Stinging For Their Suppers is a collection of stories and recipes by women who have lived in California prisons. While living at Crossroads, a transitional facility, these women wrote about cooking in their cells using an immersion heater, also known as a “stinger.” These stories demonstrate the women’s creativity, ingenuity, and resilience as they find ways to cook for each other, and in the process, create a feeling of home that they can share with other women.
The History of the Stinger
When I first came to prison in 1984, there wasn’t really any way to cook food. We had 20 gallon tanks under sinks to heat hot water. Once the 20 gallons had been used, you had to wait until the water heated up again. Just to get a cup of coffee or have a glass of hot chocolate took a long me. You would go out into the hallway to the TV room, and the sink would already have 6 or 7 Tupperware glasses lined up on the counter. This was a long drawn out process. On a unit of 120 women, you could end up waiting 30 minutes or more for your morning cup of coffee. This is part of the reason that the illegal stingers came into existence. At least with a stinger, you could heat up your water in your cell. The only problem was finding an available appliance that you could cut the cord off of to make your stinger. Blow dryers, fans – any appliance that wasn’t nailed down would lose a cord. None were safe. And the silverware was always disappearing from the kitchen. Spoons were the most popular, but forks were also used. In the mid-90s, the institution finally invested in putting stingers in the Canteen Store and allowing them in the institution. Most of us thought the reason was that they had to replace silverware too often in V.C. (Village Cafeteria), but I’m sure they got tired of people blowing out the sockets. You see, a handmade stinger that wasn’t well-constructed could blow out the power in every room, sometimes blowing up other TVs, which the institution would have to replace if owner processed a 602 (appeal complaint) and won.
“O.G.” (Original) Stingers
The original stingers were made from two stolen pieces of silverware from the chow hall, aka Village Cafeteria. The stinger consisted of metal utensils (spoons, forks, or knives) attached to an electrical cord that had been cut off of any appliance. The cord was stripped about two inches from the end, so that the wires could be wrapped around each utensil and covered with electrical tape, sometimes with the cap of a Bic pen taped to the side for the purpose of hanging the stinger on the edge of the cup or bowl. Any woman who worked in the maintenance department or inside day labor crew was able to get the tape for you. The utensils were taped together with a clothespin in the center, for a very good reason: the clothespin kept the spoons and wires separated so the positive and negative would not touch. You think Emeril has the corner on BAM? — just let the utensils touch.