How to Make Hooch in Prison

By Seth Ferranti 12/04/12

What is hooch and how do you make it?  Prison brewing involves some simple ingredients, some know-how...and an unwanted pair of pants, inmates explain to The Fix.

What Is Hooch?
$125 per leg Photo via

When drugs aren't available in prison, or when prisoners just prefer to get drunk, they'll turn to making wine, or "hooch," as it's called inside. There are a few options on the table: "There's different types of wine—fruit wine, potato wine and tomato wine. That's basically the three you can make in prison," a prisoner tells The Fix. The other ingredients are simple enough: "You need sugar and water; two pounds of sugar per gallon of water. Unless it's fruit wine—then only one pound of sugar per gallon." Next, you have to decide where to cook it and how to store it. "Take a pair of prison-issued khaki pants and cut off the legs as high as possible," says our man. "Sew the bottoms up and line them with two trash bags. Pour two and a half gallons of water into each leg. Then add five pounds of sugar, five cups of diced tomatoes and one cup of tomato paste per pant leg. This is to help kick if off and make it turn faster." The hooch cooks because when the tomatoes rot, they ferment, causing the sugar to turn into alcohol.

Ventilation is important. "Wind the top of the trash bags together around a pen case—leaving an opening—as close to the liquid as possible, to let it breathe," the prisoner says. "You rubber band around the tubing tight. Then take the pant leg and roll it up to right above the opening and tie it off. Then you have to find a place to hang the bag at." The warmer it is, the quicker the wine will cook. "Behind the toilet, in the vent, in your locker—anyplace where it can sit unmolested for 12 days. If you got a kicker, it will come back in six to nine days." Prisoners make kickers out of old potatoes, as well as tomato paste. Yeast is the best kicker option of all—but is very difficult to get inside. "You can make a kicker in a small vitamin bottle," the prisoner says. "You get some old fruit, like orange wedges, and put it in the bottle with some sugar and water and let it rot."

In most prisons winemaking is a lucrative business to be in; good money can be made from fellow inmates' love of getting out of their heads. "You can sell half a gallon of wine for $25," the prisoner says. "Each pant leg makes two and a half gallons, so you do the math. It's a good hustle. If you want to get away with it, a lot of factors go into it. Like if you're a troublemaker; if you stay out of the guards' way; who you sell to. I got away with it for almost three years at the last spot I was at. A lot of dumb dudes get busted because they don't know how to hide the smell, or where to stash it while it cooks, or how to break it down. When you're making wine it's about when you're doing it and how. It's illegal, so you got to be smart."

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After landing on the US Marshals Top-15 Most Wanted list and being sentenced to a 25 year sentence in federal prison for a first-time, nonviolent LSD offense, Seth built a writing and journalism career from his cell block. His raw portrayals of prison life and crack era gangsters graced the pages of Don DivaHoopshype and VICE. From prison he established Gorilla Convict, a true-crime publisher and website that documents the stories that the mainstream media can’t get with books like Prison Stories and Street Legends. His story has been covered by The Washington PostThe Washington Times, and Rolling Stone.

Since his release in 2015 he’s worked hard to launch GR1ND Studios, where true crime and comics clash. GR1ND Studios is bringing variety to the comic shelf by way of the American underground. These groundbreaking graphic novels tell the true story of prohibition-era mobsters, inner-city drug lords, and suburban drug dealers. Seth is currently working out of St. Louis, Missouri, writing for The FixVICEOZY, Daily Beast, and Penthouse and moving into the world of film. Check out his first short, Easter Bunny Assassin at You can find Seth on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.