[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 very many. They’d bring in special requests—tomato seeds and the like—then a few weeks later bring out a pallet of healthy plants to reach maturity at home. But for the most part COs walked past the attractive flowers each day not realizing any of them were functional.
The business office gave him about $50 each year for seeds. These were ordered out of proper gardening catalogs through reputable companies and, rather than try to keep up with Charlie’s disorienting stream of Latin names, staff left it to him to just 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.”
These Charlie consumed either cooked or raw. He never tried smoking any of them, though he did say that when the flowers were pollinating you could get a buzz off the smell alone. Hard to tell whether he was joking at times.
There’s some general awareness of the psychoactive properties of morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea) seeds. Charlie, pointing out the purple flowers as we walked past, 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 be kept small, so its fruit yield was also small. Each spring, he’d cook the berries down to about half a cup of juice, which gave him 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 it as a profound psychedelic experience, but one that only lasted half an hour or so. Short trips could therefore easily be scheduled around count times or meals. But with no access to preservatives, it’d spoil if you didn’t use it within a week.
“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 functionally nil. He didn’t have a lot of money, but wasn’t really pursuing any because he had almost no expenses. He ran a small-circle operation in which he gifted like-minded folks with a few grams of dried plants and brewing instruction, and in return was taken care of at commissary. Everything he himself needed to get high he planted, grew and produced from within prison, using his seed money from GDC. No overhead and nothing to smuggle in.
For more than a decade, hardly anyone was aware of the Feel Good plants. The Feel Better plants were provided at a somewhat larger scale, but always with discretion; too much attention could jeopardize the gig.
COVID changed that. Almost overnight, his 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 given 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, and once he realized the plants were not merely ornamental, it was over.
All the flower beds were razed. The shrubs were torn up and the greenhouses torn down, and the area around them fenced off in case anything survived and started growing 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.