Sunday, February 21, 2021

VBehindW Column 'The Listening' Lifetime of Wreckage

On the way to a 25th year anniversary, shout out to The Beat Within! For the latest volume 26.05/06 the VBehindW Column introduces a segment titled 'The Listening'. For the first, the column focuses on the latest release from DJ/beat maker/eMCee from California Drasar Monumental & the Lifetime of Wreckage EP. A snap of the column as published in The Beat Within is included towards the end of this post. To request a full copy of The Beat Within check the subscription page   This publication circulates throughout the juvenile & adult mass incarceration system of America and to institutions globally. To Drasar Monumental, thank you! Links to Drasar's locations online are included as links throughout the column shared in text below. You can purchase a Lifetime of Wreckage at the following link, Vendetta Vinyl, respect! This one's for Hip Hop.

Lifetime of Wreckage ‘The Listening’
VBehindW Column by Mr. Lee

Peace readers, for this column I will explore the beats, rhymes & lives of the listening experience. This VBehindW segment is not a music review. The goal of ‘The Listening’ is not to persuade you to listen to something just because I like it and want to write about it. What I listen to is what I listen to, just like what you listen to tells a story of your connection to music. I feel it’s one of many reasons Hip Hop caught my attention when it arrived in my life during my childhood years. What I heard as a kid felt like music I would grow to call my own. It introduced our generation to stories of other neighborhoods and cities beyond our own throughout the country. As I got older I realized Hip Hop extended beyond the U.S. and all across the globe. Hip Hop resides in the dustiest of details and in the cracks of all age circumstance that brings creators together to offer something that could live on its own and represent something original and something connected to the past and created for the future.

In this column we press play on a segment I call ‘The Listening’ to introduce you to a record by a DJ/beatmaker/eMCee out of California who goes by Drasar Monumental. Drasar considers himself all-state born and bred having grown up throughout Southern California and currently residing and creating in Northern Cali. In 2020, Drasar released a record titled Lifetime of Wreckage EP. An EP is shorter than a full album and can be a part of a consecutive release of EPs connected to a specific theme or larger album project (pt. 1, pt. 2, pt. 3, etc.).

On the back of the Lifetime of Wreckage EP it states, “Recorded in Vietnam, California”. The image that accompanies this column is of the actual vinyl record I have with artwork by Cawza One & Sonny Wong. Drasar also worked with Kufu 1. All three are graff artists which Drasar believes to be the highest form of artistry. Reflecting on the artwork Drasar shared, “When people pick up a record the first thing they see is the artwork, which I do not take lightly…The artwork should reflect the music and vice-versa. All of the ideas and images have been thought out tremendously. Luckily, I have artist around me that are dead serious about their craft, just like I am, or certain things would not have worked. Salute to all three of them for their energy, time, effort and talent.”

On the Lifetime of Wreckage EP Drasar created the beats, wrote and expressed the rhymes and handled the scratches. For those that don’t know, scratching is a sound effect created with a turntable by a DJ to produce specific sounds that go with the beat. Drasar’s ear is informed by his travels all around the globe digging for vinyl records and accumulating a library of music which inspires what he creates through a creative process called sampling. I couldn’t begin to guess the source of Drasar’s samples. This has been the case for everything I’ve heard from Drasar dating back to his work on a series he produced called Good Morning Vietnam with legendary eMCee by the name of MF Grimm aka Grand Master Grimm. Grimm is originally from Manhattan, New York. Drasar also collaborated with a beat maker that goes by Ayatollah from Queens, New York for a series released under the group duo name Boxcutter Brothers. The boxcutter is a metaphor for chopping up beats and slicing and rearranging sounds, what Drasar refers to as having a dual meaning in the world of beat production…“Staying sharp on those samplers”. Drasar adds, “In my opinion, what I am doing is composing from a wide range of media sources. It’s a collage sensibility where anything that I hear can be manipulated to get my point across. Sampling connects the old with the new in a way where it actually takes the producer on a journey of education, awareness, and history…Older musicians should be extremely proud that we are keeping their vibrations and sounds alive.” For our younger readers, sampling is regarded by many in Hip Hop as foundational to Hip Hop’s inception and its connection to the past, or what Los Angeles duo People Under the Stairs referred to on their O.S.T. album as ((The Dig)). Rest in peace to Double K. Vinyl records once the primary medium in which music was released and heard throughout the world going back more than fifty years continues to be a part of how music is released today. In my opinion, I don’t think any other genre is as tied to vinyl’s existence as Hip Hop, not only for the purpose of creating and releasing new music, but also for what it’s worth as a purchase in the digital age.

In Drasar’s lived experience he has seen whole generations swept off the streets and thrown into incarceration. There are pieces of dialogue chopped throughout Drasar’s music that reflect on the generational impact of mass incarceration. The first example I recall on the track Drasar produced called ((Economics)) with MF Grimm off the Good Morning Vietnam 3: The Phoenix Program album. On Lifetime of Wreckage the track ((Black Calculus Part 3)) Drasar spits, “In 2020 your mind is your strongest weapon…” I think about a publication like The Beat Within and what youth and adults take on when they decide to pick up a pen to think and write. Drasar shared his personal connection to the the importance of reaching out stating, “I’m down to help out in any shape, form, fashion possible. My younger brother got caught up and ultimately it led to his demise (RIP). It left a profound effect on me and I feel it is my duty to try and assist the younger cats in finding a way to sidestep the pitfalls of incarceration…”

Drasar describes his music as, “a wall of sound…bass, treble, and highs. HEAVY! My music is a sonic outlet of anger and frustration.” Instead of taking out what he describes as vitriol on others, he transfers aggressive energy into music. “It’s more productive to me in that fashion, many people don’t have a creative outlet, and I believe that pent up frustration manifest itself in a myriad of shortcomings and dysfunctionality…This [music] is my tool for expressing my deepest thoughts and opinions.” What Drasar explains takes me back to a Beat Within documentary recorded in 98’. In the video a Beat Within facilitator who was also incarcerated as a youth shared how his writings that expressed rage transferred through the pen. In the documentary available on YouTube (search The Beat Within 1998 documentary Pt.2) he states, “it was apropos that when I started to let the rage out, it went to the pen and it came out through my hand, and it was all going through the hand…I used to say when you read my early writings it was just violence, it was spewing, ranting, and railing at the world…in essence I’d turned that knife into a pen, and I was stabbing the page.” The facilitator added…“I believe in writing, and I believe in the therapy of writing, and I always say that what I try to do with these kids, is replicate what I did for myself, is turn the solid to the sound to a liberating writing experience.”

The Lifetime of Wreckage EP vinyl on Side A features songs by Drasar with rhymes and on Side B listeners experience those same songs expressed strictly through beats. Early on in my life I remember it was beat smiths like Havoc of Mobb Deep & RZA of Wu Tang Clan that made me wish there was a way to hear the music we saw on TV or heard on cassette strictly through beats. I was too young to know this was already going down. I didn’t have the know how as a middle schooler to look behind some of my father’s records even during the 80s when I’d sit close by and watch him sift through records to play his favorite songs on this turntable that sat on this tower of buttons, levels, and cassette ports. I’d learn later that sometimes vinyl records included versions of songs without the lyrics. For years I always felt it was Hip Hop that started serving up beats to listeners until I reached back and listened to soundtracks like Enter the Dragon by Lalo Schifrin or Marvin Gaye’s Trouble Man soundtrack or certain WAR records and even James Brown. Years ago a military recruiter shared a song by James Brown with me called ((King Heroin)). In the song JB recites a poem through rhyme about the struggles of addiction. On records and 45s, I discovered instrumental versions were described in different ways.

A part of Drasar Monumental’s inspiration to create comes from his father who put him on early to music. He was also inspired by local DJs and radio stations like KCSB and the legendary KDAY which exposed Drasar to “certain spectrum of sounds that shaped/shapes my musical worldview somewhat.” Drasar expresses a lifetime of wreckage on four tracks. With each listen another story is told, inspiring new conversations about Hip Hop music and its purpose. Vendetta Vinyl is the name of Drasar’s independent record label. Based in California with retailers all around the world the mission of Vendetta Vinyl is to “provide thought-provoking Hip Hop with an edge…no crybaby rap, no tinkerbell beats, no bozo bars, no extras…” In the mission Drasar and company add, “if you’re fed up with the current state of affairs – walk with us as we venture into the depths of hardcore Hip Hop chaos with reckless abandon. We don’t wait to get checked in, we check ourselves in.”

If you do your history, this is the foundation of Hip Hop. Drasar explains this in an interview with The Lost Tapes…“What we do, its’ foundation, you know, foundation Hip Hop where you got your breaks and stuff and fly rhymes and all that good stuff, but we build on the foundation into the 21st century; one foot in the past, and one in the future…We’re concerned with leaving a legacy and adding on to the greatness of Hip Hop.”

Til’ the next listening readers…Shout out to everyone in The Beat world and special thanks to Drasar Monumental for his time. Music is for everybody including the generation of youth that are going to continue to create and express themselves regardless of the challenges ahead. As Bruce Lee said it’s about having no limitation as limitation, using no way as way. In Hip Hop, creators often reflect on their success and the notion that it comes from making something out of nothing. I feel some of you will find out that even in spaces of nothingness and invisibility, your story, your voice, who you are and what you have to say can become your greatest asset, most valuable resource. Like a guiding light, what you have to say can become the light for someone else. Keep representin’ through this outlet we love, The Beat Within. Express yourself because you never know who is listening and who needs to hear what you got to say. 


Mr. Lee

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Beat Within VBehindW Column


Introducing the VBehindW Column

This past year joined The Beat Within family for a few sessions on Sundays to share out thoughts on weekly topics that facilitators were presenting to incarcerated youth and adults in workshop for the publication. The Beat hosted a Zoom Poetry Reading as well, dedicated to Beat colleague Pauline Craig. While The Beat family sessions on Zoom had to be discontinued to keep up with publication prep of the magazine, I'm thankful for the opportunity to connect with the founder of The Beat, Dave Inocencio to contribute a monthly column I title the VBehindW Column. VBehindW stands for Voices Behind Walls. In 2020, submitted several columns that included poems and writings titled, 'For the G'z from YGC (San Francisco)', 'For the Children Going Through It', 'When We ((listen)) to The Beat Within', 'Miracles', 'B.A.B.Y.', and the most recent for the 2020 wrap up issue, titled 'Dedicated to The Beat Within 2020'. I look forward to the year ahead and the opportunity to contribute to The Beat Within. It's an honor to be able to contribute to a publication that did so much for me in my development as a student and educator. 

Stay tuned!

(Click on the image to enlarge and see text to read!)

Friday, May 29, 2020

2019 Distinguished Resident: J. Paul Taylor

2019 Distinguished Resident: J. Paul Taylor

For his wide-ranging contributions locally and statewide, J. Paul Taylor has been named the Sun-News 2019 Distinguished Resident by Diana Alba Soular click here

"From working in the registrar’s office, Taylor shifted his career sights back to his childhood goal of education, becoming a sixth-grade teacher at Mesilla Park Elementary. It was the only job opening available to him at the time. He may have been the teacher, but, as he recalls, he was a student, as well. He spent his first year overcoming a big learning curve.

“Boy did I learn a whole lot,” he said with a chuckle. “I’d gone from college students who were just back from the war and who were very serious about their education to these little sixth-graders, who seemed very little then.”

A deep write up about the life of J. Paul Taylor. This note is to congratulate Mr. Taylor. I first met Mr. Taylor at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church on South Espina for a meeting with him, my CJ professor/mentor, and staff from the J. Paul Taylor prison. My goal was to propose an idea for a creative expression Hip Hop workshop at the J. Paul Taylor prison. He was a kind man, very open to ideas. He was very encouraging and overall the meeting went real well. For the next 10 years I'd have the chance to volunteer teach at the facility through our Voices Behind Walls program which had started a couple of years before at the Delta Youth Facility in El Paso.

I've always been interested in learning more about Mr. Taylor's involvement with juvenile justice issues in New Mexico. I've heard and from time to time saw him speak on the importance of addressing the juvenile injustice issues that seemed to be deeply rooted in New Mexico. I hope to learn more this in the future. There may be a few photographs I have somewhere of J. Paul Taylor's work with some of the programs I was involved in. There's not much mention of his connection to juvenile facilities one of which is named after him, the J. Paul Taylor Center. It's something worth exploring though, especially if there are any papers or reflections documented in J. Paul Taylor's historical records. 

Much thanks Mr. Taylor! I still remember that day at the Justice for Children symposium, when in a rare occurrence the facility had allowed a bunch of our participants that were incarcerated at the time to attend. You got up and asked one of our poets, "what can we do to help you? What can we do to help change things for the better?" And they answered your question. It was one of the most honest moments I'd seen in thinking about juvenile justice reform and just finally having a platform where an incarcerated youth could engage in a conversation with the public with a mic in his hand after having read his poetry. It was definitely a day to remember. Thank you for being kind to me and for encouraging me. It led to nearly a decade of connections with youth inside who were able to express themselves and document their voices. Some of them have passed on young, some of them are incarcerated for longer stretches of adult time, and some are finally expressing themselves outside the walls.What we refer to as our VOWs (Voices Outside the Walls). 

Thank you.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Beat Within 2020

The Beat Within 2020

Taking a moment to honor The Beat Within, a publication of art and writing from the inside...Here's to another year & all its challenges. Check them out at

Friday, November 29, 2019

Ear Hustle HQ

Ear Hustle HQ podcasts

It's been a while! While frequent updates are posted on the Twitter handle @vbehindw more often than not, I did want to slide into the VBW blog to put up a permanent note about this podcast right here. In a podcast landscape that continues to grow daily, this is one of the few that I often return to to make sure I don't miss a beat! Broadcasting out of San Quentin Prison, there is absolutely nothing like Ear Hustle. One of the most unique and interesting forms of storytelling about the American Legal System that I feel I've ever heard. It makes me wonder what other prisons sound like. It makes me wonder the role it plays in the lives of all those involved and how exciting it must be to embark on an opportunity as groundbreaking as the podcast universe. I'm a big fan of earhustle and encourage everyone to check in with this podcast at the following link:

Respect to the Ear Hustle family...can't even express how crazy it is to have followed Earlonne's journey from the inside out. That's a story I'll never forget, especially to hear it all develop through the podcast itself. Tune in world!

If you have a podcast that explores aspects of the American Legal System please reach out and let us know! We'd love to be your audience!

Monday, December 24, 2018

Tornillo Detention Camp (2,349)

An important article to reflect on as we move forward into the new year. Especially as we stop and think about incarceration, The New Jim Crow, immigration and the twilight zone that is our administration in the United States. 

Tornillo detention camp for migrant kids still growing

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) - TORNILLO, Texas (AP) - The Trump administration announced in June it would open a temporary shelter for up to 360 migrant children in this isolated corner of the Texas desert. Less than six months later, the facility has expanded into a detention camp holding thousands of teenagers - and it shows every sign of becoming more permanent.

By Monday, 2,349 largely Central American boys and girls between the ages of 13 and 17 were sleeping inside the highly guarded facility in rows of bunk beds in canvas tents, some of which once housed first responders to Hurricane Harvey. More than 1,300 teens have arrived since the end of October alone.

Rising from the cotton fields and dusty roads not far from the dark fence marking the border between the U.S. and Mexico, the camp has rows of beige tents and golf carts that ferry staffers carrying walkie-talkies. Teens with identical haircuts and government-issued shirts and pants can be seen walking single file from tent to tent, flanked by staff at the front and back.

More people are detained than Tornillo's tent city than in all but one of the nation's 204 federal prisons, yet construction here continues.

The camp's population may grow even more if members of the migrant caravans castigated by President Trump enter the U.S. Federal officials have said they may fly teens from the caravans who arrive in San Diego directly to El Paso, then bus them to Tornillo, according to a nonprofit social service provider who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to publicly discuss the matter.

An Associated Press investigation has found that the camp's rapid growth has created problems, including:

- Costs appear to be soaring more than 50 percent higher than the government has disclosed: What began as an emergency, 30-day shelter has transformed into a vast tent city that could cost taxpayers more than $430 million.

- The government is allowing the nonprofit running the tent city to sidestep mental health care requirements: Under federal policy, migrant youth shelters generally must have one mental health clinician for every 12 kids, but shelter officials told AP the facility has just one mental health clinician for every 50 kids.

- Federal plans to close Tornillo by New Years' Eve will be nearly impossible to meet: There aren't 2,300 extra beds in other facilities. A contract obtained by AP shows the project could continue into 2020 and planned closures have already been extended three times since this summer.

Tornillo's teens were not separated from their families at the border this summer, but they're held there because federal immigration policies have resulted in the detention of a record 14,000 migrant children, filling shelter beds around the country to capacity. Almost all came on their own from Central America hoping to join family members in the United States.

Some children have been detained at Tornillo since the tent camp opened in June. As the population inside the tall wire fences swells, and as some children stay there longer, the young detainees' anguish has deepened.

"The few times they let me call my mom I would tell her that one day I would be free, but really I felt like I would be there for the rest of my life," a 17-year-old from Honduras who was held at Tornillo earlier this year told AP. "I feel so bad for the kids who are still there. What if they have to spend Christmas there? They need a hug, and nobody is allowed to hug there."

After his family passed extensive background checks, the teen was recently released to them, but said he still has nightmares he's back inside. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal from immigration authorities.

Confining and caring for so many children is a challenge. By day, minders walk the teen detainees to their meals, showers and recreation on the arid plot of land guarded by multiple levels of security. At night the area around the camp, that's grown from a few dozen to more than 150 tents, is secured and lit up by flood lights.

The nonprofit social service agency contracted to run Tornillo says it is proud of its work. It says it is operating the facility with the same precision and care used for shelters put up after natural disasters.

"We don't have anything to hide. This is an exceptionally run operation," said Krista Piferrer, a spokeswoman for BCFS Health and Human Services, a faith-based organization that runs Tornillo. "This isn't our first rodeo."

She said they have no guidance from the Trump administration regarding what will happen after Dec. 31.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Mark Weber, said no decisions have been made about whether Tornillo will close by year's end as scheduled.

"Whatever it is we decide to do, in the very near future, we'll do a public notice about that," he said.


More than 50 years of research show institutionalizing young people is traumatizing, with harmful impacts on their psyche and life trajectories, prompting policymakers to seek alternatives to locking up children, said Naomi Smoot, executive director of the nonprofit Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

"Hearing that more than 2,000 kids are in any kind of detention facility is alarming to me," she said. "That's not where kids should be around the holidays, particular when they haven't broken the law."

Most of the children locked inside Tornillo are never charged with a crime; crossing illegally into the U.S. is a civil offense. By law, migrant children traveling alone into the U.S. must be sent to a government shelter where they stay until they can be united with relatives or other sponsors while awaiting immigration court hearings. Migrant children's time in government custody has grown longer this year, in part due to the Trump administration's new requirements for deep background checks on sponsors who agree to take in young immigrants.

Tornillo currently has 3,800 beds for the teens, with 1,400 of those on reserve.

Annunciation House director Ruben Garcia, whose El Paso nonprofit works with recent immigrants, said Tornillo is far more secretive than other government shelters, where he and his staff are routinely allowed inside. At Tornillo workers must sign non-disclosure agreements and visitors are rarely allowed.

"What's happening inside? Nobody knows. They cannot speak about what they see," he said. "We've been doing this work for 20 years and we've never seen anything like this."

BCFS says the shelter at Tornillo has actually had more media, elected officials, advocacy organizations, child welfare experts and attorneys tour the site than any other operation for migrant children run by HHS. The nonprofit said confidentiality agreements are standard, to protect the privacy and rights of clients and those served.


In June, as migrant child detention centers overflowed, HHS announced it was opening a rapidly built tent city at Tornillo, with the idea that most kids would only stay a few days. But within the week there was talk of making a detention camp 10 times as big.

Because the detention camp is on federal property - part of a large U.S. Customs and Border facility - it is not subject to state licensing requirements.

BCFS, a San Antonio nonprofit, runs Tornillo as it operates evacuation centers for hurricanes: there's food, first aid, activities and rows of bunk beds, but no normal-life activities for stressed-out teens, like formal school or unsupervised stretches.

Federal officials have said repeatedly that only children without special needs were being sent to Tornillo. But facility administrators recently acknowledged to care providers that the Tornillo detainees included children with serious mental health issues who needed to be transferred out to facilities in El Paso in the coming days, according to a person with knowledge of the discussion. The person spoke on a condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about discussions.

BCFS confirmed that the current ratio of mental-health clinicians to children is 1 to 50, and said that each child sees a mental health specialist every day.

"When a child is found to have a mental health need that cannot be best provided for at Tornillo, a request is made to HHS to transfer the child to a more appropriate facility," said Piferrer.

Dr. Ryan Matlow, a Stanford clinical psychologist whose work addresses the impact of early life stress, recently interviewed teens at Tornillo. He questions the facility's capacity to identify kids with special mental health needs given the large number of children and their tendency to suppress emotional distress in order to cope.

"The kids are able to get by in there, but the more time they spend in these sorts of facilities, the greater the consequences, especially when it comes to their emotional and psychological well-being," said Matlow. "It's a dangerous and harmful system for kids to be caught in."

Camilo Perez-Bustillo, who served as a Spanish-language interpreter at the camp earlier this month, said most of the two dozen children he met showed signs of depression and anxiety over when, or whether, they would be released. About two thirds are boys, and half of the teens are Guatemalan. There are no on-site interpreters for teens of indigenous origin who speak Spanish as a second language.

"They are all counting the days they are inside the way prisoners do," said Perez-Bustillo, who is advocacy director at the nonprofit Hope Border Institute. "Many of the kids have the sense of being suspended, and anxiousness about how much longer they will be held there."

Dr. Elizabeth Carll, a teen and trauma specialist who heads the American Psychological Association's Refugee Mental Health resource network, said institutionalizing so many teens in a geographically remote place makes it harder to recruit qualified clinicians.

"You have to find people who are licensed, who are experts in trauma, who speak Spanish and have worked with teens," she said. "Where would you find all these qualified professionals?"

Making things worse, Carll said migrant youth are likely to have higher emotional needs after going through hardship, enduring the journey north and being held in detention. They would do better if placed with trained, bilingual foster families, she said.

One shy 16-year-old from Honduras held at Tornillo told an AP reporter as she awaited her immigration court hearing that she was worried that it was taking so long to reunite her with family in Pennsylvania.

"I'm getting tired of waiting because I've been there three months," said the girl, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by staffers who were monitoring her and other Tornillo detainees. "I'm trying to keep the faith that I will be liberated soon."

$1,200 PER NIGHT

For each night each child spends at Tornillo, taxpayers spend up to $1,200 to pay the direct care workers, cooks, cleaners, teachers and emergency services workers, according to information staff at two congressional offices said they were provided on a recent visit. That's well above the $775 officials have publicly disclosed, and close to five times more than a typical youth migrant shelter costs.

BCFS did not dispute the cost, but said on average, actual costs are closer to $750 a day, which would bring current operations to more than $12 million a week.

The costs at Tornillo are so high because everything - water, sewage, food, staff and detainees - must be trucked in and out of the remote site. Every few hours, two teams fill up 2,000-gallon tanks of water from a hydrant outside the facility, then drive them back through the fences. Each day, 35,000 gallons of diesel are trucked in as well, to run massive generators that power air conditioners in blazing hot summers and heaters on frigid winter nights.

The teens can play soccer during closely watched recreation periods. They are given yarn to pass the time making brightly colored bracelets and scarves. There aren't regular classes, but teens have textbooks and workbooks.

Piferrer said BCFS was not charging the government for the tents, fire trucks and ambulance on site.

"We are not going to charge for resources that we already own," she said. "Everything that is being provided has been directed by the federal government to be provided."

Scant details about how those funds are spent motivated New York-based software developer Josh Rubin to set up residence in an RV just outside the gates, where he keeps a vigil on the vehicles going in and out. In recent weeks, he said, he has spotted new trends: construction trucks moving equipment in to build another tent, a vehicle carrying heaters, more buses with tinted windows taking children to immigration court.

Staffers are transported to the camp from motels near the El Paso airport, where the tour buses take pains to park on side roads, far from view. On a recent evening outside the Hawthorn Suites hotel, Tornillo workers filed off to bed in the darkness, many talking of feeling sick or exhausted.

Twice a day, the desolate stretch of highway outside Tornillo comes alive as more than a dozen tour buses pull up. Bells sound, lights flash. Workers walk in two by two, wearing khaki pants, neon jackets and backpacks, some wrapped in scarves to guard against the cool desert air.

Many days, Rubin is there alone, holding up a sign saying "Free Them" at the tent city's entrance. Sometimes the train rumbles by, or cotton drifts in the wind.

Protests began at Tornillo almost as soon as it opened. State and federal elected officials joined local activists and Hollywood stars deriding the Trump administration's immigration policies. But public attention turned elsewhere, and now demonstrations are rare.

On a recent afternoon, a group of about 60 activists including rabbis from Ann Arbor, Michigan and students from a local Catholic girls' school assembled to pray for the teens' release and sang a throaty version of "Let My People Go."

After a Department of Homeland Security official blocked them, the group ventured through a fence onto a private dirt road behind the facility. A group of teen boys could be seen across marshland, and a hole in the wire fence had been visibly patched.

"You are not alone!" the activists cried out in Spanish to the youth being led between tents. Some of the teens waved back. One protester wiped away a tear as another banged on a plastic drum, calling out "We love you! We miss you!"

Dalila Reynoso-Gonzalez, a program director for the Methodist immigration advocacy group Justice for our Neighbors of East Texas, said she was moved to demonstrate at Tornillo after helping an immigrant father reunite with his son held there. The boy told her stories of a stark and lonely place and spoke of isolation, fear, disorientation.

He still has a foil blanket issued to him when he first was taken into custody, she said.

"It's really heavy on my heart," said Reynoso-Gonzalez. "How did we get to this place, why do we have so many children out there?"

"Tornillo detention camp for migrant kids still growing." KTSM, 27 Nov. 2018 [El Paso, Texas]

Friday, January 6, 2017


About the #TBWMixtape click here

"...My responsibility if I'm your teacher is to teach you to think...if I want you to think, I must teach you to think about everything. I must teach you that there is a reason for everything you do and you must find that reason..." #JamesBaldwin