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Pruno, or prison wine, is an alcoholic beverage variously made from apples, oranges, fruit cocktail, candy, ketchup, sugar, milk, and possibly other ingredients, including crumbled bread. Bread supposedly provides the yeast for the pruno to ferment. Pruno originated in (and remains largely confined to) prisons and jails, 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 "vomit-flavored wine-cooler", although flavor is often not the primary objective. Depending on the time spent fermenting (always balanced vs the risk of discovery by the guards), 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 or Vitamin C 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.
Making pruno from potatoes creates the risk for botulism and should thus be avoided. In 2012 botulism outbreaks caused by potato-based pruno were reported among inmates at prisons in Arizona and Utah. And in 2004 and 2005 botulism outbreaks were reported among inmates in two California prisons; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suspects in both cases that potatoes used in making pruno were to blame.
Inmates are not permitted to have alcoholic beverages, and prison authorities confiscate pruno whenever they find it. In an effort to eradicate pruno, some wardens have gone as far as banning all fresh fruit 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. Some jails and prisons toss the inmate cells to remove excessive food items and hopefully 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 prison guards 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.