How inmates make their Vodka.

Inmates have created quite an innovative culture here. They have come up with ways to pass messages, their own “prison” sign language, how to make lighters, tattoo guns, tattoo inks, hot pots, wine, vodka, and much more. These tricks and trades have been passed down from inmate generations, and they still go strong today.

The first step in making vodka is first making wine… in there they call it Pruno (I guess because it used to be made out of prunes). To make the wine they’ll save the fruit they get; mainly apples and oranges. They will also save their juice boxes.

Once they have enough, they’ll mash up the fruit, put them into a plastic bag, add the juice and maybe some warm water. Some of them might add a little bread so the yeast in it will help it ferment.

They seal the bag and then let it sit for awhile while chemistry takes over.

Now sometimes, officers will find these bags in their rooms, and what do they do with it? They will dump it on the yard. One time, an officer dumped it all over the basketball court, so for a whole week if you wanted to play basketball you played with the lovely smell of rotting fruit in the air.

Once they feel the mixture is ready ( I think they wait a week or two), filter the contents so the liquid is separated from all the pulp. Once they’ve done that… TA-DA, it is wine! Enjoy. Some say it tasted nasty but gets the job done, others say when they make it, it actually tastes really good.

They have the wine, but want something STRONGER. So they go into phase ll… vodka. This step is fairly easy if they have all the items they need.

All you do is take the wine, pour it into a pot, put it over the hot pot and let it boil. Before boiling it though, you have to make a plastic contraption that goes over the pot. It has to be positioned so it catches all the first steam (because thats really the potent alcohol) and lets it drip down into a bowl.

Let it boil for a bit, until your bowl or cup is filled with a clear liquid, or vodka.

Bottoms up!

Do you care about what others think about you to much?

I am definitely guilty at times…        

And when I do, I find myself in a prison I have locked myself in.

I feel most people have locked themselves in this prison at least once. It’s the kind where after every interaction with someone thoughts will flood the mind and sound like this:

 "Did they understand what I said?" "I wonder what they really think." "Should I have said that differently?" "Did I hurt their feelings?" "Do they secretly not like me? "Are they going to gossip behind my back?" "Are they judging me for that?" "Can I really trust them?"

It’s the kind of prison that heightens anxiety, feeds your shame, and isolates your true self from the world.

It is dangerous to stay locked in there for long.

But you see, as someone who holds herself to a standard of living like Jesus in a place where Jesus’s character would seem foolish and wrong, it’s easy to fall into the prison of what others might think of me.

When I don’t live up to the standard of Jesus’s all loving character and setting an example for those around me, I worry that others won’t think of me as Christlike. When I do live up to Jesus’s all loving character, people around me might judge it or misunderstand it. There is no winning here.

I have to remind myself:

Jesus didn’t die on the cross and set you free from sin, only for you to lock yourself up in a prison you yourself created.

Actually, what I have noticed is, every new born Christian has a prison they put themselves in from time to time. Whether its the prison of achieving, the prison of comparison, the prison of anxiety, the prison of unbelief, the prison of validation through relationships, the prison of past hurt, the prison of low self-worth, the prison of unhealthy habits, the prison of pride…..  the list goes on.

But this is not because our faith is weak or because we are not doing it right… it is because we are still affected by the fall- the human condition… That is why God sent his “Helper” when Jesus ascended into heaven.

So how should we break free from the prison’s we put ourselves in?

We call on the helper.

Now notice how the bible calls him the “Helper” not the “Solver.”

“I will send you the Helper from the Father. The Helper is the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father.” John 15:26

I think many of us sometimes call on the helper expecting him to be a solver. Rather, his purpose is to help you see truth, but it’s up to you to believe it. In other words, he will give you the key to unlock the prison door, but it’s up to you to put it into the lock, unlock it, and walk out.

When I care to much about what other people think of me, or what other people might be saying about me…

The helper will remind me of these truths:

It is dangerous to be concerned with what others think of you, but if you trust the Lord, you are safe.” Proverbs 29:25

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

“Am I saying this now to win the approval of people or God? Am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Galatians 1:10

“It is better to take refuge in the LORD Than to trust in man.” Psalm 118:8

But of course, this doesn’t mean we should go balls to the wall and not care at all what people think, God did call us to be wise about it:

Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15

For we are taking great care to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord, but also in the eyes of men.” 2 Corinthians 8:21

It comes down to the heart. We should care what others think about us (to a degree), but not to please people. Instead we should care what they think about us in a way that pleases God, because what people think of us is representative of what they think of God.

It’s a balance between honoring God through the way we live, with the right heart, and being wise in how we do it, as to not stir up conflict or cause people to feel hurt or offended.

I posted awhile back about how where I work is one big balancing act, and this is definitely one of those things I am learning to balance. If you’d like to read that post you can find it here:

In conclusion, if you ever find yourself in your own prison of whatever it may be, let the spirit of truth help you and give you the key. Then take that key, unlock the door, and get the crap out of there.

Update on the Weenie Guy

He was a ticking time bomb.

I knew he was the moment I first had him in my first group. However, who he would go off on or I guess (jack off) on was a spin of the wheel… and whom ever it landed on would get the unfortunate prize.

I’ll save you the suspense… it wasn’t me!

I did have a group with him once though where I had to tell him to keep his jump suit tight… I don’t exactly know what I saw or catch him in any act, but I know it wasn’t good.

The next time I to went to “Round” or go to the cell’s to ask the Inmate Patients if they wanted to attend group, I addressed it with him:

“Hey Shivers, I just want to remind you that your jump suit needs to be synched all the way, and keep your hands up and away from your privates. I’d really appreciate it!” I said in a light hearted/ serious manner.

“Alright I know, HANDS UP, DON’T SHOOT!!” he responded followed with a snicker.

I thought that was funny… “Hands up, don’t shoot.” As if their ‘thing’ was something you could point at someone… as if it could be a threat to someone… as if it was something that could hurt someone…

But then I learned what he did to get into prison, and let’s just say what he did made him saying “Hands up, don’t shoot” an extremely twisted ironic statement. It was something so sick I’m not even going to mention it here, but when I saw him in group later that day I really had to practice grace and forgiveness.

Regardless, he was respectful towards me then on, and left no room for guessing where his hands were. I was thankful for that.

Last week, I got the long awaited news through email:

The subject read: “IEX INICIDENT”

I opened it and low and behold, the time bomb went off!!  Inmate S had IEX’ed a clinician in a group and now he had to where the Marshmellow Suit if he wanted to come out in the future.

A wave of relief washed over me. My heart broke for the clinician he went off on, but I heard later it didn’t effect her at all and she was fine, so hallelelujah.

What is the marshmellow suit you may ask? It’s a big white semi thick long sleeved, long pants, jumper that zips up in the back, for IEX’ers to wear during groups. It prevents them from accessing their “Gun” so to say…

Usually what happens though is Inmates are too embarrassed to go to group wearing that, so needless to say… I haven’t seen Inmate S in awhile (:

They call him “Big Teddy Bear”

Every Saturday I help run a book club on our level 2 Yard, known as Echo Yard (E Yard). Right now we are reading a book called “All the Light You Cannot See.” So far it’s been a good book for discussion and a good catalyst for a deeper look into the lives of some of the inmates.

Last Saturday one of the guys, let’s call him Will, opened up about his past. I first met Will a year ago on another yard and the first conversation we ever had was about how he had survived 7 bullet wombs. I think the conversation started because I asked him if he was staying warm through this cold weather. The conversation led to him telling about how his joints hurt because of the cold and how since some of the bullets are inside him and made of metal, those also get cold, and he can feel it. It’s not a comfortable feeling.

After that conversation I knew he was someone who had been through a lot, and I got more of a glimpse the other day as he shared a story about his mother…

It was a Friday morning and also the day he would be turning 7. He got ready for school, but as he was running out the door his Mother stops him.

“Nope you’re not going to school today, you’re spendin your birthday with me” He got excited and said “Okay!”

They got in the car and drove to his Grandmother’s house. Now his Grandmother did not have a lot of money and set aside money every week for groceries. When they got there the house had no food, and Will’s Mom told him and his Grandmother that she’s taking her grocery money, and going to go buy some cake and ice cream for his birthday. She tells Will and his grandmother she’ll go pick it up and then bring it back.

Hours go by and Will and his Grandmother sit in the house starving… waiting. Finally it gets to be late at night, Will is hungry and knows his Mom probably didn’t actually go get cake and ice cream. I’m guessing his Grandma was a frail old poor lady with no car to drive, because Will didn’t know what to do and felt he was left with only one option… to walk home.

Can you imagine a small seven year old African American boy, walking 30 blocks starving and ALONE, through south central LA (an area heavy in gang activity), on his 7th BIRTHDAY, all because his Mother didn’t show up with the cake and ice cream like she said she would.

He made it home okay, thank God. As he walked in there were people around his house hanging out with his mom, all drunk and high… I guess by “Cake and Ice Cream” she meant “alcohol and weed…”

He went up to his mom, and as a naive innocent little child would, he asked “Mom, I thought we were going to spend the day together, I thought we were going to eat cake and ice cream? Why did you leave Grandma and I alone starving?”

She turns to him and just says “Son if I can do something like this to you, imagine what other people out there would be able to do.”

I don’t know what lesson she was trying to teach him, or if this was as bad as his mother got, but he wrapped up the story there with stating that instances like that turned him into a very violent and angry person. Didn’t have any empathy for anybody.

But coming to prison forced him into self growth and self realization, which lit a fire under the block of ice his heart was frozen in. A block of ice that people like his Mother helped create. It seems though, that it has been melted for awhile. So much so that his warm essence would have no one EVER guessing that he was once an angry violent man. So much so, that they sometimes refer to him as “The Big Teddy Bear.”


Last Friday afternoon I received a text from a friend:


I don’t work Fridays, so when I got this text from a friend who has no relation to the prison I knew something big must of happened. I immediately thought of my coworkers, and hoped everything was okay.

Later that day when my coworkers were off work I was able to get the low down of what happened….

There was a HUGE riot.

What happened? Was any one hurt? Are the other RT’s okay? …I urgently texted my coworker in the  middle of shopping at Trader Joes.

The seconds between his response seemed like minutes while waiting for a reply, which didn’t make the process of narrowing down what snacks I wanted to buy any easier.

I honestly think I did a few laps down the same aisle grabbing something then putting it back, then grabbing something else, then deciding that I wanted both, so putting what I had originally put back, back into the cart…

Anyways I finally got a reply and here’s the whole report:

There was a huge riot at approximately 0900 on A Yard. There were around 50 inmates involved and 10 of them were injured. 1 of them apparently so injured he had to be helicoptered out of the institution.  Any news station you could name was at the prison gathering information, video footage, and reports of what happened.

Later upon returning to work the next week I learned that the rumors about the Mexicans were not as much rumors as they were truth…

You see, the Mexicans were MAD.

They didn’t like SNY inmates (Sensitive Needs Yard- these guys are the gang drop outs, snitches, child molesters, and trans-genders)  being sent to A Yard or I guess “Their yard.” And in case you weren’t aware, here on General Population yards, your race determines a lot. People stick with their kind for the most part. It’s gang politics. That’s just the way it is.

There have been rumors about the Mexicans threatening to stab people and cause all sorts of trouble, in order to try and get it to stop. And there have been small stabbings on other inmates, and weapons being found these past several months….

So I guess it finally got to the point where they said “Screw it, they’re not listening, let’s just start a freakin’ riot.”

And one beautiful Friday morning the Mexicans woke up and started attacking the White guys. Any White man was fair game. The Blacks apparently were kind of just able to scoot toward the side line and avoid trouble. Like I said… your race determines a lot around here.

That night our institution shipped out about 26 inmates that were the supposed aggressors.

And over the weekend, just as the rain washed all the blood away as if nothing had ever happened, so did our Supervisors… washing any concern or memory away and only 3 days later we are up and running program like nothing ever happened…     typical.


RT telling riddles… “What has holes but is filled with water?”
Inmate: A bong!
RT: No… a sponge, that was a valid guess though.


Inmate: We do ghetto yoga
RT: What’s the difference between ghetto yoga and regular yoga
Imate: We use a twister mat with the colors
RT: Like left hand green right foot red type of thing?
Inmate: YEUP


Inmate: Yea this Yard’s crazy, you see stuff that you never thought you’d see
RT: Like what?
Inmate: I’ve seen a guy go from a gang bangin killer, to a full on transgender, back to a man gang bangin killer, then to a long haired dread locked muslim!


Inmate: Aint it what it is…
RT: I think your grammar is a little off
Inmate: What??!
RT: *a little louder* I think your GRAMMAR is a little off


To view all inmates as humans, or all humans as inmates…

 Or maybe…. we are all both, inmate and human.

What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be an inmate?

Inmates are forced to give up their human rights when coming to prison, often creating a self outlook that they are less than human. That the world would be better without them. That they don’t deserve to run free. That they are broken. That their worth is defined by the cuffs around their wrists and the label on their shirt… “Inmate”

Without even realizing it they will become comfortable in that new identity of being worth nothing, even though their insides are being ripped apart by their own clawing for meaning, purpose, and hope…

Because though they wear the “Inmate” label, though they can be treated like animals at times, they never stopped being human. At the core (even though for some of them it’s deep deep DEEP down there) they still need to feel safe, they still long for love and affection, they still feel emotions, they long to belong somewhere, to have a purpose.

I think we are all inmates. We are imprisoned by what I call the “human condition,” which is our lack of perfection. The parts of us that are broken, selfish, and undeserving of freedom. Or in short, the parts of our humanness that cause us to sin.  

Jesus once said “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34). And it’s true, I have not met one person who is perfect. We all are a slave to sin. We are all imprisoned by the human condition. We are all broken.

And at the same time, we all long to rise above the brokenness and have meaning, purpose, and hope…

We are all both, inmate and human.

But neither of those labels defines our freedom. I have met inmates more free than humans, and humans more imprisoned than inmates, and there is usually a common theme… the inmates here that feel more free than some humans out there almost always believe in Jesus.

Right after Jesus told of how everyone who sins is a slave to sin he says this:

“Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

He is referring to himself, the son of God.

“Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8: 2

We are all both, inmate and human, but though that will always be apart of our nature here on Earth, those labels do not have to define our freedom or our identity. It’s crazy the change and freedom that can come when you accept Jesus as your Lord and savior.

“You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free” John 8:32

So if you have never heard about this truth, or accepted this truth, but understand what I mean when I say we are all broken and are seeking freedom… then I encourage you to explore it (: