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Inmates fire up sales of jail-produced hot sauce

  • Story Highlights
  • Florida minimum-security jail raises peppers, uses them in hot sauce
  • Three inmate-produced sauces available: "Original," "Smoke" and "No Escape"
  • Proceeds from sale of sauces goes back into jail's horticulture program
  • Jail program also teaches job skills to soon-to-be-released inmates
By Kim Segal and John Zarrella
CNN
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TAMPA, Florida (CNN) -- Some Florida minimum-security inmates want to know: Can you handle the heat?

The jail's hot sauces come in three varieties: "Smoky," "Original" and "No Escape."

Inmates work with peppers at the Hillsborough County Jail in Tampa, Florida.

Hot sauce heat, that is -- Jail House Fire Hot Sauce, cooked up by inmates at the Hillsborough County Jail and now offered for sale.

The idea to make Jail House Fire Hot Sauce came from a Cuban former inmate who thought food in the big house was bland.

Allen Boatman, the head of the jail's horticulture program, remembers what his former trusty said: "We're growing these peppers. Why don't we use them?"

Peppers are grown as part of the jail's horticulture program, which is voluntary and offered only to minimum-security trusties. The inmates learn about growing plants, ornamentals, trees, herbs and vegetables -- including more than 1,200 varieties of peppers.

"I thought that was a great idea, so I started doing research on some of the recipes," says Boatman. The research led to a variety of hot sauces that can be bought for $7 a bottle at the jail in Tampa, Florida, or online at www.jailhousefire.org.

There are three different sauces for sale:

  • "No Escape" -- This is the hottest of the hot, with a warning on the Web site: "It's not for the faint of stomach."
  • "Smoke" -- This is the sauce that inmate Marshall Deline recommends. "It's not as hot," Deline says, "it's more of a smoky flavor."
  • "Original" -- This is the favorite of customer Bill Bradley, who has used hot sauce on his foods for 49 years. "All three are distinctive," says Bradley, who considers himself somewhat of a hot sauce expert. "The 'Smoke' is a chipotle type, the 'Original' has a good bite but has a little bit of a fruity taste. And, of course, the 'No Escape' is on fire."
  • Coming soon is a fourth sauce: Misdemeanor. Video Watch how the inmates are in the hot sauce business »

    Orders for the Jail House Fire sauces have come in from as far away as Germany, England and even Australia.

    The inmates make no money from this product. The money goes back into an inmate fund that pays for things like the greenhouse where the peppers are grown.

    The horticulture program pays for itself, says Boatman, so no taxpayer money is used.

    Several times a year the program hosts a sale of its ornamentals, shrubs and trees, and the locals turn up to support the program. The money raised is used to purchase necessities like fertilizer and soil.

    A green thumb is not the only thing that inmate and program member Deline is developing, he says.

    "We learn a lot about professionalism, respect, teamwork, ya know -- all that helps," Deline says.

    And working in the fields is good for the inmates' self-worth, Boatman says.

    "They actually see something growing that they've been involved in. It gives them a lot of sense of pride and accomplishment," says Boatman. "Possibly that'll give them some momentum when they are released to go and get a job and start being a productive member of society."

    Boatman doesn't just wish his trusties a good future; he gives them an opportunity. When the inmates are released, they are given a certificate of completion in vocational horticulture. This certificate comes from the school board, with no mention of the program behind bars.

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    Deline hopes this will work in his favor when he starts looking for a job.

    "Florida is full of a lot of landscaping [and] landscaping companies, a lot of nursery companies," Deline says. "Maybe I can use the experience to better myself in the future."

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