7 (Weird) Ways to Get High in Prison

By Keri Blakinger and Rhaine Mae 10/13/15

Sometimes, making out with your cousin pays off.

Getting High in Prison

Prison is rife with desperation. Inmates are desperate to get out, desperate for time to pass, desperate to see family, desperate to get laid.

And some are desperate to get high. There are all manner of creative ways people succeed in finding intoxication behind bars—and some even make the news, like the drone drug drops in Ohio in July. Here, from two women who know a thing or two about doing time, are seven weird (and real) ways in which prisoners attempt (and often fail) to get twisted while they’re in the clink.

1. Kissing Cousins. One of the major drug smuggling routes into correctional facilities is through visiting rooms. Sometimes, goods are exchanged through a simple handoff. Sometimes, they’re exchanged during a kiss. That’s a method that works reasonably well if it’s someone you might reasonably kiss on the lips. If your brother, mother, or cousin is smuggling in drugs, you should probably not make out with them. That might raise some red flags.

Probability of attracting attention notwithstanding, some prisoners still use intra-familial drug smuggling techniques. Sometimes, making out with your cousin pays off and you get the goods without a hitch. (Some guards just think inmates are depraved enough that they seem to chalk it up to another oddity of prison life and don’t investigate further.) Sometimes, a guard raises an eyebrow and you end up in solitary confinement for months on end. So it’s risky, but it can work.

2. Taking Coffee to the Next Level. In prisons and jails, typically the only coffee option is instant coffee purchased on commissary. Sometimes, there’s java available in the mess hall—but sometimes it’s just a woefully decaffeinated tease. So if you want caffeine, it’s often the powdered stuff or nothing.

Drug addicts, however, are used to putting powders up their noses. The thing is, desperate drug addicts behind bars plus intranasal powdered coffee does not equal a pleasant high. It only equals a brown nose and a sense of failure. (But that’s never stopped anyone from trying.)

3. Who Got the Hooch? In real life, as in prison lore, hooch is totally a thing. However, making it is harder than it sounds. It stinks, requires regular care (you have to “burp” the bottles), and requires a certain skill and knowledge to get just right. Many attempt to make it, few succeed.

When it goes wrong, you have a smelly mess of moldy oranges, sugar, and soggy bread on your hands. When it goes right, you have most of a unit acting like drunk monkeys—and the odd task of explaining to the guard why there’s some disgusting dregs of moldy oranges, sugar, and soggy bread in the shower drain.

4. Medical Magic. Although there are some drugs that would quite obviously get you high—Percocet, Xanax—those are a little scarce in prison. In New York State prisons, some inmates are still prescribed them, but not a ton. Psych meds, however, are incredibly common.

Thus, through trial and error, prisoners have figured out what combinations of non-narcotic medication can actually get you feeling kind of high. One of the most popular black market pills (in women’s prison, anyway) was Topamax. It’s intended for use in combating migraines, but some women realized that it caused weight loss and an increase in energy. It wasn’t a serious, euphoric high—it wasn’t smoking a hit of meth. But it did put a little pep in your step and move the needle on the scale a wee bit.

Although Topamax had a pretty sizable market, there were other drugs frequently taken for off-label uses. Wellbutrin is the “poor man’s coke” and Neurontin is pretty popular on the underground meds market as well. 

Through mixing and matching, prisoners figured out some of the most successful combinations for achieving the desired outcome. Mixing the muscle relaxant Robaxin with any number of psych meds, for instance, would get you so twisted you might pee in the middle of the floor like the village drunk. (Yes, that seriously happened.)

5. Purple Plants. Eminem sings about purple pills, but in prison it was purple plants that were all the rage. Thing is, they didn’t actually get you high. One of the vocational offerings in New York State prisons is a horticulture class. Of course, any addict worth their salt knows that a lot of seriously mind-altering drugs come from plants. Thus, at the horticulture class in Albion, the largest female prison in New York, some of the women tried licking all the vaguely interesting plants to see if any would get them high. Although none of said plants actually would get you high, at least one—a fuzzy, purple plant called a Purple Passion plant—looked like it definitely might.

As the women zeroed in on the apparent potential of this plant, the horticulture instructor became increasingly baffled as to why all the other plants in the greenhouse were doing okay, but the purple fuzzy plants were all dying. Eventually, he caught on: In an effort to get high, the women were actually licking the plants to death. 

6. Painting the Town Red (or Gray). A lot of the low-level maintenance tasks in prison are left to assigned inmate work crews. But huffing paint is not only for high schoolers, and so if the paint crew is left to its own devices, in all probability someone will decide to starting huffing the paint instead of putting it on the walls. 

7. Sending in a Stamp of Approval. At one time, the only drug that could really be affixed to a stamp was acid strips. But who wants to trip someplace as miserable as prison? (Of course, that’s not to say it never happens.) Now, though, with the rise of Suboxone and its widespread availability in sublingual strips, prisoners can get high on things other than hallucinogens. Of course, some facilities rip off the stamp before handing out letters, just for that reason—but many don’t. 

Rhain Mae is the alias for a woman currently incarcerated in the state of New York. She last wrote about how to stay clean in prison. 

Keri Blakinger is a writer and prison-reform activist living near New York City. A writer for The New York Daily News, she has also been published in The Washington Post, Salon, and Quartz. She last wrote about safe injection facilities.

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