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Monday, February 11, 2013

Prison Hooch -- January 18, 2013

Yesterday, the prison was placed on lockdown as a special tactical unit of guards searched D House looking for hooch. The lockdown came as a surprise to me and I had began my day with a preset schedule in mind. Thursdays, my cell house goes to lunch first and has afternoon yard. Therefore, I ate a small breakfast and dressed in my state supplied blue clothing. For lunch prisoners were to be fed shredded chicken and noodles, a meal probably not particularly appealing to most people. However, it was rare prisoners are fed real unprocessed meat and I was looking forward to it. I was also looking forward to going to the South yard. The South yard, unlike the other two, was a vast area with a quarter mile track and a few debilitated iron weights as well as exercise benches. Prisoners in the quarter units only have access to it twice a month or less.

The first feed lines go out before 9 a.m. Dressed, I waited for chow to be announced on the cell house speaker. Typically, men are told to be on standby so they can put their cells in compliance and get ready to leave, however, nothing was said. Even work details were not announced which was unusual. They are sent to their assignments as soon as count clears and before any feed lines. I did notice a few cell house workers going about picking up garbage, sweeping and mopping floors as usual. Furthermore, telephones were brought out and eventually a couple of visits were announced. Initially, I believed there was a delayed count, but it became increasingly obvious to me the penitentiary was on a low level lockdown. Sitting on the edge of my bunk I began to read a Wall Street Journal.

The main news on television as well as the newspaper was the president's proposals to curtail American's 2nd Amendment rights to bare arms. Ever since the mass shooting last month at a Newtown, Connecticut grade school, Barack Obama along with the support of the liberal dominated news media has been pressuring for more gun legislation. The murders of 20 children are being used to emotionally manipulate the public to give up one of their greatest rights in the Constitution. The right to bare arms was not forefront in the founding fathers of the republic's minds so they could go hunting or for self defense. It was to prevent tyrannical government. Yet the president on Wednesday surrounded himself with children to use as pawns for political expediency. It was even more absurd these children were asked what they thought should be done, as if they had some great wisdom to offer. Later in the day, I heard Rush Limbaugh rightfully mocking the fiasco. I was greatly amused when he used a "South Park" cartoon accent when he pretended to be some of the children giving advice to the president.

Styrofoam trays were passed out about an hour before noon. I asked the cell house worker who gave me the trays about the reason for the lockdown. He told me the Orange Crush was in D House searching the quarter unit for hooch. This did not make sense to me. The special tactical unit was never assembled to look for the makeshift prison alcohol. It did not require any force of manpower or thorough inspection to find the fermented liquid in large plastic garbage bags or bottles. At times, administrators would order regular cell house guards to go in and out of cells before Christmas or New Year's Day. It was quick and easy to open up a couple of boxes or look behind them and spot the containers. Visual inspection was often unnecessary because the pungent smell usually gave it away. The prison worker said this was no ordinary hooch search and already over 10 gallons were found.

The cell house worker I spoke with coincidentally goes by the name of "Hooch." He is a bald Caucasian man with a gray beard. He has been incarcerated for a couple of decades and possibly since the 1980's for a murder conviction. Hooch has been in prison so long he no longer has any family or connections with the outside world. His job seemed to give him a great deal of meaning and I could tell it meant a lot to him. He is regularly moving about the cell house voluntarily assisting in things not required or expected of him. He also works as a clerk helping out with some of the paperwork staff needs to fill out. Hooch in his old age is becoming deaf and a little senile which causes some razing. The fact he is a practicing Jew probably does not help. I am not certain how he began to be called Hooch, but I assume long ago he liked to make or drink it.

In the 1980's or 90's, drinking or making hooch was much more prolific and typically ignored by guards. Guards did not even put inmates in Segregation for it unless they had over 5 gallons in their cell. If a few gallons or less were found, they would simply dump it out without writing a disciplinary ticket. Some guards drank heavily before coming to work and a few even drank on the job. Alcohol was legal and an accepted vice in prison. It also made little sense to discipline adult men for drinking when there were much more serious concerns to address. The primary concern of guards was that it was not mass produced or recklessly consumed. Before the turn of the century, guards did not routinely intervene in the lives of prisoners. It was largely operated and controlled by those who lived there rather than those who worked an 8 hour shift.

Not surprisingly, alcohol contributed to a number of fights and assaults in the penitentiary. Inmates who were under the influence of alcohol lost their inhibitions and common sense. I saw many people act foolishly as well as violently. Fights in prison are commonplace and drunks were typically separated. Sometimes, they were confined to their cells by fellow gang members until they sobered up. Guards usually did not intervene and expected prisoners to be responsible. I once had a cellmate who was in the Aryan Brotherhood and refused to stay in his cell when drunk. He cursed and threatened guards, even one who was in the gun tower with a rifle. A couple of inmates and guards asked me if I would escort him back to the cell. He would not listen to me and I was contemplating physically forcing him back. However, he soon thereafter threw a punch at a lieutenant and was handcuffed and taken to Seg.

Disputes between two drunk rival gang members were the most problematic. Not long after I was sent to prison, a North Sider and Latin Disciple fought each other over some drunk-induced insults. I was on the other side of the yard lifting weights while they circled each other underneath a guard tower with knives. Eventually, the North Sider cut up and stabbed the other man until he fell to the ground. He was not dead and afterwards the two gangs tried to resolve the dispute without escalating the violence. However, the Hispanics wanted their pound of flesh. On the return from the chow hall, they ambushed the white men at the end of the line in a tunnel. It was cowardly because they singled out a few weak stragglers who had nothing to do with the incident except for one of them being the person who provided the alcohol. I do not know if this was a coincidence or done deliberately, but the man was known to make the best moonshine in the penitentiary.

Hooch is simply fermented juice. It is made out of citrus fruit, yeast and sugar. Prisons have stopped selling sugar, and fruits like oranges are rarely served to make hooch more difficult to make. However, there are various different substitutes that can be used. Hooch is a hodgepodge blend of any type of citrus fruit or juice, bread, and sugar based product prisoners can get their hands on. The concoction is usually put in a garbage bag and occasionally opened to air out. Fermented juice has a very pungent order and prisoners will usually wait until after midnight when there is less movement to let it breathe a little before resealing the bag. It takes about a week or longer to make hooch but the process can be shortened by heating. Some men will foolishly put makeshift immersion heaters directly into the liquid. The electric current will dissolve the metal into their hooch making it toxic. Those who drink prison-made hooch which is prepared improperly can over time experience serious health problems.

Hooch is a noxious drink I have never tried my entire 20 years incarcerated. Just the smell of it makes me nauseous. Prisoners who want to get drunk or buzzed, however, find some way to down the coarse, lumpy, and disgusting fluid. They also do not care about the side effects whether it be diarrhea, vomiting or brain damage. Oftentimes men must confine themselves to their cells when drinking hooch just to be close to a toilet. According to rumors I heard today, D House not only smelled like rotting juice but vomit, and toilets were regularly flushing.

Although I have never tasted hooch and never will, I have taken a shot of moonshine. Years ago, men not only made hooch, but whiskey. Very few prisoners knew how to distill the alcohol and it was not as common. It is much more difficult boiling off fermented juice and catching the alcohol vapors drip by drip into another container. In the 90's, moonshiners made a lot of money in prison selling little honey bear containers of alcohol for $10. I recall men testing the value of a moonshiner's product by lighting a flame to it. If it was good whiskey, it stayed on fire. The North Sider who made moonshine could double distill his product so that it was nearly 100% alcohol, but he told me he rarely ever did because he did not get paid for the extra work. A honey bear which is half alcohol brought the same price as one that was nearly pure alcohol.

Yesterday morning, I did not notice any workers go out but a few industry workers had escaped my attention. On their return, one man who lives on my gallery walked by my cell while I was working out. I asked him what he had heard about the Orange Crush search. I was expecting him to elaborate on what Hooch had told me or verify the account. Instead, he told me guards were searching for a can of mace. On Tuesday, the new warden ran a hostage drill in X House. Last year, a hostage situation took place in the unit and I assume they wanted to be prepared for it just in case it happened again. The drill lasted for a couple of hours in the afternoon and apparently during this time a guard misplaced some mace.

After I finished working out and was bathing out of the sink, I spoke to my cellmate about the conflicting news. Why would the men have two radically different stories? Why was the tactical unit looking in D House for a canister of mace lost in X House? Why was the tactical unit being used to search for hooch? None of this made sense to me and my cellmate could not figure it out either. I told him I preferred if the first story was true because then the Orange Crush may not be sent to every unit and they would not be ransacking cells. Depending on how small the canister of mace was, they may upend most of our property. My cellmate said he would attempt to learn the truth when he was let out to work in the kitchen.

My cellmate prepares to leave for work early by leaving his shower supplies on the desk so he can reach them when he returns and immediately take a shower. While we were watching a Bellator mixed martial arts competition, he was playing with his wash cloth. I told him to put it down because he was making me nervous. I was joking with him because his victim was alleged to have a wash cloth shoved down her throat. He looked over at me and I told him to do a sobriety test. Anthony was supposedly drunk at the time he committed the murder. I am not worried about my cellmate in the least, even if he would become drunk on hooch or some moonshine. What would concern me is if he was taking psychotropic medications and drinking. This may make Dr. Jekyll turn into Mr. Hyde. I have seen some prisoners flip out when combining alcohol with psychotropics including a man who tried to stab me and would have if not for my quick reflexes and his intoxication. Sharing a cell with someone leaves you always vulnerable.

Today there were normal operations in the morning and apparently the tactical unit had completed their mission. I went out to lunch and prisoners spoke about how the Orange Crush had not done a total search of D House. Only about 30 cells were looked at for hooch. Very little was found and there was speculation most men who had some dumped it. There were widespread rumors that prisoners in the cell were regularly getting drunk and it alerted the suspicions of guards. The tactical team while searching cells also had numerous people submit to urine samples to be tested for drugs. I assume the administration thought if inmates were drinking, there may be a good possibility they were doing other things as well. However, I do not believe anyone tested positive.

When my cellmate woke up in the afternoon, he basically confirmed what I had already heard. Apparently, prisoners in D House were partying regularly and there was pervasive drinking of hooch. The cell house stank of the putrid juice and men were not only vomiting in their toilets, but in the shower. I asked him how many prisoners were found with hooch and taken to Seg. He said he was not certain but very few. I told him in the 90's, guards would conduct searches for hooch during the holidays and would not make an effort to catch anyone. They were simply satisfied that everyone who had some disposed of it. Possibly, the search was deemed a success even if little was found. The use of the Orange Crush also probably sent a message to inmates which may not have been achieved with the use of other guards.

I was able to talk with a prisoner who lives in the raided cell house and he told me how Internal Affairs had been aware of the pervasive drinking earlier. On Monday, they went directly to a cell and found a few gallons of hooch. The men were given a new cell in Segregation which was odd because usually there are no empty cells there. The cellmate who was making the hooch has not been getting along with the other man and immediately suspected him of snitching on him. From what I was informed, he severely beat him. Guards separated the two and the hooch maker may now be sent to Pontiac for the violent assault.

The canister of mace which was misplaced did not have anything to do with the search and lockdown. The Orange Crush was simply looking for hooch and testing inmates for drugs. I do not know if the mace was ever found. Often property is misplaced or lost by guards and other staff. The items are usually discovered in the most obvious and dumb places. I am reminded of a time when I was in Pontiac in the 90's and there was a big concern about a missing set of keys. It turned out a guard simply forgot to turn them in when leaving and brought them home with him. Possibly, he was drinking prison hooch.