Slang of the Week: fish kit (noun phrase)
a bag of supplies given to new prisoners (used primarily in California)
Jason hoped that he’d be able to use something from his fish kit to dig a tunnel out of prison, but the toothbrush broke in half after a few minutes.
“Each new arrival received a fish kit (with toiletries and hygiene items, paper and envelopes and pencil), a bed roll (with towel, wash cloth, sheets, pillowcase, and blankets); she had to sign for a combination padlock for her locker. There were many administrative tasks to perform at reception, so that it was easy for staff to forget the human dimension of the process.”
-Amnesty International Report: A Visit to Valley State Prison for Women
As it often happens, I found this week’s slang while researching something else. I’d heard about pruno, a nasty, alcoholic prison drink containing fruit cocktail, ketchup and other not-so-delicious-together sounding ingredients, and I was curious to find out how it was made.
But while on my quest, I found an interesting site about Jarvis Masters, a California death-row inmate turned Buddhist, who wrote a poem called Recipe for Pruno. While the poem is about his death sentence, it also includes instructions.
Take ten peeled oranges,
Jarvis Masters, it is the judgment and sentence of this court,
one 8 oz. bowl of fruit cocktail,
that the charged information was true,
squeeze the fruit into a small plastic bag…
If you’d like to make some yourself (or if you are interested in poetry) you can find the complete recipe in the text of the poem at http://www.freejarvis.org/case/. But in case you don’t go and look, I will save you the suspense—it contains no prunes.
In his book, Finding Freedom - Writings from Death Row, Masters begins his incarceration at San Quentin in 1981 by cleaning his cell until he “was convinced that [he] could eat a piece of candy that had dropped onto the floor.” He finds the cleaning materials in his fish kit, including detergent and a towel. The towel will come in handy later, since you need one to make pruno. The kit is so named, by the way, because new prisoners are called fish.
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“I told that Kraut a fuckin' thousand times, I don't roll on Shabbos!” translated quotes from The Big Lebowski.