David and Daniel are in person in Tucson, AZ reflecting on their time at the US Border Patrol Museum, running into border patrol agents on New Mexico state road 9, walking into Juarez, Mexico, and much more.
This is a continuation of our chat series covering lighter topics and what's new in our worlds. Next week returns with our regular deep dive episodes.
Thank you Alexey for creating this perfect transcript!
[0:05] I'm David Torcivia.
[0:06] I'm Daniel Forkner.
[0:08] And this is Ashes Ashes, a show about systemic issues, cracks in civilization, collapse of the environment, and if we're unlucky the end of the world.
[0:19] But if we learn from all of this, maybe we can stop that. The world might be broken, but it doesn't have to be.
[0:32] David, here we are for another chat show, how about it?
[0:35] We're actually in person right now, that's pretty cool.
[0:37] In person, yeah. Normally you are in New York, I am in Atlanta, but not today.
[0:44] This time we decided to have the most expensive in terms of carbon emissions episode ever so.
[0:50] Right, because we met in El Paso a few days ago. Did a little bit of adventuring there and then we took a long drive today: woke up early, drove near the border, ended up in Tucson, Arizona.
[1:05] Daniel says the word adventuring but it's actually just been a lot of work.
[1:10] Yeah, well, not too much work.
[1:13] A nice balance of work.
[1:14] I mean we've been here for work, right? This isn't just a vacation, we're not spending on the Patreon money, you know, just on lavish El Paso parties.
[1:22] And then spas and expensive dinners. No, we're here spending that money in the gift shops of places like the National Border Patrol Museum.
[Vynil rewind sound]
[1:33] What, David, did you say National Border Patrol Museum?
[1:37] Oh yeah, we went on a house of horrors tour which, I don't know, I think it's maybe a good way to describe it.
[1:44] Yeah, I was actually surprised there even was a Border Patrol Museum.
[1:48] But we got to El Paso and then we had an interview actually cancel on us so we had some time to kill. And we're like: well, let's explore the city, let's see what there is to do! We open up this map that's like cool tourist things to do in El Paso and, lo and behold, I spy with my little eye the National Customs and Border Patrol Museum. So, of course, we had to go there.
[2:09] Yeah, so we hopped in the car, the vehicle, we drove up six-lane highway up towards the mountain and, once you get to a small, you know, stucco shed…
[2:19] Wait, Daniel is doing a bad job describing it. Let me explain. So, first off, El Paso has this huge army base in it, Fort Bliss, and the museum is right next to the fort in this military area and, like I said, there's this giant six-lane highway cutting through all this unbelievable suburban sprawl everywhere: El Paso is a city defined by sprawl really since that suburb episode is like really on my mind, it really is a great example of it – so anyway we get there, of course, the highway is also shut down because there’s been some accidents with all these side turns. Anyway, we get into the museum and we notice that there's this beautiful pasture of desert’s sage and wild brush and whatever all next to it.
[3:02] First thing I want to do is hop out the car and, you know, skip through the field.
[3:06] Yeah and go see like the cacti and stuff. But instead, as you pull through this parking lot you notice the signs all of a sudden that say: “Danger. Do not enter. Live ammunition. Do not remove under penalty of law. Do not enter under risk of death.”
[3:22] And then a picture of two people like flying away from the fact that they just got exploded.
[3:28] First off, to set the scene here, like Daniel mentioned, there is this is horrible rectangular stucco building with no discerning features, and you drive in and you're in this unbelievably empty parking lot because only fucking weirdos go to the Border Patrol Museum, to begin with; and then this museum and this parking lot is set in the middle of his life fire testing zone, I guess not operational anymore, but it's still filled with like…
[3:52] Unexploded ammunition.
[3:54] So you can't walk out of the parking lot or you risk being blown up or prosecuted or whatever. And it really sets the tone for the rest of the museum. Then you walk up to the front door and it's this like very uninviting door: like this metal door with no window and it looks like it's locked and you’re like, okay, I guess I'll go in. And you reach for it not even knowing if the door is going to open at all, we pull it open and here we are in this house of horrors.
[4:19] Right, right. Of course, the man asks us to sign the visitor log. But how would you say, that museum is kind of divided into three sections: you have the left side, you have all the Border Patrol like historical vehicles.
[4:32] And also spoils of war: select some of their asset forfeiture goods are stationed over there.
[4:38] And then on the right side you have the history of the Border Patrol, you have mannequins featuring some of the different uniforms that they’ve worn throughout the years. you have a bunch of artwork that has been submitted celebrating Border Patrol. What was the funniest piece of art you saw, David?
[4:55] Oh, man. So, this whole museum was just covered in art. And I guess some of it was painted by former Border Control guards, I think others were just people inspired by Border Patrol, which there was a strange amount of people who just like seem to really into Border Patrol in El Paso and in this museum as well. But, oh man, some of the sketches! There was one, there were couple in particular, one of them was called something like The empty water jug and it was a painting of a immigrant, presumably a Mexican, lying under this tree, trying to find some shade with this poured out water jug next to it, like I guess dying, because some Border Patrol agents came in, emptied the jug, and some Border Patrol agent was like: you know what? this is like a cool scene to paint so I think I'll do that and then donate it to the museum. And so that was on the wall, there was this horrible poem which I think you look like you want to read, some of this poem.
[5:41] Well, I'm looking it up. But I just came across one of the artworks that you’ve shared with me, this is my favorite, it's called Tracker’s heritage and it depicts a border patrol agent kneeling down on the ground with a cowboy hat looking at some tracks, you know, he's tracking somebody, and in the clouds is the faces of or the spirits of a former Border Control officer and then a Native American who is like reaching out of the cloud with his spirit arm to rest his finger on the shoulder of the kneeling down Border Patrol, you know, transmuting his tracking ability to this Border Patrol agent to help him find, you know, the illegal alien crossing the desert.
[6:24] The entire museum was filled with these like weird tone-deaf things. I made a giant Twitter thread and we'll link that as well some of the pictures from this museum on the website, so please check those out, because there's no way I can put this stuff into words, it was such a weird place. Daniel and I were the only ones there, unsurprisingly, except for this strange man who showed up just to buy things at the gift store I guess, he took like 30 minutes taking pictures of Border Patrol stuff before he finally decided on a t-shirt. But that's what I'm talking about, these like Border Patrol enthusiasts: this guy just loves the Border Patrol so he showed up to like buy a shirt to support them or something. Do you have that poem?
[7:02] I do. It's quite long though.
[7:04] Just read some of the good sections like the burrito.
[7:07] It's called A Sign-Cutter’s Memories. And a sign cutter is, you know, sign cutting is the process of following the tracks, right? And border patrol does this a lot, they have these dirt roads that follow not just the border but also alongside the main strip of asphalt roads. And what they do is they will bring their trucks and they'll drag a bunch of old tires down the path to kind of clear it and then come back later to see if anyone has disturbed the tracks, it’s called sign-cutting.
[7:37] Yeah, there’s footprints on drag signs showing that people have crossed at some point making it a point of interest. And we’ll talk more about some of the Border Patrol actual activity that we saw in just a moment.
[7:47] So here's some excerpts from A Sign-Cutter’s Memory by West Selman:
I was cuttin’ sign along the line When I spied a track headin’ north The design was mesh the track looked fresh So followed I it for what it was worth
The stride was short and the depression was light And I figured it wouldn't be long ‘Til I caught sight of a little mite From way down in Michoacán
But after a while I guess about a mile A hadn’t caught sight of that dude His stride was short but he was makin’ me work Now that alien was bein’ downright rude
Let’s skip some, where's the burrito?
[8:26] It’s towards the end.
The sun had moved high and brightened the sky And shone down with oppressive heat And my stomach began to growl and send a complaint It was telling me it was time to eat
So I found a tree that offered some shade And that’s where I parked my jeep Then I broke out a burrito of tortilla and beans And ravenously began to eat
And as I savored that Mexican delight With the aroma wafting on air I began to feel that I wasn’t alone Because from somewhere I could feel a stare
As I gazed about I saw a mesquite That grew thick and close to the ground And from out of that bush I could see two eyes Starin’ at me scared, big and round
I said, “Oiga Jose, ven pa ca” “Tienes hambre y quires comer?” And as he emerged from that thorny bush He did so with a dignified air
An extra burrito I had in my pack I offered to Guanajuato Joe And after he had eaten and had a drink I said “Let’s load up it’s time to go”
Back at the station I unloaded my catch With all the paperwork yet to be done I’d been up since four and my feet were sore I tell ya’ I was ready to go home
As I filled out the forms and took his prints I asked an important question of Jose I said, “Who do you know and where were you going?” And he said, “Yo tengo parientes en L.A.”
I finally got home after a long day afield And mused as beer ran down my chin Com six O’clock the very next morn I’d be back out there trackin’ aliens again
[10:05] Someone was proud of this poem and they framed it and they hung it in the museum. And that really, I think, captures the Border Patrol Museum in a nutshell.
[10:16] I mean there's so many things that are wrong with this museum, David. For instance, the 1929 Border patrol smallest catch, a picture of two smiling border patrol officers with a looks like a boy that can't be more than like 4 or 5 years old, you know, like at their feet just like really sad. They had a bunch of vehicles that they had, like makeshift vehicles that they had confiscated.
[10:42] Yeah, one of these was one of my favorite ones, they had this amazing raft that was put together very ingenious by a lot of people trying to leave Cuba and find refuge in the United States.
[10:57] What year was that?
[10:58] This was 1994, so a year when a lot of refugees were still coming over. And I'm using that word because that's the word that they use. They have this piece of paper on the top of the boat that said Voyage to Freedom and I love this, let me just read it real quick and I'll explain why I love it.
[11:15] So you're looking at the boat, it's what, it's a makeshift boat.
[11:19] It's like the bottom is a tarp that they've attached and it's like just crudely welded car parts and stuff, it's an unbelievable construction and I can't believe they made it from Cuba to Miami with this. But let me read the description of this Voyage to Freedom. On June 16th, 1994 four Cuban refugees landed at Bud n’ Mary's Marina located at Tea Table Key, Florida. They were in a raft made out of scrap metal, tire tubes, wood, and blue canvas. An outboard motor powered the raft during their one and a half-day voyage. The refugees were arrested and then processed by the immigration service. The raft was seized and transported to the nearest US Border Patrol station. All were charged with violating chapter 8 U.S. Code §1324.
[12:06] There's your Voyage to Freedom.
[12:07] Yes, so they literally call this Voyage to Freedom. And then it ends with explaining how every single person was arrested and charged with crimes against the United States of America. And I think this one’s so funny because it really is just like split-personality, they can't figure out like: oh yeah, Cuba is bad, you know, we see Cuba as like, it's a dictatorship, and obviously people want to come to America where there's so much freedom here. And I'm a Border Patrol agent, I love freedom, so these are like heroes leaving this like horrible place coming here, so we're good.
[12:36] Also the explicit definition defining of these people as refugees.
[12:41] Yeah, it literally says refugees in this museum. Voyage to Freedom but then as soon as they get here they talk half of the descriptions about how they fucking arrested these guys.
[12:50] And charged them with crimes.
[12:53] And didn't see anything wrong with it. They didn't see like like the hypocrisy in any of this stuff. And right behind they had a painting of a bunch of refugees in a raft about to be picked up by Coast Guard and then sent back to Cuba. That's the whole museum, it's all these like things where you can only understand it through like heroic sort of eyes if you have just such a fucking twisted view of the world and of people in the United States and borders and like of laws, of rules and authority. And you have to be so just folded in and twisted in on itself for any of it to make sense and not just be this like crazy like what the fuck is going on?
[13:31] Well, my favorite asset that they displayed in the museum, this is something they captured on the border, it is a piece of plywood with two metal like aluminum poles off the side of it with four really terrible rubber wheels. You ever seen moving dolly that you put under a bridge to move it onto a truck? Like not even the ones with handles, it's just literally a platform with wheels: this is what this is. And they have a photo of them like in a crane going over a chain-link fence to find this thing stuffed under a like a concrete pylon, underneath the bridge, and they have this like long paragraph about how they seized this thing. And to me, it’s like a great display of the waste of resources, right? We're celebrating the fact that we used a crane and a whole bunch of the manpower and all these resources and money and time and salaries to capture a piece of plywood with some wheels on it.
[14:31] I mean the whole museum was like that. These things where, once again, if you view it from any sort of rational or empathetic perspective, just nothing makes sense. But if you're like super dedicated to rules and authority and the idea of America's as this completely sovereign place that could do no wrong, then it is awesome, it's an awesome place, makes you feel gung-ho.
[14:54] Anything else you want to say about the Border Patrol Museum?
[14:58] No, just be sure to go check out those pictures and the thread. There's a lot more there but it is hard to explain all of it without you being able to see some of this stuff, it is hard to explain. There was one last section in the museum I guess that we should mention, it was the memorial wall which had all the deceased border agents and they had a big book that told a little bit about each agent with their photo and how are they passed. It was almost, it reminded me of that book in Game of Thrones, you remember where they have like the deeds of every knight of the Kingsguard or whatever and like their history and such. It was basically like a Border Patrol version of that. But what was funny is, Daniel, I started flipping through this book and almost every single person that passed in this book died in a single-vehicle accident – meaning they just crashed the car by themselves and died. It’s like literally 75% of them.
[15:51] One of them was a heart attack though.
[15:53] Yeah, some of them had like heart attacks, we only found I think 2 who seem to be any sort of actual attack or injury from a cartel or from a migrant or something. But the vast majority were people dying either because of their health or because of their inability to drive. And at some point, I guess the wall was almost like a wall of Border Patrol’s worst drivers, like a memorial wall to that. But can I say that? Can I say that on here? It just reminds me of those police statistics where police are always trumping up about how deadly their job is and it really isn't even when you take everything in. But when you start digging even deeper into those police statistics, almost all of those deaths like, once again, that 75-80% figure are just cops in a single-vehicle accident killing themselves.
[16:39] Which is not to say you know, obviously, it's a tragedy when anyone dies, especially you know…
[16:46] Some are less tragedies than others.
[16:49] Carrying out their professional job. But the point, the reason to point that out is like where's the memorial book for all the roofers, right? Where's the memorial book for all the loggers or truck drivers, right?
[17:03] Maybe we just haven't found that museum yet. Maybe there's one in Tucson.
[17:08] Maybe we're just not searching hard enough. You know, we’re here in the Southwest United States because we are preparing a number of shows, a few shows on immigration in the US and what people are doing to fight back what we believe are really unjust laws and policies going on. And, you know, we’ll be talking about that more in the coming weeks but one thing I did that I mentioned two weeks ago is a visit of a refugee who's being detained in a basically prison. You know, these are all over the country, many people don't realize. All the attention when it comes to people who are crossing the border is at the border, but people don't stay on the border very long when they get picked up by Customs and Border Protection or Border Patrol or ICE or whatever. Usually, they're held for a couple of days and then they're shipped off to another facility somewhere in the United States: it could be New York, it could be Kentucky, North Carolina, California.
[18:05] There is a huge number of these facilities and we will put a map of them on the website if you're interested in seeing which ones are close by you.
[18:13] 70% or more of these facilities are privately constructed, privately-managed which is in contrast to just, you know, 1% of federal prisons are private. So this is a big contrast to that. And I'm trying to figure out who decides where they're sending them, what is the system? And it appears to be that it's really just the federal government has contracts with these private corporations, CoreCivic is the main one which used to be Corrections Corporation of America something like that, CCA, it’s now called CoreCivic. And so the federal government has contracts with all these private prisons to keep a certain number of beds filled with migrants, refugees, those seeking asylum, and one of those detention facilities is in Georgia. Stewart Detention Facility, it’s the largest facility in the Southeast that used to be the largest in the country, privately-run by CoreCivic. And so I wanted to visit someone in this facility so I found a local nonprofit organization that organizes visitations.
[19:17] And if you want to do that yourself, I want you to go to freedom for immigrants. org, find their visitation network and you can choose your state and find the organizations that are local to you, who are organizing visitation to the facilities that might be in your own backyard or just a couple hours away. And before you do that, go to freedom for immigrants.org and find their visitor volunteer resources page, and there's a document there that kind of explains the history of some of these concentration camps but how to prepare yourself and your group before you go and how to interact with someone who's detained to maximize the way you can benefit them. And if that's not enough, you can find some more resources at detention watch network. org, they have a membership directory site where you can find all the organizations in your state who are working not just to do visitations but also advocate for those who are being detained. These are legal groups, all kinds of different groups. So anyway, I went to Stewart Detention Facility with my girlfriend.
[20:20] Sorry everyone, Daniel is taken.
[20:22] I'm sure no one is disappointed about that.
[20:25] Keep going, keep going.
[20:27] And it was a great experience, it is equal parts heartbreaking but also really inspiring. You know, there was one person who organized who has kind of inspiring background to me. He came from management consulting, at one point looked at his life, looked at what's going on in the world and said: I don't need to be doing what I'm doing, I need to be in the field helping to combat the injustice going on. So he really started organizing some of these groups and taking a part in this organization. We met a ton of great people in this process. And so, real quick, I'll just talk about the experience. First of all. Stewart Detention Facility is in Lumpkin, Georgia. And if you haven't heard of that is because it's in the middle of nowhere. Lumpkin, Georgia, David, is so small it does not even have its own postal service. Like there are houses but there's no mailboxes.
[21:17] Is there a central lump?
[21:20] I assume that there's a postal service like somewhere where they can go maybe.
[21:24] No not a postal, like a lump, it’s Lumpkin, where's the lump?
[21:29] It's a Stewart Detention Facility is the lump.
[21:32] It’s the cancer, it’s the tumor.
[21:35] It actually wasn't named Lumpkin until after the facility came.
[21:39] Yeah, before it was called Awesomeville.
[21:41] Well, and this is what these private corporations do. They find these towns in the middle of nowhere, these rural countrysides. And they say: hey, let us build this massive facility, we’re going to bring jobs. But then what we find out is that no one in Lumpkin actually gets employed at this facility, a lot of the guards are having to commute from like Columbus, Georgia which like 45 minutes away or other cities. And then most of the labor that's done inside the facilities is actually done by the detainees themselves who get paid about a dollar a day, sometimes $4 if they're lucky, depending on the work. So they're the ones that are doing all the labor, so it's really a myth that the corporations are bringing this economic activity. So anyway, we pull up to the Detention Facility, and the first thing you notice is the barbed wire everywhere, and we walk up to it and there's a gate. Have you ever seen like an airlock or like the depiction of an airlock in like a space station or something?
[22:37] Like two gates with space in between.
[22:40] That's how you get into this facility, you press the button: the first gate opens, it’s like this big metal chain fence and it's like rhrhrhr. [Making a screeching sound]
[22:50] Wow, that's really good.
[22:52] And we all walk into the space in between, and then it closes behind us and then the second door opens. So it's a real dramatic, right? And there's like a huge barbed wire everywhere.
[23:01] [Making a hissing noise] Pshhhh, like a fog rolls out.
[23:04] We walk in and there's like a single person at the check-in table, we give them our names and tell him who we’re visiting. Now, why do we have to tell them who we’re visiting, David?
[23:14] So they know who to bring out.
[23:15] Well that too. But what's interesting is that what they do is, you show up, you say I want to visit this person and then they go back and they ask the person if they want to be visited and sometimes they decline, why might they do that, David?
[23:30] Cause they’re making $4 that day.
[23:32] Actually, the guy that we interviewed, we did have to pull him away from his chef work detail so that could be the case. But more often than not they might decline because these facilities only allow people to visit them once a week and for 1 hour. That's the maximum they get.
[23:49] So they're expecting someone else, they're not going to let someone random coming?
[23:54] Exactly. So I show up, I say I want to visit this person and they're like: well, maybe my wife will visit in 5 days, I don't know if she will, but maybe she will, and I don't want to risk the chance that I won't get to see her when she shows up because some other person came to visit me. It's really messed up. And the family members have found a way around that by showing up on like Saturday night: they visit for an hour and then they wake up Sunday morning, the clock resets, they go visit their family member and then they'll wait two weeks to come back. It’s crazy. Can you imagine one hour once a week? That's crazy. So anyway, the guy we visited, he did come, we walked back there, blah blah blah, and it's a glass window and on one side he sits and on the other side we sit, and there's a telephone on his side and telephone on our side.
[24:40] So, just like the kind of things you see in movies when there's like somebody who murdered like 10 people and talking to you like a reporter or whatever.
[24:48] Oh, yeah. This is the crazy part to me, because again, and this is something we'll talk about on the immigration, but none of these people or most of them have not committed crime.
[24:58] Well, not a crime that you would say or I would say, but as far as United States would say like: you're here where you're not supposed to be, that's a crime, you’re going to jail.
[25:07] No, but not even. Because again, it's not a crime to show up on the border and seek asylum which is what all these people are doing. And so he has no crime, he has no crime that has been charged against him but he's been sitting in this facility for 9 months in addition to the facility he sat in the Mississippi basically waiting for a judge to tell him whether he's going to be deported or if he's going to be granted asylum.
[25:30] But he is treated like a prisoner this whole time anyway.
[25:32] One hour a week, that's all you can be visited, that's pretty prison-like. $1 a day to cook all the food.
[25:39] Well, this is kind of funny in…
[25:41] In the middle of nowhere.
[25:42] Well, the funny thing to me is that this is...
[25:44] The barbed wire!
[25:45] Okay, yeah. This is a correctional facility, right? That is in the name of the company that runs it.
[25:52] No-no, now it's CoreCivic.
[25:54] Okay, well, CoreCivic and I guess they call it technically detention center but it's designed like a prison, and prisons are supposed to be “correctional facilities”, places to rehabilitate criminals back into society. But I mean that illusion which was never really actually stuck to in any sort of actual way, they’re not even pretending here, these are people who literally don’t need to be rehabilitated in any way, they are just being held somewhere because there's nowhere else to go but they're treated like in a prison: barbed wire, double gates, once a week, they're working the rest of the time, forced to work basically. I'm sure there's punishments if they're not working.
[26:35] Oh here's another thing: you want to talk about punishment, so there's one guy in here who worked, didn't get paid so went on hunger strike, sent straight to isolation, right? Worked, didn't get paid, said: that's not fair – so, well, you're going to isolation. Now the law is: you can send somebody to isolation for up to two weeks for any cause, any reason. And it is not until about two weeks where they will even investigate whether or not you had caused to send them to isolation, so just imagine what goes on in there.
[27:14] And I'm sure there's no recourse if they find that you didn't have any cause, I'm sure it's just a whoopsie and they're just: whoopsie – and they let you go. There's no fine, they don't put the CO, you know, who pushed them into isolation also into isolation or something, it's just a whoopsie.
[27:32] Yeah, just a whoopsie. And we can move on in a second here, but real quick, just the story was kind of heartbreaking to me, this is an African guy. Long story short, his life was in danger, also the government wanted to imprison him because of the district that he was born and raised in which has some colonial conflicts there in history.
[28:01] He fled his country, paid to ship his wife to America, she eventually got asylum. Then he skipped over to Latin America, tried to find a place to stay, he was detained in a country there for several days, eventually decided to come to United States, to seek refuge. And that's the end of the story. Now he's sitting in prison for close to a year now.
[28:16] Do you think they hold like white people from European countries in these detention centers?
[28:21] I'd be surprised. I would honestly be surprised.
[28:27] I wonder if there's any.
[28:29] Like if an Irish guy comes over.
[28:30] And you’re just like: I'd like to see Shamus. And you like get there and there’s this very red-haired Irish guy telling his likes tale of woe. For some reason, something, like I have some sort of sense tingling and not sure what it is, but I think that there's probably not a white people in these detention centers. I can't imagine why that might be though.
[28:51] I'm skipping ahead here but, you know, we just went through a checkpoint, a border control check.
[28:57] We had so many border patrol experiences today in our drive, y’all.
[29:01] Yeah, just driving from El Paso to Tucson, we took the scenic route to be fair, I mean I guess we were asking for it.
[29:06] Yeah, well, we sort of intentionally decided to drive along the border. There's a highway Highway 9 that runs into another highway Highway 80, and this is sort of the border route if you're trying to drive from Texas to New Mexico, to Arizona. And we saw a lot of the border, we saw the wall in all sorts of places, we saw where the wall just ends, just like literally stops and there's nothing else there. It's really funny to see this contrast where this is massive steel slatwall like this scar across the land and then all of the sudden it just stops with no like geographic reason, it is in the middle of a field, it just stops and there's nothing. And what's Mexico and what's United States is a stupid question because it's just rolling hills with mountains on either side and what do you know, it looks exactly the same. And it is a beautiful, beautiful drive if any of y'all are trying to experience some of the country – this is a gorgeous drive, I really recommended it.
[29:57] The most beautiful landscape I've ever seen.
[30:00] Just beautiful which makes all this even more of a shame. Because it was just covered in these white trucks with green stripes on the side, that is there the badge of the Border Patrol, and also a lot of US military positions stationed along the way as well.
[30:14] Yeah, a bunch of military trucks which look like really advanced like radar, infrared.
[30:19] Yeah, I imagine some of them were like FLIR cameras which are infrared cameras. I think some had dual night vision units as well. I mean, they have these dedicated trucks, they were army trucks operated by Army or National Guard, I guess it wasn't clear, we didn't stop to ask. And they would have these like scissor lifts basically the back of the truck that would go up and have these thermal cameras, these night vision cameras on it to scan the border. And we saw dozens of these, just like every so often there’d be another truck and we say "another truck!" We would yell "Border Patrol!" And we'd take a picture.
[30:55] I was like, hey, we should start a drinking game: every time we see a border patrol truck, we take a shot.
[30:59] No, we would have been a single-vehicle accident if we had done that.
[31:04] Would have been in the book. But yeah, I mean, there were huge stretches of our trip where there’s like 70% of every vehicle we saw was Border Patrol. At one point we had stopped to take a little sound sample, do some field recordings, record some soundscapes, taking us back to episode 44 - Do Not Disturb with the legendary Bernie Krause. And we were taking it and we had two Border Patrol trucks pass us and ask us like: hey, you guys doing all right?
[31:35] Yeah. I actually, when I was walking back from one of these, Daniel had already got in the car, and I was walking back, the Border Patrol guy actually stopped me and he started to ask me questions about if I'd seen X vehicle if I had seen this thing around.
[31:49] No, David, you're a collaborator!
[31:51] Yeah, so I told him exactly where it was and I said it was probably filled with a bunch of like illegals and when...
[31:56] Yeah he's like, “The Mexicans went that way, sir.”
[31:58] No, I told him, “No, sir, sorry, I’ve only seen a bunch of Border Patrol trucks driving by.”
He’s like, “Are you sure?”
I’m like, “Yeah, I was mostly looking down on my equipment.”
He’s like, “Where are you from, boy?
I told him, “I'm from New York.”
He’s like, “You’re sure out of your element.”
I’m like, “Don’t I know it, sir!”
Then he’s like, “Well, you stay safe out there”
I'm like, “You too!”
I really should’ve said something like “don't crash” but I didn't, and he went off on his way.
[32:23] Wasn’t it a felony to intimidate a Border Patrol officer?
[32:26] Yeah, so Daniel and I, also we went to Mexico for a little bit here.
[32:30] We've done a lot in the past two days.
[32:32] So we went down to Juarez and we walked across that border, we’ll talk about that at some point, but we also came back through the checkpoint there and we got yelled at several times by Border Patrol for breaking all sorts of rules.
[32:46] Oh, wait. So we got off on a tangent, the whole point of this like tangent was, I think, you said something about white people being in detention? Alright, so just before we got to Tuscon here, we're going up Highway 83 and lo and behold.
[33:04] What was it, 83?
[33:05] Yeah, it was 83, and low and behold, a sign says: Border Patrol checkpoint, prepare to stop.
[33:12] And we're not close to the border at this point.
[33:15] So, they're up ahead of us is a little outpost, four or five border patrol trucks and two guys dressed like they're in the army.
[33:25] Full body armor and like guns and stuff.
[33:28] Yeah bunch of cones and stuff, they tell us to stop, we rolled down our window, the guy looks in and says: “Y’all US citizens?”
He says, “Alright. Have a good day.” [Both laugh]
[33:37] I'm sure they would there's no racial profiling going on there at all.
[33:44] Yeah, exactly. So that's the race element.
[33:48] Yeah, it pays to be white. But just a jump back to Juarez, coming back in, it was really, once again, interesting scene: these cities that have been cut in half basically by the border and how it interrupts commerce, how it interrupts culture, how it interrupts people's lives. And El Paso is a big city and Juarez is a huge city: there's one and a half million people who live there, it’s the fourth largest city in Mexico. And this whole landscape is really divided by this border wall. In my head, I always saw it divided by “Mighty” Rio Grande which is actually just like a drainage ditch basically.
[34:24] From what we could tell in El Paso.
[34:26] Maybe part of the year it's like bigger but it was basically nothing here in the middle of August. But the city is divided just straight down the middle: you can see difference in roads and the geography and the lights and how much people's lives are going back and forth across the border, what a huge inconvenience it is and how it interrupts commerce, how it interrupts the flow of money and ideas and business and whatever. And really, you can see very quickly that borders are bad for everyone, like everybody's life here’s worse because of it, economically were suffering because of it, this is not a beneficial thing except for this larger idea of what is a state and what is sovereignty and what is power in this place and taxes and blah blah blah – all the stuff that spins off of. But in the terms of actual practical benefits to people? There’s almost none.
[35:11] So we decided to walk across the border from downtown El Paso which at that time of day was kind of deserted. I mean, there's a few people milling about here and there but.
[35:21] But it was basically empty.
[35:22] Basically empty. And compared to Atlanta's downtown, I mean, it is basically nothing. We walk across and, of course, as we're walking across there's all this barbed wire, we're walking on a bridge to get into Mexico. Now the other side of the bridge is everyone coming in.
[35:39] Yeah, well, first off, nobody cares if you're going to Mexico because we paid $0.50 to go to Mexico.
[35:44] No papers check.
[35:45] They didn't check papers, they didn't care. It’s like: the fee is $0.50, we’ve put $0.50 in like a toll booth looking sort of thing. And then like: welcome to Mexico, and we walked in.
[35:55] Yeah and on the other side is a line of people stretching like as far as the eye can see, the whole bridge. And that kind of shocked me at first because, like you said about commerce, these are people coming into work, these are people, I don't think they're coming to shop because there's not much going on in El Paso, but this is labor.
[36:15] Juarez was very different from El Paso. So this is the same exact day, same exact time, El Paso is basically empty, there's nothing going on down there, there's no people out, there’s not even many cars. El Paso is generally a dead town. And I realized there’s recently a tragedy there so maybe people aren't going out and being as active as they normally are. But nonetheless, so we walk over to Juarez which is, it's not a peaceful town, it has an earned reputation for a lot of violence, and it would scare maybe a lot of people from being outside, you know, I cam understand that.
[36:48] If you want to be nervous about walking into Juarez just start googling: is Juarez a dangerous city? And you'll start having second thought which I was.
[36:57] But we brave, we went across, and it turns out that our fears were...
[37:02] Totally unfounded.
[37:03] Yeah we have no, Juarez is a very nice town, at least the parts where we were. We didn't walk too far, maybe a couple of miles within and it mostly these main areas. But it was so crowded, it was just as crowded as New York City, maybe even more. People were out, people were talking to each other, there was a lot of commerce, there were street performances.
[37:21] Lots of street performances.
[37:22] Lots of street performances.
[37:23] We went to the cathedral there, a major cathedral. And there's a park right there and just like hundreds of people milling about in the park.
[37:29] Yeah, it was completely, you can't even walk down the roads and I say roads because literally the entire roads are blocked off just for people. And it wasn't a festival, it wasn't like, it was just a Saturday: people are out.
[37:41] Yeah, of course, the mercado there was really interesting to walk through, just a lot of people as you'd expect. You know, that kind of contrast with what we were talking about with like the suburban landscape of America where you never really run into people. And this is the point I wish I had made during that episode when I was talking about how, you know, I get lonely a lot just hanging out at my house. That's a nice house where I rent a room, a very beautiful backyard, a really nice neighborhood but it's just so lonely because there's no, it doesn't feel like I'm in any place where I can meet people, nothing is going on. And as we talked about, the shopping mall for so long and continues to be this social place where people from the suburbs go. And we mentioned the church, you know, a lot of people go to church in America as their main social institution, but the difference and this is a point I wanted to make is that as social as a church is it gets to a point where there's no strangers anymore. And that’s I think is the main difference here. And you talked about the way people are segregated in the suburbs based on income, especially based on race, to where people live their whole lives, they to go to church, they go to their work, they come home and they never interact with anyone outside of their income, race or class, not to mention new people coming in and out. But this was completely different when we are in Juarez: this is people everywhere with groups coming together, strangers coming together rubbing shoulders with each other, people dealing, doing Commerce in the mercado, just really vibrant city.
[39:10] Yeah, I had a really great time and we never once felt unsafe. In fact, I felt significantly safer in these very populated sections of Juarez than I did walking to Juarez in El Paso through these like completely empty streets and where there's nobody out except for weirdos.
[39:27] I just think it's strange that you know we built this city in the middle of a desert, right, one of the most inhospitable climates on Earth. And the way we decide to do it is to pave these giant black asphalt roads where we don't even have a lot of cars going down and you’re certainly can't walk down them.
[39:44] Yeah, but we walked them. It's possible, we did it, so.
[39:48] You'll get hot but you can do it.
[39:50] You can do it. But maybe we're giving away too much of our border conversation right now cause there is a lot of content of this stuff coming soon and I don't want to lose the impact of some of that later on.
[40:01] Well, you know, immigration, talking about border control, it's kind of a depressing topic. Here's a positive thing that I did two weeks ago that anyone can partake in. I took a 20-hour medic training course, David.
[40:14] Yes, this is something that I did, I guess over, right about a year ago, maybe a little more than a year ago, and I had an amazing time and recommended Daniel to do if he finally had a chance to.
[40:24] Yeah. They only do it once a year in Atlanta and so I jumped on it when it opened up.
[40:31] Maybe explain, what is a 20-hour medic training?
[40:34] I know people are asking, what? Daniel’s a medic now? Is that like a doctor? Do I have a doctorate in healing people?
[40:41] That’s exactly, Dr. Daniel
[40:44] Dr. David.
[40:44] This is the doctor-doctor show.
[40:47] Well, it's not exactly becoming a doctor, because so.
[40:49] Not exactly.
[40:51] These are courses usually designed and run by activists and it's primarily geared towards people who are going to be in protest environments. And in protest, as people know, sometimes things go south, things might get violent, police might throw tear gas, right? Someone might get hurt.
[41:12] And even if those things don't happen, because let's be honest: I don't want to scare people away from protest – most of them are very safe, most of them you have nothing to worry about. But a lot of them, you know, they're outside during the hot summer months our they are outside during the cold summer months, and people get sick, you know, people slip, people fall, people get heatstroke, people get hypothermia – that just happens when there's a lot of people who maybe aren't used to spending lots of time outside are. And those people need medical attention and the Street Medics are the ones providing that and, of course, if things go south, they have the training and the knowledge of how to deal with that.
[41:46] Right, so the course is designed to prepare you to pair with somebody and have the skills and have the confidence to go into a situation and help people who might be suffering from heatstroke like you mentioned, or major bleeding or something more serious, maybe they need CPR. And what's really interesting is, you know, you can't really have a course like that without having politics involved, right? Because the very fact that this course exists is a political statement. Because we have doctors, we have nurses, we have EMTs, we have a professional class of people who know how to stop major bleeding, they know how to perform CPR and they are a part of an institution that is state-sponsored. And what you're supposed to do if someone gets hurt is call 911 and wait for one of these professional classes to show up and treat you.
[42:36] A huge cost to yourself financially speaking typically as we talked about several times on this show.
[42:42] Yeah, we have an American Healthcare series and we took calls from a number of people around the country who have really suffered at the hands of this American Healthcare institution. I encourage anybody to check that out, we did hear from someone who got stabbed by an icicle while delivering pizza and then the ambulance showed up, he got charged a whole bunch of money, you know, crazy situation. And so the reason why this course exists is because the people running it are saying: look, the medical institution that is state-sponsored has a lot of medical information that people need to know, and so rather than keeping it locked up in that institution and having to always be depended on that, how can we decentralize it and how can we empower people everywhere to take this medical knowledge into their own hands to save themselves, to keep themselves safe and, you know, really do what needs to be done in the times of crisis? And, I'll be honest, David, going into this course I knew it was going to be run by activists, I knew this is a social organization, I expected it to be run by people who like: I've been to a lot of protests and this is like, you know, some tips and tricks that we've learned along the way. But I was surprised to find that my instructors were professionals themselves and one was a nurse at a major hospital in my area, two were EMTs who work on ambulances every single night and have come from that profession saying: this is not right, the way we create hierarchies around medical knowledge and...
[44:11] And one of the major things they always come back to is not just the hierarchy but they feel like a lot of medicine lacks consent, like you just are forced this healing onto at all times. And so, one of the major things that a street medic training teaches is to always, if possible, of course, not everyone can give consent if you're unconscious or something, but make sure you're always doing something that people want you to be doing. Which so often times people avoid doctors and avoid nurses in hospitals and this entire institution because they feel like they're not listened to, they're not part of this conversation, that the doctor always knows best and forces things on them that they don't want. And this radical reviewing of what that relationship between the person treating someone and the patient should be like is really a cornerstone of this sort of street medic training.
[44:58] Yeah, one of the most useful and practical tips that I learned anyone listening right now should memorize, is when you call 911, there are certain words that if you say them triggers a protocol that requires police to be on the scene before any paramedic can do treatment. These are words like drugs, if you call 911 and tell them that someone is having an overdose or there's drugs involved, the police have to show up, but the EMT could be outside your door, they're not coming in until the police get there however long that takes. If you mention some kind of assault, if you say my friend was hit by someone else and they're bleeding – that might trigger the police.
[45:40] And so if you want to save time and when you do have to call 911 and get that higher care, you want to avoid those types of things. And one of the EMTs told a story about someone they had gone to treat, this was someone who was basically dying because they needed insulin, this was a diabetic situation. And because of the way the dispatch was called, the police had to be on the scene first. And the way the police responded was by breaking into this guy's home with guns drawn and basically causing a scene before paramedics were even allowed in there to save the guy's life. Crazy situation. But you know, overall, David, I would say I learned a lot and I've always had this like insecurity in the back of my mind which is, I don't have a lot of medical knowledge, I took a CPR class by the Red Cross a long time ago, but I’ve never known how to treat major bleeding, I never knew how to do a splint or when that is necessary. I've always kind of had this insecurity like I'm walking around the streets today and if something were to happen, if I saw someone fall, if I saw someone in mortal danger, I wouldn't know what to do. But after taking this course I feel like I at least have a foundation to where, you know, if I see something I have the confidence to at least start a process that I know will at least put them in a better situation, potentially saving their lives if that comes to it.
[47:01] The confidence is key in it, it's huge in it. I have the same thing happen to me. I’ve had situations where I was able to use this training. I saw, for example, a girl who got hit by a car and I was able to rush over and help her in a way that was.
[47:16] You saw a girl get hit by a car?
[47:17] Yeah, she was crossing the street and a car hit her, which, I mean, you live in New York, you going to see this.
[47:21] So this is in New York City.
[47:23] Yeah, it happens all the time. But this happened right in front of me, it happens all the time in New York so, but I knew what to do, so I ran over, I was able to do assist her in a proper way, I was able to get higher care that she asked for and prep her for the EMTs and stuff when they arrived. And then she eventually turned out fine, some broken bones and stuff. But the point is I knew exactly what to do at every step, and it really gave me a lot of confidence while everyone else who was there and saw this also sort of stood around not knowing what to do. And that difference can, you know, not in this situation but in some situations can mean the difference between life and death.
[48:01] Right. And, you know, we talk about climate change a lot, and one of the things I was impressed by this course is, yes, it's geared towards those in protest, but as you just demonstrated, David, these are skills that can be used anywhere in any moment's notice. And because this was run by activist there was a lot of information on other organizing going on, other courses. And the nurse, in fact, was telling us that they were starting up an apocalypse-oriented course where hey, we got climate change coming, there's going to be a lot more natural disasters – how do we prepare our communities? How do we prepare go bags for every family in the community to have where if something goes down we can all evacuate as fast as possible? How can we treat somebody in the event of an emergency? How do we come together as a community to really set up an event space for treating people, for taking care of people's needs? That's just really impressed me, just the organizing going on and the knowledge being shared on how to prepare ourselves in the event of a tragedy and, you know, violence in any form.
[49:06] A lot of my trainers also very similarly, not only that they call themselves Action Medics instead of Street Medics, because it as a larger definition where they're not just working protest but also like, say when Hurricane Katrina happened, they got together, they went down to New Orleans and they were there operating as Disaster Response Medics, they do that during these disasters all around the country. And once you have these skills and once you have a little bit of experience it's really easy to apply them to all sorts of situations where these professional medical institutions fall short. And it turns out when you start looking at those things, there's a lot of places where that happens. So these trainings, if you want to get involved, unfortunately, most of them, because there isn't a lot of people who are qualified, do the trainings only happen about once a year in most major cities.
[49:51] They happen a lot more in your neck of the woods, don't they?
[49:53] No NYCAM only does about one a year, they were talking about a 6-month schedule but because of commitments, because of time, they’re set to one a year. In New York, the organization, if you want to look them up, is called NYCAM, New York City Action Medics, NYCAM, they have a Facebook page. But these types of street medic collectives, which is the word you want to search, exist all around the country and not just in the United States but all around the world. And this 20-hour training that you want to go is respected between all these people. So if I come to Atlanta and there's an action and I say, “I was 20-hour trained by NYCAM, by Bob up in New York,” people will recognize that and they will allow me to run as a medic there. Daniel, if you were to come up to New York and mention your training, they would allow you to run as of the medic there or in any other major protest: G20 or anything else like that.
[50:40] Well, and you know, one topic we covered an episode 73 - Tear up, Tear down which was the episode kind of on the history of tear gas is the changing nature of protesting in general across the world. I mean, it's still obviously very varied but what we've seen, I think, over the past few years, decades is more decentralized protest, more action groups, more small group actions, right?
[51:08] There's a lot of really interesting things going on in protest tactics and culture right now, especially in places like Hong Kong. People keep sending me videos of those, I think listeners do as well, thank you for those. But a lot of these techniques are taught in these medic classes and then we can utilize them and then spread them to other people as well.
[51:28] Yeah and what I was going to say though is that, you know, you mentioned you can go to an action somewhere else and say: hey, I'm street medic trained – but one of the points they made in my training is that you can use, you don't have to go to an action and declare yourself as a medic, right? You could, this is something that, let’s say you have a group of friends, you know it's the five of you and you are going to go do something, some objective: just having that medical knowledge is something that you can use as you support you and your friends in your own personal...
[51:59] These hypothetical situations where you and a group of crack friends go out just on a miniature protest with four or five people – yeah, I think I see what you're saying, Daniel: wink wink.
[52:11] Hypothetical, yeah, of course. I mean there’re probably a lot of different groups going on at the same time too but.
[52:19] Doing different things.
[52:21] I don't know what they would be doing but it's always good to have someone with medical knowledge, whatever you're doing. Could be on the border.
[52:32] Who knows?
[52:34] Well, with those hypotheticals out of the way, I guess that's a lot to think about.
[52:39] But think about it we hope you will. And with all these skills and knowledge we hope you'll do something about it too. Wink. You can find more information about everything we talked about, you can find those maps, you can find these hilarious photos of this Border Patrol Museum on our website at ashesashes. org.
[52:57] A lot of time and research goes into making all these episodes possible and we will never use ads to support the show. If you like it and would like us to keep going – you, our listener can support us by giving us a review, recommending us to a friend, discussing these topics with your family and acquaintances. Or, you know, visit us on patreon.com/ashesashescast and send us some financial support if you want. It helps us out tremendously and we really appreciate it, we’ll send you a sticker and...
[53:29] We’re actually just mailed those stickers out from El Paso.
[53:32] Yeah we just mailed some stickers off. Also, we would like to thank our associate producers Chad Peterson and John Fitzgerald, thank you so much.
[53:42] We have an email at...
[53:43] Oh yeah, we have an email address, it's contact at ashesashes. org. We've been receiving your emails and we appreciate them, we've actually got a couple shows coming up that were listener inspired.
[53:55] Yep, we're excited for those too. So keep sending us great ideas because we've got a big list of stuff to do but we also love hearing things that we never even thought about, so.
[54:05] And I don't want to give them away, but some of them are...
[54:07] Oh, I'm dying to get to.
[54:08] Yeah, some of them are pretty morbid, but some of them are land use related.
[54:14] If you don't like sending emails and, let's be honest, who does? You can also give us a call, we have a phone number, that's 31399-ashes or 313-992-7437. And if you call that number you can leave us a message that we will integrate into an awesome call-in show at some point once we’d get enough of these and we get the time to put them all together. And if you are an international listener because we know there's many of you, don't worry, we haven't forgot about you, just send us a voice recording to our website: contact at ashes ashes.org. You can upload it to somewhere like SoundCloud or Dropbox WeTransfer – whatever, and send it our way so we can integrate it into our show, answer your questions and put together something really special. We also have a ton of social media contacts, you can give us a follow-on any of those: ashesashescast is our username, got some great memes, some great news story so just look at your favorite social media network and check us out.
[55:10] Next week we'll be looking at another major report coming out from your friends at some big international organization.
[55:16] Who knows which international organization? I guess you'll have to tune in next week to find out.
[55:21] I can't wait but until then...
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