these clandestine practices represent more than just a means to an alcoholic beverage—they embody resilience and resourcefulness in a challenging environment. However, the production and consumption of such substances highlight ongoing issues within the criminal justice system, underscoring the need for comprehensive approaches to rehabilitation programs and substance abuse treatment. As discussions around alcohol content, fermentation techniques, and the consequences of discovery persist, the phenomenon of pruno remains a complex testament to the human drive for ingenuity, even in the most restricted of circumstances.

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What are some variations of pruno recipes?

Pruno recipes vary widely based on available ingredients and the creativity of inmates. Common variations include using different types of fruit juices, adjusting sugar content, or incorporating additional flavorings like ketchup or tomato paste.

How do correctional officers monitor or prevent pruno production?

Correctional officers employ various methods to detect and prevent pruno production, such as routine searches, monitoring inmate activities, and educating inmates about the consequences of making or possessing alcohol.

What are the implications of pruno within the criminal justice system?

Pruno highlights challenges within correctional facilities, including substance abuse issues among inmates and the need for effective rehabilitation and support programs to address underlying causes of alcohol production.

Can pruno production lead to health risks?

Yes, the fermentation process involved in pruno production can lead to health risks such as bacterial contamination or high alcohol content, which can pose dangers to inmates’ health if consumed.

Are there cultural or historical aspects to pruno production?

Pruno production has become a cultural phenomenon within prison subcultures, reflecting themes of resourcefulness, ingenuity, and defiance against institutional rules, as well as highlighting the socio-economic disparities and challenges faced by incarcerated individuals.

No, Pruno is illegal and strictly forbidden within correctional facilities.

Inmates often resort to making Pruno due to the lack of access to commercial alcohol and the desire to find temporary relief from their challenging circumstances.

Pruno poses significant health risks due to its unregulated production and unsanitary conditions. It is not safe for consumption.

Inmates caught with Pruno may face severe disciplinary measures, prolonged sentences, or other penalties depending on the facility’s rules.

Yes, like any alcoholic beverage, Pruno can lead to addiction, making it a dangerous choice for inmates seeking solace.

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