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Dispatches From Burnside, Episode Three: Toilet Brews, Butt Flushing and Cooking Off.

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
[Photo: Vincent King via flickr]
[Photo: Vincent King via flickr]

By Phoenix

BURNSIDE CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, NOVA SCOTIA - No matter how many times I say it, the biochemical principle that disaccharides must be enzymatically decomposed into monosaccharides prior to fermentation seems to be completely lost on these hardened criminals. Self-professed “Brew Masters” will hear none of it. Each has his own brew mythology that he religiously swears by.

Brewing alcohol in jail has been a curiosity of mine ever since Hollywood made portrayals of potatoes in toilets. Even with my years of experience making real home-brew on the streets, I puzzled over the jail version of this delicate process.

It turns out, strangely, that Hollywood had it portrayed fairly accurately. Some people actually do ferment potatoes and other weird things into their brews. I've seen peaches, pears, apples, applesauce, bread, peppermints, life-savers, random vegetables, and the most useless of all, sucrose, ie. those little packets of white sugar. Even a beginner at home-brewing knows that you need dextrose (corn sugar) or another monosaccharide for the fermentation process to work. Usually on the street, malt or fruit juice is used, which contains glucose and/or fructose.

Even still, people throw in hundreds of packets of sucrose, wait a couple of days – which isn't enough time to ferment in any case – and then drink the warm sugar-water. Drinking that much sugar will make pretty much anyone sick. So when they become violently ill, they assume it is because they are drunk and rave about the amazing brew they just made. This is more an example of the psychological placebo effect than the biochemical fermentation process.

The fact that they all use apple juice as the base liquid means that there is indeed a trace amount of alcohol produced, which can be smelled and triggers processes in the brain of an alcoholic. It is quite a fascinating case study.

Some of the weird stuff that goes into these brews decomposes into something that smells and tastes like smouldering rubber. A mere whiff of it is enough to turn the stomach. For an alcoholic whose minimum serving is ten drinks, this nausea equates to drunkenness.

The toilet aspect involves putting the brew liquid into a sturdy plastic bag and inserting it into the toilet. The cold toilet water is removed by “butt flushing” it down the drain. “Butt flushing” is where you seal your cheeks over the rim of the airplane-style toilet so that it is air tight. Then, you force your butt down to plunge the water out through the U-trap in the bottom.

A little-known fact is that if you drain the last bit of water by soaking it up with a cloth, there is a suction produced by the direct access to the drain pipe. Sound travels really well through that drain, so it would probably be a good way to communicate long-distances, like from range to range. But fortunately, the pipe isn't big enough to escape from Shawshank-style.

After the brew-bag is inserted into the empty toilet, hot water is poured around it for quicker fermentation. This bag method isn't the greatest, since the spent yeast gets mixed into the end product, instead of settling to the bottom. This hardly matters here, where connoisseurs are few and far between.

Some brew gurus use empty pop bottles. This would be better, except their process involves a bizarre end-step they call: “cooking off”. Sucrose is added, which jostles the carbonation in the fermented apple juice, causing it to fizz. Popular brew mysticism equates this fizzing to rapid-fire fermentation in thirty seconds flat. Also, hot water is poured over the bottom where the dead yeast is settled, causing it to heat up and rise to the top of the bottle. Yet another voodoo brewing tactic.

There are varying sources of yeast here, such as fruit peels and cracker crumbs. The best source is an already-half fermented brew. Any bottle that has ever contained brew has trace amounts of yeast and will auto-magically ferment any apple juice stored in it.

There are hazards to brew making, besides vomiting up a truckload of sugar. One particular night I recall having a dream, that it was raining. It was most annoying because it was sticky rain that smelled weird. I gradually became aware that some of this dream was happening in real life. In fact, it turned out that a brew on the bookshelf above my head had tipped over and was raining alcohol on me in my sleep.

With the toilet brew method, obviously urination has to be done into the sink. As for “number two”, that gets complicated.

Burnside policy for getting caught with a brew in your cell is a ten-day lockdown. This means you are stuck in your cell for twenty three hours a day with nothing to do but make brew. Being locked down also means you have plenty of advance warning when a search is coming on the range. So you can chug the brew before the guards get to you. So from the perspective of the institution, your behaviour is improving, because you get caught with less brew.

From a perspective of reality, your alcoholism is worsening. And you are becoming more sneaky about it. This fundamentally flawed divide is pretty standard at Burnside for all behavioural issues. It is so severe and prevalent that my observations have caused me to arrive at an opinion: I believe the primary cause of Halifax being number one or number two on the worst crime rate cities in Canada can be directly attributed to the severely flawed operation of the Burnside jail.

Despite the official institutional operational documentation, my insider observations have uniformly seen social behaviours worsen among inmates housed here. This occurs mostly out of necessity. I've even seen this change in myself. Perhaps later I will describe the “Sheriff Car Incident” and the lead-up towards it, which involved a twenty eight day hunger strike.

Simply trying to stifle a behaviour in the absence of understanding the underlying cause of the behaviour is like pressing on an air bubble under wall paper. It is going to pop up somewhere else. The only way to truly correct errant behaviours is to facilitate an environment of honesty and openness. When even the justice participants themselves lie under oath on the stand in court, what positive role models are there in society today?

All around me I see children trying to raise other children, and understandably not doing a very good job of it.

End Transmission.

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