Life behind bars gets sweeter all the time.
There are weight rooms and basketball courts and cable TV. And law libraries better equipped than most private legal firms.
What’s next? you may wonder - cocktails and a wet bar?
Don’t laugh. Three stumbling-drunk Spokane County Jail prisoners recently were caught after bingeing for seven hours on homemade banana daiquiris.
“The only thing missing from these drinks were little umbrellas,” says Sgt. Mike Rohrscheib.
Lax supervision of inmate kitchen help is as much to blame as the participants in the Oct. 18 boozefest. It is routine for only a civilian cook to oversee a dozen or more prisoners who prepare food for the jail’s 600 inmates.
Inmate volunteers save the county more than $1 million a year in labor costs, which is great. But giving inmates access to knives and cooking supplies is like letting the wolves guard the sheep.
Jail officials say volunteers Bradley Joyner, Jose M. Mendoza and Byron Grendahl started downing daiquiris when they began their 4 a.m. kitchen shift.
“It was like a big ol’ party down there,” says Joyner, 25, who is prison-bound on drug charges. “Our eyes were all red. We were slopping food all over the place.”
The good times stopped rolling about 11:15 a.m.
By then, the tipsy trio had guzzled almost a gallon of high-test hooch made from banana extract, yeast and sugar. This moonshine, attests Joyner, had more kick than 100-proof whiskey.
Grendahl, 35, was voted most toasted. Joyner says he was mumbling about wanting to place a mass telephone order for pizzas.
“Thank God he didn’t,” says Rohrscheib, cringing at the thought of a truckload of pepperoni pies suddenly showing up at the jail lobby.
The three revelers, the sergeant says, were as wasted as any inmates he’s seen in 19 years in corrections work.
Although Grendahl, jailed on drug charges, was laughable, prisoners “don’t tend to be happy drunks in here,” adds the officer.
Joyner, for example, was charged with felony assault for punching an officer who tried to move him. “Every time I get drunk, I get violent,” Joyner concedes.
Mendoza, 35, who awaits trial for armed robbery, also was charged with assault, plus malicious mischief for smashing a color television set.
“All I remember is waking up with two more felony charges and a hangover,” he says. “It’s a good thing the rest of the kitchen staff wasn’t drinking or there’d have been a small riot.”
Getting tanked in the tank is a tradition as old as the chain gang. Anyone with a rap sheet knows the recipe for pruno - a crude, foul-smelling wine that can be brewed in a cup or plastic bag.
Fruit is saved from meals, then smashed into pulp. Add water, sugar and a glob of white bread for yeast.
The trick is keeping guards from locating your pruno stash until it ferments enough to give a cheap buzz.
Cons in a real hurry add a dollop of ketchup to speed up the process, says Lt. Steve Jackson, who has confiscated plenty of pruno during his 20 years at the jail.
“Forty-eight hours - that’s vintage pruno,” adds Jackson. “Now, 72 hours - that’s the expensive stuff.”
It’s amazing how much ingenuity and energy the jailhouse gang uses to beat the system.
Inmates turn Bic shavers into lethal weapons. Oranges and apples are used to fill bottles of Old Convict.
In September, a couple of prisoners carefully unraveled the elastic out of their underwear. They lowered the makeshift fishing line over the edge of the fourth-floor basketball court.
The inmates were snagged before accomplices below could hook a bag of cigarettes to the line. Cigarettes sell for $200 a pack in Spokane’s smoke-free jail.
If only these jailbirds would focus their thoughts and efforts on something worthwhile.
They might discover how truly sweet life beyond bars can be.