How Drugs Grew in Our Prison Flower Beds for Over a Decade

    [Read Part 1 of this story here.]

    Charlie was someone you’d expect to be an easy target in prison, and in the early years of his unusually permissive job many assumed he was in the warden’s pocket; maybe a snitch. But in time, prisoners assigned to work with him realized he was alright. Word was put out to leave him alone, and for most of his 15 years on Georgia Department of Corrections garden detail he was left alone.

    A few staff members were in the know. Mainly the ones who’d been around a while, which was never many. They’d bring in special requests—tomato seeds and the like—and a few weeks later come out with a pallet of healthy plants that could reach maturity at home. But for the most part, COs walked past the attractive flowers each day without knowing any of them were functional.

    The business office gave Charlie about $50 each year for seeds. These were ordered out of proper gardening catalogs, from reputable companies, and so rather than listen to Charlie’s disorienting stream of Latin names staff just left him to order whatever he wanted. Which he did. This brings us to the Feel Good plants, which were grown in plain sight alongside the Feel Better ones.




    “Jimsonweed, Datura stramonium. It is unpredictable,” Charlie said. “Once the drug begins to have an effect, the change from sober to high is pretty fast.”

    Inside the thorny pod are dark purple seeds whose individual potency can vary greatly. Crush and steep in water that is hot, but not boiling. Sip, slowly, no more than one finger in a pill cup at a time. Await hallucinations.

    “This is a weekend drug,” Charlie said. “A Friday-night, sitting-on-your-bunk, out-of-the-way high. I usually just pull a blanket over my head and enjoy the show.”





    Another Datura genus plant was the tolguacha. Large and trumpet-like flowers, in red or yellow or white. Rather prettier than the jimsonweed.

    “Every part of this plant will get you high, but a different high for each part,” Charlie said. “The root will trip you out like jimsonweed. The flower, though, is a great muscle-relaxing body high. And the leaves are a very mild, Xanax-ish head high.”

    Charlie consumed some of these cooked and some raw. He never tried smoking any of them, though he did say that when the flowers were pollinating you could catch a buzz off the smell alone. Hard to tell whether he was joking at times.

    People generally associate the psychoactive properties of morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) with its seeds. Charlie, pointing to the purple flowers as we walked past without stopping, said the root is in fact the best part. Boil, let cool, drink in finger measures. Cautiously.


    Charlie’s strawberry tree


    Above all, Charlie was fondest of the little strawberry tree (Arbutus menziesii). It had to stay small, so its fruit yield also stayed small. Each spring, he’d cook the berries down to about half a cup of juice, and drink something along the lines of prison DMT.

    “I don’t know if that’s what I end up with,” Charlie said. “But a few drops are all it takes.”

    He described a psychedelic trip that was profound, but over in no more than half an hour. This made it easy to schedule around count times or meals. But without preservatives, you had a week to use it up before it spoiled. 

    “I sell half, and spend my birthday week tripping my ass off over and over,” Charlie said. “That’s the really great thing about this ‘maybe DMT’—unlike LSD or mushrooms, the [effect doesn’t dull with] consecutive doses … Coming down is like waking up from a good dream state, and only takes that amount of time too.”

    We think it was medical who tipped off security. Maybe not out of malice, but the end result was the same.

    Charlie’s role in the prison drug economy was nil. He didn’t have a lot of money, but he wasn’t really pursuing any because he had almost no expenses. He periodically gifted like-minded individuals with a couple of grams of dried plants plus instructions, and in return he was taken care of at commissary. Everything he used to get high was planted, grown and produced inside prison, 100-percent funded with his seed money from GDC. No overhead; nothing to smuggle in.

    The Feel Good plants went unnoticed for more than a decade; Charlie entrusted the knowledge to very few. The Feel Better plants were a larger operation, but still a discrete one lest too much attention jeopardize the gig.

    COVID changed that. Almost overnight, Charlie’s services were in unprecedented demand. The humanitarian part of his nature, and the near-total absence of guards during the day, compelled him to open the pharmacy doors wider than he normally would have. Everyone who needed tea got it, with no thought to who was powerful or who was poor or who had made fun of him.

    We think it was medical who tipped off security, shortly after Charlie’s release this year. We want to believe this wasn’t done out of malice, but the end result was the same. A yuppie deputy warden was looking to feather his cap. Once he realized the plants weren’t merely ornamental, it was over.

    All the flower beds were razed. The shrubs were torn up and the greenhouses torn down, the area around them fenced off in case anything survived to grow back. The deputy warden was promoted to warden, at a different prison. Charlie doesn’t know any of this, and probably wouldn’t dwell on it if he did.



    Images courtesy of RawPixl/Creative Commons 1.0; Queensland State Archives/Flickr/Creative Commons 1.0; Kelsey Britton/Oregon State University/Creative Commons 2.0; Anonymous

    • Jimmy Iakovos is a pseudonym for a writer who is incarcerated in Georgia. It is illegal in some Southern states to earn a living while under a sentence of penal servitude. Writing has enabled Jimmy to endure over 30 years of continuous imprisonment.

    • Show Comments

    You May Also Like