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Tommy ChongFame & Fortune: Tommy Chong
'Money's a flower that comes from planting a seed'

What happens when the world's most famous "pothead" goes straight and starts a legitimate business? He goes to jail, of course.

After the breakup of his hit stoner comedy duo Cheech and Chong, Tommy Chong took a step in his life that might seem -- based on his on-screen persona -- surprisingly entrepreneurial: He took a hobby and turned it into a business.

Chong started a company called Chong Glass that sold pipes and bongs and met with a fairly impressive measure of success. But not everyone was happy about Chong's newfound business acumen, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA. Using a rarely enforced law about transporting paraphernalia across state lines, the DEA set up a sting operation that led to late-night raids on both Chong's home and his business, and in the end, he was sent to prison for nine months.

Faced with a potential nightmare scenario, the comedian and actor used his time wisely. He got to know his fellow inmates, explored his spiritual side with the "I Ching" -- the oldest of the Chinese classic texts which explores the cosmology and philosophy of Chinese cultural beliefs -- and accumulated material for a book about his time behind bars called, "The I Chong: Meditations from the Joint."

Bankrate spoke to Chong about what effect his time in prison had on him and how the blow was softened by his less-than-regal upbringing.

Bankrate: In the book, you write about how the prisoners at Taft Correctional Facility formed their own little community. How would you compare that to the communities you're part of in other areas of your life?

Tommy Chong: It's totally unique. It's so unique that your closest family -- your wife, your kids, anybody -- can't relate to the camaraderie or unity you have with the person you share a cell with. It's a fraternity you have to experience before you can understand it. I meet people on the outside, and if they tell me they've been in jail there's an understanding that passes between us. It's much like being in combat. You have to be there to really understand it.

Bankrate: You're a very free-spirited person. How did you react to being constantly controlled?

Tommy Chong: No problem, because it was like being on location, shooting a movie. You're always being counted, someone always has to know where you're at and you're being followed around. In prison it's a guard, on a movie set it's an assistant director. It was so similar to being on location that that's what I used. I pretended I was on location.

 
 
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