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Pruno

November 1st, 2006

BY DEAN SUESS

“Stuff these down your pants.” “Say what?” Underneath the table, Thug One handed Patsy One a wad of sugar packets.

moonshinejug.png“Shut the hell up. What’s the matter with you? You are so stupid. Don’t look around. Don’t look suspicious. Don’t make a scene. Jesus, how did you ever get into prison? Hell, you don’t know the first thing about being a convict. Just shove ’em down your pants so the pigs won’t feel ’em if you get pat searched — right next to your balls.”

Several unsubtle attempts were aborted, because the pigs, alerted to the goings-on by the verbal exchange and furtive casting about, kept looking in their general direction. Finally, Patsy One packed the sugar into his undoubtedly soiled underpants, adjusted his own package, and left the chow hall, looking for all the world the embodiment of guilt. His co-conspirator, Thug One, followed separately and equally obvious, Convict and Thug status notwithstanding. How either got back to his cell without a pat search is beyond me. They were transparently suspicious in character, posture, overt crotch-scratching, and the glaring over-achievement of clandestine activity. This was the third day in a row Thug One had coerced Patsy One to sneak ingredients back to the cellblock. Day one was bread. Day two was fruit. Day three was the sugar.

What were they up to? What was cooking? I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t Christmas cookies. They planned to brew up a vat of the joint’s version of Mad Dog 20/20, a low-alcohol content concoction known as Pruno. The holidays, in truth, were coming up quickly, and they had to have some libation with which to toast the season and commemorate their misery.

Home brew is a time-honored tradition throughout the world. Mention moonshine and most Americans will immediately think of Appalachia broadly painted in scenes created and preserved by Hollywood’s silver screen (Deliverance, or The Beverly Hillbillies, for example). We have instilled the manufacture of white lightening, Deliverance aside, with a certain charm. Home stills in the backwoods elicit all manner of wistful imagery. Sadly, there is nothing charming about the manufacture of Pruno. It is ready for consumption, if it ever is meant to pass human lips, as quickly as two week’s brewing time. The sugar and fruit, excited by the residual yeast in the bread, bubble and fuss their way into beverage rather quickly. The brewers, excited by the prospect of consuming and/or selling their ill-gotten spirits, also bubble and fuss throughout the two-week ordeal. Pruno “improves” if you allow it six weeks, but most cons can’t wait that long. Besides, there is real difficulty in finding a suitable hiding place for the Pruno to ferment. Out at a work camp, this is less of a problem, the woods being suitably hard by for a quick dash to establish and monitor the transformation. Inside the main institutions, though, it is a real trick to manage two or more weeks of undiscovered fermenting. First, there is the smell, which is as revolting as the finished product. In fact, beginning in mid-November, custody staff make regular Pruno checks on a daily basis, simply by entering each cell and sniffing the air.

The most successful brewers put the ingredients in several layers of plastic bags, issued for trash (how appropriate). These are then tied shut, secured to the end of a long string, and flushed down the toilet. The string is difficult to see, the bag is easily retrieved, the Pruno (as disgusting an effluvia as any) suffers no ill (or good) effect from being in the sewer system.

Brewed in the sewer only to return to the sewer is Pruno’s life cycle. The body, unused to such delectation, sometimes reacts with deleterious effect, which unfortunately brings us back to the beginning of this article with its soiled underpants.

So as the holidays draw on apace, pause a moment, you on the Outside, and raise a jar of your favorite bubbly to forgotten men of unquestionably bad character. Then rejoice that your libation is permitted, potable, and pleasurable, not something you had to sneak home in your underpants and brew in your toilet. Happy holidays. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Smoking & Drinking Issue, Suess | Link to this Entry

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