April 05--AUBURN -- Inmates inside the Androscoggin County Jail are losing their peels.
Kitchen workers have been directed to peel bananas before they're served to inmates. The jail has halted the purchase of oranges.
Why? The inmates have begun secretly drying the peels and smoking them.
"It's been a problem for six or eight months," said Lt. Jeff Chute, the jail's assistant administrator.
Inmates have been using smuggled lighters or jury-rigged electrical outlets to spark their fruity cigars. Because smoking is not allowed in jails, any smoking material is considered contraband.
"They're doing it to get some kind of high, but all my research says there is none," Chute said. "It doesn't work."
An Internet search on smoking such peels turned up lots of entries, most suggesting that there's nothing more potent than a dash of vitamin C to be harnessed.
In 2012, the New York Times did a story tracing the legend to a hippie hoax that even invented a fictional LSD-like drug, "bananadine."
"With us, it started with bananas," Chute said. During a routine check, guards discovered a tobacco-like smell and traced it to the charred peels. "It's really pretty strong."
When the supply of bananas stopped, smokers turned to oranges.
"These inmates have all day, every day, to think this stuff up," Chute said.
Sheriff Guy Desjardins compared the practice with instances in which inmates hid food, which became fermented and was ingested. Rather than getting high, they got sick.
Any inmate found to be smoking fruit -- or anything else -- faces punishment that could include seclusion or loss of good time credits on a sentence.
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