Illustrations: Antoine Cossé

The American Businessman Who Went Through Hell in a Burmese Prison

How a pioneering hemp farmer got himself into—and out of—a horrific situation

Mark Healy
Published in
31 min readFeb 26, 2020

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IIt’s a bluebird December day in Colorado and John Todoroki is riding a high-speed chairlift to the top of Vail Mountain. At 10,000 feet, the air is so crisp, the skies so achingly blue, that it feels like the VIP section for human existence—life on Earth, only better. John savors every moment these days, but none more than these, skiing with his family and friends. He savors them like a man who could just as easily still be lying on a mud floor in a fetid Burmese prison, with no idea when or if he’ll ever get out. “When you’re in a 108-degree prison cell,” he says, gazing up the mountain into the midday sun, “you can’t imagine that you’ll ever breathe air like this again.”

I. The Raid

ByBy any measure, John’s rookie season in the cannabis game was an epic one. In just over a year, the 62-year old American and his team created an irrigation system capable of moving 400,000 gallons of water, a soil-production unit that pulverized tons of volcano-rich, pH-optimized soil a day, and an enormous crop of hemp plants bursting with cannabidiol, better known as CBD. And they were doing it with the government’s blessing in a region of central Myanmar (formerly…

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Mark Healy
GEN
Writer for

Writer, editor, interactive story-teller as EIC of Ceros Originals. Formerly of Men’s Journal, GQ, Rolling Stone. Tentative tweeter, citizen of Kings County.