Death of a Virgin: The two cities that face each other across the river share a common trait: that whenever something goes wrong, they decide that particular moment is exceptional, not typical.

Deep In Dreamland

‘I am living in a hyper-violent situation that nobody else admits exists, and it’s ripping me apart, and here, I’ll get you a ticket to the funhouse.’

In a masterful, and disturbing, new book, Charles Bowden chronicles a disintegrating, drug-fueled society below the border in Juarez, and considers its troubling implications for the future of the United States. Feel free to be worried now.

By David McGee
Drawings for Dreamland by Alice Leora Briggs (Copright: Alice Leora Briggs 2010)

Imagine you in one country could walk only a short distance over a bridge into another country—so short a walk you could heave a stone and watch it land back across the border from whence you came. But when you continue walking in this new country you’ve entered, you find the city you’re in almost shut down, hardly any business going on. Maybe you pass a schoolyard and see a dead body impaled on the fence, a pig’s mask over its head. Maybe you stroll below a bridge spanning one of the city’s busiest streets and there, hanging, is a headless body. You see street dogs, rampant, wary, guarded, neither their eyes nor their tails betraying any sense of their feelings. The Mayor of the city, at the end of his day, goes back across the bridge you crossed to get into his city, to the home he keeps in another country, because he is not safe in his own town.

There is something hanging there, ill-defined but not pleasant, a possibility dark in the blaze of day, move, move on, ignore this sense, but still it does not leave once the bridge is crossed and the other nation envelopes one with new words and sounds and at the same time caresses dreams with offers of familiar products.

…it is not the midnight street, the dark alley, the clot of cholos leaning against a wall on the corner, the police with their cash-register eyes, the new pickups, huge and with darkened glass, no, it is not these signals of menace that one must be on guard for, it is this moment in the bar, this calm, this music, the bead of moisture slowly trickling down the glass, that is when they will come, you will disappear, yes, you will leave with them, be forced into a car and leave behind you only very vague memories which before the next drink is swallowed will have vanished, it is always when you relax and feel safe in this place that you are no longer safe, that the pain and terror come and to be honest, the thing you have been dodging but waiting for, the credit flashing on the screen that says The End. That is what everyone on every street here knows and waits for and never mentions, no, does not mention once…—from Dreamland

Welcome to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the deadliest city on Earth, where drugs are the coin of the realm, the drug gangs operate with impunity, and murder, random or otherwise, is the chief form of social control over the populace. And no one is clean—the government and the drug gangs are in cahoots, the police with their “cash-register eyes” do the bidding of the drug gangs, the Mayor flees, and when Mexico’s President comes to town, his itinerary and location remain secret, no one is clean.

In January of 2004, Charles Bowden, an award winning journalist and author who has been covering the ongoing disintegration of order in Mexico for more than a decade and a half, was at work on another book when he received a call from a source he had cultivated within the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The source was urging him to cover a big, breaking story—a drug gang in Juarez had stormed what it thought was a stash house in order to steal the drugs therein, but had gone to the wrong address and raided a DEA agent’s house instead. As Bowden investigated further, he uncovered even more horrors, as he knew he would. But even this one surprised him, hardened as he had become to the senseless, inchoate violence of Juarez: a Mexican informant working for ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement), a division of the Office of Homeland Security unknown to most Americans, had murdered a man while ICE agents listened in on the informant’s open cell phone line and did not intervene. It turned out ICE was knowingly letting murders go unpunished as it focused its attention on making a case against a quadriplegic cigarette smuggler in New Mexico.

‘Then the house of cards collapsed,’ Bowden says.

Working with sources he had developed in the government, another journalist, Bill Conroy, at his site, had revealed the presence in Juarez of the House of Death, on Parsioneros Street. In this unassuming condominium, located in an otherwise quiet, modest, middle class neighborhood, drug gangs tortured and murdered their kidnapped victims (carne asadas is the code word for these sessions), then buried them in the back yard patio. Conroy first reported on the House of Death murders in 2004 and has since published more than 70 stories on the case, while the mainstream U.S. media pays little attention to the unchecked violence raging out of control only steps from our border, and which, Bowden insists, will have a more profound impact on the future of the United States then either the Iraq or Afghan wars.

Building on Conroy's groundbreaking reporting, Bowden used his own knowledge of the inner workings of Juarez and his own deep background sources in the government and in the drug gangs as well (one of his primary sources being a contract killer for one of the gangs) to fashion one of the more unsettling and horrifying books of our time. Dreamland, published in April by the University of Texas Press, reads like fiction, but is fact, enhanced by the author’s first-hand experience interacting with the locals, in and out of the drug business. Centered on the House of Death murders, and using actual transcripts of interviews with one of the ICE informants (Ramirez Peyro, or “Lalo,” as he was nicknamed) who, with the complicity of ICE agents, went on a six-month killing spree that ended only after the drug thugs hit the DEA agent’s house by mistake, and after which Mexican and U.S. officials dug up a dozen bodies buried in the patio of the House of Death, Bowden recreated in searing prose the disintegrating Juarez its citizens know, where sudden death awaits anyone who steps out onto the street, and no one knows how many have been “disappeared,” because to report the disappeared is to put your own life in jeopardy.

Here is the Juarez of Bowden’s Dreamland:
On the strip where the hotel looms, the road is lined with Domino’s, Peter Piper, McDonald’s, Applebee’s, Carl’s Jr., and Burger King. Every signal meeting the eye says safety. In this midst of this commercial barrage is a club called Hooligan’s. One fall a few years back, five men sat at a table there. One danced with a pretty woman. Apparently her boyfriend took offense. The five men left the club but were detained by the Mexican police who beat four of them to death. The boyfriend was rumored to have deep ties to the Juarez cartel but this has never been explored and the dead have been largely forgotten. The boyfriend did marry the pretty woman shortly after the incident, so some good came of the evening.

Yes, as much blood as is spilled in Dreamland, there is dark humor as well. Truly gallows humor, in this case. At which point we must consider the other essential component of Bowden’s disturbing treatise: the artwork of Alice Leora Briggs. Bowden says he agreed to have Ms. Briggs illustrate the book because after meeting her, because he recognized in her drawings “someone who understood pain.”

Ms. Briggs did not merely take the text of Dreamland home and start drawing. She traveled to Juarez herself, to sites where executions took place, photographed known death houses, visited the city morgue, where she witnessed the autopsy of a newly executed young man. “In this city one sees fiction in action,” she says, “even an hour is time enough to blend truth with myth.”

And, with a charge from Bowden that she not literally document his text, blend truth with myth she does, in ways that cause a reader to catch his breath when confronted with the vividness of the casual carnage depicted in her Juarez visions, a city where she sees not only “fiction in action,” but clearly, a panorama of history unfolding in the daily Grand Guignol of cruelty and suffering she witnessed. Her Juarez is two cities in one: the actual, modern-day municipality in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, with an estimated population of one million, and, in its shadows, a medieval village of the damned. One illustration depicts a Christ-like figure draped dead over the lap of a woman from His time (Mary Magdelene?), while all around them are photographers, anxiously snapping photos of the death scene. In another, a man, naked save for his loincloth, is strapped to a wooden plank. A small incision has been made in his stomach, and from it a section of his intestine has been tied to a rod above him, and is being drawn out and wound around the rod as it is cranked by an impassive young man, also dressed in the garb of an ancient time—a primitive spit in action. Behind them, customers (who are, in fact, death house executioners) at the Erasmus Junction Diner slouch in chairs, chat over meals, oblivious to the torture going on next to them. Another illustration depicts a weary looking Charles Bowden, covering his eyes with his hand, as if he’s drifting off into a cat-nap, while behind him, on a slab, a dead man, his arms chopped off, is being eviscerated. The dead man on the slab is also Charles Bowden.

Bowden’s text and Briggs’s images illuminate what the author calls “the new geography” arising from the mayhem in Juarez. Specifically:

What commentators and politicians call problems are no more than how these facts manifest themselves. There is no drug problem, there is a drug appetite. There is no immigration problem, there is a flight from poverty and a demand for cheap and docile labor. There is no violence problem, there is simply an economic engine running without lubricant and without much hope of lubricant unless you count blood as a possible source, something our ancestors would simply see as a typical unregulated market. And the Mexican war is actual and it is fought by Americans against Mexico because such a war is preferable to Americans. The only alternative is to recognize the implications of our appetites and policies and no one wishes to do this. On the border it does not matter who is president or which party is in power. On this border the facts remain the same, and the death houses remain open for carne asadas.

This is the new geography, one based less on names and places and lines and national boundaries and more on forces and appetites and torrents of people.

In the following interview, Bowden, whose Dreamland is the second of two books he has published this year about the situation in Juarez (the other, which preceded Dreamland by a month, is, by comparison, more a straight reportorial account of the people and events in the city, titled Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and The Global Economy’s New Killing Fields), discusses the issues specific to Juarez, and the larger truths about the world in general to be gleaned from government and law enforcement’s response to and, indeed, complicity in, the so-called War on Drugs. Along the way he riffs on the legalization of drugs, the writer’s craft, the historical basis of drug laws, racism, and reserves some special and deserved praise for Alice Leora Briggs.

At the end of this story is a two-part video documenting the story of Lalo and the House of Death. In April 2008 Bill Conroy of and filmmaker Fernando Lucena, journeyed to Juarez in search of the House of Death. What Lalo did, the response of ICE agents to his ongoing criminal activities—including murder—and what became of him, is an eye-opening story that has never been aired on American television. Lucena’s documentary was filmed for the London bureau of the English language Al Jazeera network, which to date is the only network to broadcast this film.

GUN + SMOKE: Two things stun me: how much I once believed and how much, despite the storm in the skies and the blood on the ground, that I still continue to believe. (Click to enlarge)

Do you sometimes feel like you’re a lone voice howling into the wind?

Charles Bowden: Yes. Yes. It’s not simply that. I read the newspapers and wonder what planet they’re on. Because it involves Mexicans, magazines have no interest in it. I’ve been dealing with this for over fifteen years. In Juarez, in less than three years, over five thousand people have been slaughtered. If you take 2009, 2,753 people were killed; in 2009 in Afghanistan, with 29 million people, about 2,800 people were killed. Next question. Yeah, it has frustrated me. What frustrates me is that I think deaths are equivalent. I don’t think it’s more significant if an American dies or a Mexican dies. I’ve never been very interested in this femicide stuff. To start with I think it’s fraud; secondly, I think murder’s murder. It’s a human life—that’s the criterion, not your gender. The problem I have with femicide is that the way it’s characterized has two flaws. One, they lie about the numbers; second, they lie about the nature of the crimes. Like for the last three years most of the women killed in Juarez have just been machine-gunned. Well, they’ve been machine-gunned for the same reason the men have. It’s hard to see it as a sexual crime if you’re driving in your car and they machine gun you and you’re dead. They’re killing you as a person. This is not involving rape or anything else. And frankly, there’s been far more dismemberment of males in the last three years than females. It’s pretty common there to lop heads and arms off; those things have become a kind of art form, installation art. They hung a guy on a fence outside a public school and put a pig’s mask on his face, early in the morning. They’ve hung decapitated bodies on major overpasses and streets, goes on and on. We lack a vocabulary except to call it barbarism. Obviously it’s terrified people and obviously it does.

I read Dreamland on a flight from New York to Las Vegas. But I actually finished it shortly after we took off from Dallas on the second leg of the flight. I had a copy of the latest New Yorker with me, so after finishing Dreamland I picked up the magazine and started thumbing through. Lo and behold I come upon an article, thousands of words long, about the drug-fueled atrocities in South America and Mexico by the drug cartels, but I couldn’t get through it all because it was mostly just a chronicle of carnage. What impressed me about Dreamland, by contrast, is how you connect the dots; it’s not just the murders, but who and what is complicit in the horror down there—government agencies, the police, all either turning a blind eye to it, or actually participating in it.

Bowden: I haven’t read the piece. Someone sent it to me and I started it yesterday, then I thought, I’m too tired for this now. I thought, I should fill bird feeders, because I just went out and dropped seventy-five dollars on bird seed. I’m building the hummingbird population back up after being gone forever, and  a quart a day they’re now guzzling. So I didn’t finish it. As I understand it, he’s trying to demonstrate something called insurgency, which I don’t really find that useful. Criminal organizations historically have always performed public functions. Witness The Godfather: people go to Marlon Brando for justice. That doesn’t mean they’re trying to take over the state. It’s a separate matter is what I’m saying. In the case of Mexico and a lot of Latin America, the state isn’t worth owning. Who wants to pay for it? Oddly enough, when you get into drug entities in Mexico, they’re a lot like Republicans in the United States—they just want to be left alone to make their money. Their relationships with the state are in order to insure their business. So they’ve suborned police—there’s 3,500 police agencies, departments, in Mexico; they’re all suborned. Most of the politicians are either paid or threatened. Anybody trying to be a government has actual social policies. To my knowledge they don’t—their policy is to be left alone so they can move loads of drugs. That’s why they remind me of Republicans—they’re Mister Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. They just want to build a shithole and make some money—that’s their social policy—profit!

Here’s a point I’m a bit confused on, and that’s the actual genesis of this problem. In reading Dreamland, it seems it stems at least in part from the passing of NAFTA, but in another interview you did with Democracy Now (“Charles Bowden on ‘Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields,” April 14, 2010, Democracy,, you talk about how the new president, Calderón, assumed office in 2006 and wanted to show off…

Bowden: Yeah, that’s the match in the powder room. It depends when you want to begin in finding the beginning of the problem. The problem in Mexico is always the same: corruption and poverty. And in a culture of corruption and poverty, there’s always a fight by groups to get their slice of the pie. It’s been going on as long as there’s been a Mexico. But several new things happened. One was that free trade policies introduced a new player, outside capital; two, the expansion of the drug industry in Mexico introduced a new player, meaning drug organizations, which in Mexico earn somewhere between 30 to 50 billion dollars a year. They’re probably now the largest source of foreign currency in the country. This destabilizes previous arrangements and new arrangements have to be made. So this isn’t revolutionary in intent. NAFTA destroyed small and middle industry in Mexico, because they couldn’t compete. Just flat out did that, and as a consequence unleashed the largest human migration on earth, the movement of the Mexican poor north. Which studies say is the largest migration now going on—migration meaning you cross an international border. Nobody can match the Chinese with their internal migration, but that’s because there’s so many Chinese. One out of every five, six human beings is a citizen of China. Everything they do there is big; they’re the ultimate Texans. The other thing is in 1920 when the Mexican revolution ended, there were 15 million Mexicans; now there’s well over 100 million and Mexico hasn’t grown an inch. It’s overpopulated. If carrying capacity means anything, the ability of the ground to distribute goods to people, well, there’s more people than goods. It’s a society of poverty. At least 50 percent of the nation, by their definition, lives below the poverty line. I think in the case of Juarez, where Dreamland takes place, they’ve finally reached a breaking point.

RESULTO: Between August 5th and January 14th twelve men were tortured, strangled and buried at the quiet house and ICE, a component of the new Department of Homeland Security, knew about the killings and did nothing. (Click to enlarge)

Where does the title Dreamland come from?

Bowden: I guess out of my head. For more than fifteen years I’ve been hanging out with these guys in the drug world, and they’re all dreaming, because they all know they’re going to die; they are not going to live a long time, retire with their winnings. They’re all going to be killed. They live in this sort of dreamland.  A logical dreamland. Meaning if you don’t go into the life, you’re just going to be like a slave all your life. So for a brief, shining moment you can have money, standing, girls, then you die.

They live for the brief, shining moment.

Bowden: Yeah, like all gang kids, for example. You talk to kids in American gangs, they’re not fools. They might not be highly educated, but they look around they can see the future, both in what their parents have, and what happens to people in the gangs. Go to prison, you get killed. This is not getting your ticket punched in a normal middle-class sense. But it’s an option. Among many bad options. Having the ability to work in juke joints was a good option for a field hand in the 1920s or ‘30s, because you could make extra money, have status, drink more than other people, and have a kind of freedom. It’s not an odd career choice if you have the chops to do it. It was to white people living in these towns, because they had options; the black population had none. You could be a minister, that was the other option. Basically Southern ministers were a liaison between the black community and the white community, negotiators. They could hardly be insurrectionary. Until the ‘50s it wasn’t possible. Even then it was very dangerous. I was down there in the ‘60s; it was not user friendly. It was dangerous.

I was also struck by the little details about living in Juarez day to day, the things you see as a writer that to the casual onlooker may not seem remarkable, but in the context of the story are so telling. You note, for instance, how the dogs “look carefully but do not attack, nor wag their tails.”

Bowden: The dogs fascinate me. I have a friend who’s collecting photographs of the dogs in Juarez. Because they’re not neurotic, and a lot of American dogs are. They don’t get fed a lot. They just sort of stay alive. There’s an estimated 200,000 street dogs in Juarez. They all have their little turf, their half-block or whatever. It’s not like they’re raging beasts, but they move with their own dignity; they’re not cowering curs, either. It’s striking compared to American dogs, which are basically pampered. The only equivalent that I know of the dogs in Juarez are farm dogs and ranch dogs, who also tend to live outside the house and have a sense of themselves, function and independence, and are never neurotic. You can’t work cattle as a dog half out of your skull. Same thing with the farm dogs: they have to learn this sort of manners and morals, and it’s not good to steal eggs.

So these street dogs remain street dogs as long as they manage to stay alive.

Bowden: As long as they stay alive. Now they’ve grown, because people are fleeing the city because of the recession and the violence. So now they’re dumping dogs, because they can’t afford to take them with them, these dogs they occasionally fed. The Juarez paper claims there’s a growth in these dogs. Twenty-five percent of the houses in Juarez have been abandoned in the last year and a half; forty percent of the businesses have closed—by businesses I mean the shops you walk by on the street—because there’s no money. There’s been eighty to a hundred thousand factory jobs lost, etcetera, and of course there’s the violence. No one goes out at night. The restaurant business is close to extinct, because it’s not safe. And on and on.

During the day, what do the people who are left there do with their lives?

Bowden: They improvise living. The Mexicans are remarkable at patching together a bunch of pesos and getting through the day. They’re peddlers, they sell a few tacos, some of them work in the border plants, and on and on. Fifty percent of the adolescents now are neither in school nor have jobs, according to their studies. Nobody knows anymore, but there’s somewhere between five hundred and nine hundred street gangs in the city. Every piece of territory has been marked and claimed by some gang. And they’re busy killing and selling drugs, extortion, robberies, like juvenile gangs everywhere.

Now after ninth grade you have to pay to go to school in Mexico. Almost nobody can afford it; that’s the reason there’s such a huge number of adolescents not in school. And of course there’s no work; it’s hard to find a job. So it’s a kind of miraculous improvisation. I’ve always been amazed at how good Mexicans are at staying clean. You live in a shack, you gotta pay for your water, which is trucked in and put in a barrel, and yet everybody every morning steps out of the shack with clean clothes. They must just wash all the time. They fence off their little plot where they’ve built their little shack in the city and the land has just been squatted on; there’s no title. They’ll fence it off with barbed wire and that works as a clothesline; you hang your clothes on the barbed wire to dry. The electricity is stolen—you see lines snaking across the dirt and men climbing the power poles, sometimes getting electrocuted. Stealing electricity to run a little light bulb or something. It’s not an easy life. If you have a job, like in the American factories, you’d be lucky to make fifty bucks a week for a five and a half day week. And the cost of living is not cheap, it’s about ninety percent of what it would be in El Paso. And people ask me why there’s violence. The better question to ask is, Why isn’t everybody out killing?

INFERNO: The city lives under this appetite and on this appetite, lives because of the blues in faraway places, because of the after hours lust in small towns and tired crossroads… (Click to enlarge)

In reading a couple of online interviews with you, hearing your interview on NPR, and then reading Dreamland, what keeps coming back to me is that this place, Juarez, is a short walk over the bridge from El Paso, Texas, in the United States. This carnage is occuring on a daily basis a stone’s throw from our border.

Bowden: Let’s put it this way: this is a lot of the world, but it’s very close in this instance. It’s a large city next to a large U.S. city. El Paso is about eight, nine hundred thousand now. Juarez was up a million and a half or so, but now it’s down to around a million. We’ll never know because census taking in Mexico is never very accurate. For two reasons: nobody wants to fill out a form, because they think it will be used against them; and the government likes to deliberately undercount because most taxes go to Mexico City and are repatriated on a per capita basis. Mexico City is kind of like Paris was under Louis XIV—it swallows the country.

Juarez was supposed to be the poster child for free trade, and it’s turned in to this monster. Frankly, I don’t think you can look at the killing and simply lay it on a drug war. Clearly with the instance in Dreamland that’s what it is—a death house being run be a cell of the Juarez cartel, the Juarez drug organization, where they dispose of people. They’re all over the city. There were two discovered in 2008, which means not “discovered” but revealed. One had six bodies, one had thirty-six or thirty-eight. But they’re all over the city. I know a professional killer there who’s personally buried two hundred and fifty people in Juarez in death houses. That’s his work—he’s in a cell. Like the death house in the book, he’s in a little cell and he’s been a party to two hundred and fifty executions and secret burials. He doesn’t know how many there are, either; he just told me they’re everywhere. Actually, when I asked him he told me, “Juarez is a cemetery.” Exact quote.

For the benefit of readers who haven’t heard about “death houses” before, these are perfectly normal looking, in some cases quite impressive, houses from the outside. Inside them, people who have been abducted off the streets or from their homes or wherever endure unspeakable terror and torture, are finally killed and buried in the backyard patios.

Bowden: Yes. They’re houses rented or leased by drug organizations or police, where they take people, torture them, murder them and bury them. And the purpose is so that the murder is not publicly known, lest it alarm the population or the government. The real reason they exist is an agreement between the drug people, the police and the government to keep things looking quiet. That’s their function. Because at times bodies are scattered all over the street, and I don’t just mean this recent carnage. They’re left as messages, etcetera; then suddenly there’s no bodies left on the streets for months. In the drug business you can’t run it without death. It’s impossible to enforce contracts in an industry that has no legal standing without killing people. Imagine the record business if you couldn’t hire a lawyer and sue. You get a little taste of that with some of these rap adventures in the industry. That’s the reality of the drug business, because everybody tries to cheat eventually because there’s so much money. The only way to keep people honest is to kill them. And so they do. That’s the function of death house. They’re all over the country, wherever’s there’s drugs. In this case [in Dreamland], it’s not unusual that the state police were being hired as the executioners. It’s like sharing the wealth to let them do the killing. They get some extra money. I’m not being cynical; that’s just the way it operates. Basically no one ever taken by, say, the Juarez cartel has ever come back. That’s why I became interested in this case. Fernando was the first person to ever come back, so we know what actually happened to him, thanks to the accidental transmission of his murder. It was being broadcast. If they take you, you just disappear. And nobody knows. There’s no real record of disappearances, because it’s dangerous to report if someone’s disappeared. If you call the police, they’re working for the people who disappeared the person.

SPIT: The workers of the death house would meet here to eat and drink and plan their next job, tasks described as carne asadas, roughly meaning grilled meat or barbecues. (Click to enlarge)

How did you find out about Fernando coming back and what had happened to him? Did you know him?

Bowden: No, no. I was sitting in Marfa, Texas, writing a book, in a borrowed house, as seems to be my custom. And I got a call on January 16, 2004, from sources in the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] that I had to come out of my retreat and come back and write about this. And the reason was, this house was revealed January 14, 2004, and it was revealed because the group that’s described in the book went to hit a stash house and steal the drugs and got the wrong address—they hit a house in Juarez where a DEA agent lived with his family. Then the house of cards collapsed. It became a major issue. So that’s how I got into it. What intrigued me was this evidence; there’s a transcript of that broadcast by Fernando when he was being killed. Because of that there was this record. And of course they took the bodies out of the yard, twelve of them—there were actually fourteen people killed, but they hadn’t had time to stick two of them underground yet. You gotta be reasonable—takes a while to dig a hole. The executions start in early August 2003 and go to January 14, 2004, in this condominium, what would be a middle manager place, somebody who had a middle management job in a border factory in Juarez. Of those twelve people none had ever been reported missing. So who the hell knows how many are gone? There you have a sample.

One other thing that fascinated me was that eventually they took the remains to the morgue, and hundreds of people, for these twelve corpses, showed up from all over the United States and Mexico, rode buses, took planes, because they wanted to see if one of their relatives was among the dead. Now all those people—none of whom would speak to the press and refused to be photographed—there were lines of them, couple of blocks long outside the morgue in Juarez—all those people had obviously lost something; they weren’t coming down there for some ghoulish pleasure. This gives you a hint of the dimension of what’s going on. I knew two women who were keeping a list; they got up to nine hundred fourteen missing. And none of the names on their list were the people in the death house. None of them; there was no overlap. It’s like this contract killer I’ve been dealing with. He knows where hundreds and hundreds of people are buried in Mexico, because he’s killed them and buried them. He’s a state police commandant, or was, like the guys in Dreamland, and was actually an employee of the cartel. In fact they had financed him and put him through the state police academy. He’s not a cop who was corrupted; he was recruited and sent to the academy to work for them and had a rather long and successful career until he got in trouble a couple of years ago. But he has no idea of the dimensions, because he only knows what his cell did. It’s organized so that if you go down you can’t betray much, like the CIA or any intelligence organization. He knows one gravesite there, he won’t tell me where it is, where they killed fifty kids in one night and put them in the ground. Well, they were car thieves working for the cartel and they were talking too much in the bars, so the drug guys with the police rounded them up one night, executed them and put them in a mass grave. This was in the late ‘90s. He won’t tell me where that one is. I don’t know the dimensions of it; nobody does.

The reason I started writing Dreamland was for once I thought I could convey a sense of what really happens, because of this transmission, when one of the killers left his cell phone on and it got recorded by agencies. Then a couple of years later I ran into this contract killer and learned a lot more. But that’s another matter. He spoke to me at length for about a year. He had a lot of time—he’s a fugitive. Doesn’t have a bright future. The Juarez cartel has a contract on his head for two hundred and fifty thousand. It’s the old thing: you only get to make one mistake, and they make mistakes every day. That’s a problem with being a criminal in the United States—it doesn’t matter if the cops are not bright. You just get one mistake and then you’re nailed. That’s the way it goes. They can just bumble along and you go to prison. If you take a fall and you’ve been living the way most of these guys do, it wipes out everything you’ve earned. I had a friend made twenty million, came out of prison without five cents. He did two federal stretches here and it was all gone. Part of it is that people in this kind of life don’t tend to save because they figure they’re gonna be destroyed anyway. It’s not really sensible to build up your portfolio if somebody’s gonna kill you or you’re gonna go to prison. You go to these expensive places at night and people are just spending money like it doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t. It’s vaporware.

Ramirez Peyro, aka ‘Lalo,’ the DEA and ICE informant who continued to murder while working for the U.S. government. He is now out of jail and living somewhere in the United States.

Q&A sections with a fellow named Lalo are interspersed throughout the narrative—

Bowden: Those are from an actual interrogation—not mine.

Lalo murders while agents from a component department of Homeland Security called ICE are listening in via Lalo’s cell phone, which he didn’t turn off. What does ICE pretend to do and what does it really do?

Bowden: Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It was created after 9/11. It’s folded into the new agency of Homeland Security, so it’s a sub-cell of that. There’s no reason for you to have heard about it, but it’s quite common on the borders since those particular agencies—customs—the border patrol are like lice, they’re everywhere on the border. Because this configuration is fairly new, ICE has more of a cowboy way of doing things. In this particular case, Lalo was a DEA and ICE informant. Then in June of 2003 he got caught running a load. Well, DEA then cut him loose, because under federal protocol you can’t use informants that continue to commit criminal acts. And they assumed ICE had [cut him loose], but ICE hadn’t. Then he starts murdering, and ICE obviously knows it, since they’re listening in, and they still don’t do anything, because they had this fever that happens in agencies, of making a big case, a career case, and then it blew up in their hands. After the event of January, when it’s revealed, of course all the players get buried; the fed agents get laterally transferred, that’s the usual thing. To punish them would be to officially recognize wrongdoing. You don’t do that. So they just get transferred. Lalo’s superior takes a fall and agrees to do twenty-eight U.S., twenty-eight years in prison, because if they extradite him back to Mexico he’ll be killed by the cartel. It’s almost a certainty he was doing some of these things on his own; private ripoffs where he was forgetting to tell the boss and give him his share. The other thing is, if you’re in U.S. custody for very long they assume you’ll talk, because if you beat the rap and get extradited, you’re murdered. You’re damaged goods.

Now Lalo, what the Feds tried to do, they spent six years trying to get him extradited to Mexico, because they knew what would eventually happen—he’d be murdered. The case went on and on and on and a federal judge said, “You can’t do that, you’re just going to get him killed.” So he’s out on bond now.

Look, there’s nothing odd about this except that you and I know about it. This is business kind of as usual, only it’s like a rock got turned over and you get to see how it operates. Initially they were using Lalo because they were trying to build a cigarette smuggling case against a quadriplegic in New Mexico. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

In these agencies there is no war on drugs. If you’re in an agency, what you’re trying to do is make a case. If you make a good case, then you get promoted. If you’re a federal attorney, if you get a headline case, that’s career enhancing. It’s a logical system but it has very little to do with whatever you may think the word justice means. And certainly these people aren’t fools; they don’t think the activity is suddenly going to stop drugs from entering the United States. It has a life of its own, and these agencies are huge. DEA has over four thousand agents now; the border patrol has passed twenty thousand. Homeland Security, of which ICE, customs and the border patrol are a component, has I think two hundred and forty-two thousand staff. It’s normal sociology. If you’ve read sociology on bureaucracies, they’re self-perpetuating. Their mission is to perpetuate themselves. I just read today, because of this flap with Michael Hastings and McChrystal, that there are something like twenty-five thousand  or fifty thousand flacks in the military, press relations people. The article said the budget was five billion a year in the Pentagon for press relations. Which I don’t have any trouble doubting. Cost of doing business. Military press offices are there to make sure nothing gets printed. They’re there to limit information. Other agencies are the same. So this is a window, and of course it’s a window into the border, where killing just goes on in Mexico and crimes are not solved. The statistics are that 2,753 people were executed in Juarez in 2009; of the 2,753 homicides, there were thirty arrests, not convictions. Most of those people were released. Put a photo in the paper, “we solved it.” Then if you check, in a couple of weeks they’re let go because there’s no case. They just pick somebody up and beat a confession out of them temporarily. What I’m telling you is criminal cases in Mexico are not solved; that law enforcement there is a state form of sanctioned terror to control the population. So this is a peek into how things work there. But inadvertently, because of the revelation of January 14, it’s a peek into how some of these U.S. agencies work.

The guy who has really written a lot about this, Bill Conroy ( He has cultivated really good sources in customs. And the reason people are talking to him is that most of the people in these agencies are basically decent. They don’t feel any better about the house of death than you do. “I want to pull my thirty and get my pension, but I didn’t sign on for this. This is not what I tell the wife and kids I do for a living.” I’ve heard corporate stories and everything else. Most people are essentially honest. That’s how reporters find things out. No matter how big the executive is, the secretary knows more than he does. Most of the press doesn’t believe what goes on down there, although it’s documented. Bill has thirty, forty thousand words on this and he’s the only member of the press that’s kept it up. It’s a lot easier to deal with public officials and politicians, write down what they say and print it; scrutinize what they say and try to find out if it’s true. This Hastings who took down McChrystal? I don’t think he did anything deceptive. They just assumed that all reporters were whores for access. I don’t think he was dishonest in the least. The outcry of the press against him is a clear statement of why I hold most of the press in contempt. I don’t cut those deals, either. I’ve cut a few—I was once with a chairman of a major American Indian tribe on a junket. We were stranded in an airport and we went into the restaurant bar, and he said, “This next beer I’m ordering is off the record.” His tribe was officially dry, so in my article I didn’t write that he ordered a beer. I didn’t consider that a major sellout. Like all American tribes, his was plagued by alcoholism, so it was a touchy issue. So he had a beer off the record. We had just survived near-death in a small aircraft; a storm swept in, that kind of thing. It’d been a bad ride. (laughs)

But going back to Dreamland, another thing was clear. If that death house had killed fifty Mexicans, the agents wouldn’t have cared. For two reasons: one, they’re Mexicans; two, they would tell themselves all these people were just dirty. Now, for the life of me I don’t know how an agent gets to decide you should be executed because you’re part of a marijuana deal. I didn’t know that was on the statutes as a capital crime, but that’s how they justify themselves, and I know that absolutely from talking to them for years. A “Let God sort ‘em out” type of attitude. They’re not people to the agents. But of course they are people. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Mexicans are in the drug industry at different levels. It employs a lot of people. You can’t move tons without a lot of people. Besides those people, there are mountains of people living off the benefits—police force, politicians, all kinds of small businesses that wouldn’t exist without the drug industry.

TEST BOY: They come north into this inferno to smuggle drugs because U.S. citizens with to consumer drugs. (Click to enlarge)

It’s the most stable industry there, isn’t it?

Bowden: Yes. One of the preposterous things is when the American public is told about someone getting taken out whom they say is “a major captain in the Juarez cartel.” That was so his apprehension was a bigger achievement. This is common. “El Chapo Guzman is one of the richest men in the world.” Who the hell knows? They create these figures. It’s not technical, but the fact is in the last fifteen years the drug industry in Mexico has fragmented. In other words, it’s been deregulated and there’s a lot more independence. But for agencies to have a worthy adversary, it has to be this hierarchy of power. Like in James Bond. So they create a structure. The same way Dick Cheney was convinced that 9/11 couldn’t happen without state help. That it was a state action, probably by Iraq. I think he’s actually sincere in that, and that’s why every fraudulent piece of evidence he instantly believed. We’re well down the road on this now, and we know that whatever Al Qaeda is, Osama Bin-Laden doesn’t sit in his cave at the control panel. This is nation by nation, group by group, it’s an attitude almost—it’s not even as organized as fuckin’ Amway. For the same reason, drug organizations have cells and all kind of fragmentation, so it’s very hard to make a direct hit. Then we substitute what looks to us like a direct hit—the boss! But of course if we kill the boss, the next morning someone else is doing the same thing he was doing, in the same organization. It’s a silly attitude. But it’s not for the agencies, since the agencies are about self-perpetuation. Anybody who’s been around as long as I have knows that in constant dollars, drugs are cheaper now than they were thirty years ago. Cocaine, in relation to income, is cheaper. Heroin’s cheaper. Actually, marijuana’s cheaper. They’ve increased the THC so much in it that an ounce is a lot more than an ounce used to be, and I don’t mean simply in the price you pay. The product’s better. So after a trillion dollars and a forty-year war on drugs, begun by Richard Nixon, all the drugs are more available than then, all the drugs are higher quality than then, and all the drugs in constant dollars are cheaper.

And Americans’ appetite for drugs has increased as well.

Bowden: It’s an interesting contradiction that nobody will talk about. Every year the Feds bring out another study showing we’re using fewer drugs than we ever have. Then you have to wonder why these Mexicans keep growing and moving them. Is this just some kind of aerobic exercise? Why do they kill each other over them, if nobody’s using them here? What we have created in our own society is a culture of fear that we’ll go to a police state, so people won’t admit drug use. You know, there’s truckloads of cocaine entering the country, but nobody says they use cocaine anymore. I don’t believe that. People will admit to marijuana, but nothing else. Heroin has never been cheaper or of better quality.

I was in a deal five years ago in Dallas, we were getting Columbian heroin, 94 percent pure, delivered to the city at $72,000 a kilo. I was working with these narcs, and this one guy, when he started the price in Dallas for heroin of lower quality was $230,000 a kilo. (laughs) That’s what he told me—“I’ve spent over twenty years in the streets and this is what I’ve achieved. Better heroin, almost free.” Which it is. You no longer have to engage in criminal activity to use heroin. Meaning you can actually earn enough at any normal job and be a heroin addict. You don’t have to steal. And of course if you can get decent heroin, and it’s freely available, one of your major problems is solved—you can maintain. These high school kids were paying eight, ten bucks a hit in Dallas, for heroin. But it was everywhere, it still is. Separate matter. It’s a window into a two-faced fraud: the American agencies always ramping up in their war on drugs, then Mexico claiming cooperation, when in fact the country would economically collapse without the revenue from drugs.

You write at one point that what’s taking place down there along “the line,” as you call it, “will profoundly alter the future of the United States.” In the NPR interview you said the situation is of far greater significance to the U.S. than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What do you foresee happening in and to the U.S. if this problem remains unchecked and indeed, seemingly supported by our government?

Bowden: There’s two factors: One, Mexico is breaking down economically. The largest migration on Earth is coming north, it isn’t going to stop. Over ten percent of its population is now living in the United States. Within twenty years there will be at least thirty-five million people here descended from this migration. That’s why I say this is going to have a more profound effect on the United States than the Iraq war, the Afghan war, which in the end will be like the Vietnam War—we’ll declare victory and leave. What you’re seeing in the Iraq war and the Afghan war is the final endgame of an imperial policy that goes back well before World War II that we can no longer afford—using military intervention to control other nations. Certainly if you were kind—I’ll try to be kind—you’d say the start of the Spanish-American War. Then our actual counterinsurgency war for years in the Philippines, where we just slaughtered people wholesale in the oughts of the nineteen-hundreds. There’s a growing body of literature that that’s where our techniques were really developed—there’s no question that’s where we perfected waterboarding. It’s documented [Ed. Note: “Annals of American History: The Water Cure, The New Yorker, Feb. 25, 2008,]. And now we’re at the end of it. We no longer can afford this behavior. The Afghan and Iraq wars are bankrupting us. Not only that, people are increasingly losing their belief in it. No matter how hard they try, Al Qaeda is not really a good substitute for Commies. You can look at the Soviet Union and claim they want your mama, but you can’t look at these assholes living in caves and really convince everybody forever. They don’t have a proper foe. The war on drugs seems to have a life of its own. We have the largest per capita prison population on Earth, we have drugs freely available at a very reasonable price, we’ve created a police state where you can’t get a decent job unless you piss into a cup, we’re killing thousands of people both domestically and in other countries—and I’m not talking about ODs at all; I’m talking about police actions—and yet there are politicians in both parties standing up in our country endorsing gay marriage and almost nobody will talk about legalizing drugs. Now I can’t explain that. It’s absurd. In each instance it’s absurd. Meaning you’re trying to police private actions that have no consequence on you. Certainly same sex attraction doesn’t affect my life one way or another. And drug consumption is irrelevant. Any country that can live with alcohol can live with anything.

NARCOTRAFICANTE: Drugs are just one more detail in this human migration driven by need. As things get ever more turbulent, we do need our drugs and so they come along for the ride and color our border with blood and fill the night with screams. (Click to enlarge)

What would the legalization of drugs do to Mexico?

Bowden: It would collapse it. Pemex, the nationalized oil industry there, is the largest single source of revenue—foreign currency. But the trouble is, the oil fields are collapsing; the Mexican government thinks they’ll be exhausted in nine years. It’s forty percent of the Mexican federal budget. That’s one reason you’re seeing what’s going on—the state literally needs drugs to sustain itself, increasingly. This isn’t a war against drugs in Mexico; it’s a war for drugs. Who is going to have their hands on this thirty to fifty billion dollar industry?

If we legalize drugs tomorrow, Mexico would economically collapse and explode in violence. Because you cannot have hundreds of thousands of people making a good living using violence and think they’ll say, “Well, that job’s over. I’ll go be a Walmart greeter.” They’re not going to do it. We know this from the end of Prohibition when there was a crime wave. [Ed. Note: the magnitude of the post-Prohibition crime wave is in dispute on both sides of the political spectrum. See Conservapedia at, and at the left leaning, “A Prohibition Style Crime Wave,” which argues that legalizing drugs would dramatically reduce the homicide rate up to 75 percent,] Guys and women with limited education who were making a good living moving hard liquor and beer around didn’t go back to the farm. They thought, Well, I think I’ll go to the bank and take a gun with me. So there was a crime wave for several years.

But the thing people in favor of legalization never want to talk about is that consumption of drugs will increase. I don’t believe there’s any real evidence that people drank more during prohibition than afterwards. What they did was drink more intensely when they could get it. But in fact, people like alcohol. It is probably the most popular drug in the industrial world. If you have to work by the clock, this is the one you want. That and caffeine. In the 19th Century, as the factory system really clicked in in Europe and North America, two things increased dramatically in consumption: coffee and opiates. I can’t prove it, but I don’t think we were designed for the factory whistle. It’s stressful for us. We need substances to ameliorate the circumstance.

Going back to drugs—I’m almost worn out on this; I’ve had this argument with politicians for years, that you can never address what you call “the drug problem” until you understand that these substances make people feel better. Until you understand that, you’ll never understand the drive to get them. I was just down in probably the poorest region in the United States, the Mississippi Delta. At least that’s what Federal studies show. And there are those cratered little towns—and they are cratered—there’s no jobs, everybody went to Detroit or to hell or somewhere, and it’s lousy with crack and meth. A curious thing I can’t explain, that the blacks prefer crack and the whites prefer meth in these little towns. I don’t know, it’s like a dietary distinction. I don’t use drugs anymore, unless I have a glass of wine or a cigarette, but crack and meth both have very similar traits, exhilaration in the short term. In other words, if you’re from the outside, they’re forms of speed. So why there’s this hard line, I don’t know. I was talking to a former significant drug figure, but now he’s just a drug consumer after a couple of stretches. Lives in a little town, he’s 51. There was a group in the ‘80s, the Chambers brothers—not musical. It was a bunch of brothers that came out of a hellhole in the Arkansas Delta, they went to Detroit and became the crack kings. Came out of one of the poorest counties in the United States. [Ed. Note: These Chambers brothers—Larry, Willie Lee, Billy Joe and Otis—emerged from Marianna, Arkansas, and at the height of their power controlled nearly half of Detroit’s crack business and made some $3 million a week; see TIME magazine, May 9, 1988,,9171,967322,00.html; author William M. Adler documented the Chambers brothers’ rise and fall in his 1996 book, Land of Opportunity: One Family’s Quest for the American Dream, available at Amazon at Within a couple of years they were taking in $55 million a year. And of course now they’re all serving life plus ninety-nine. That’s the problem if you’re successful—the Feds punish you. What they were, they were successful business guys, basically. Uneducated black guys who nationalized the crack industry in Detroit and took it to an industrial level. That’s really what they did. The guy I was talking to down there, the guy I was spending time with, he was the first guy they recruited out of that county. They just went up there like all poor Southern blacks, to find a job. And one of them opened a party store, which you’ll find in black neighborhoods. They’ve got all kinds of shit so you can get bombed on Saturday night, have a party. Then he noticed what his customers wanted and started selling a little crack. Then he thought, This is actually better than paper plates.

If you look at the caste system in Mexico, the corruption, the fact that the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor, the drug industry offers one of the few merit systems. It’s dangerous, but you can rise if you have talent. They don’t ask you who your dad was, you know. It’s really performance-based. It’s a real business; if you fuck up a deal they kill you. Lose a load, that can be the end of your life. But if you have talent, you can rise, no matter where you started. If you look at the heads of these organizations, they all came from nothing, most of them. They’re like Al Capone, who also came from nothing and had a certain organizational flair, as did Lucky Luciano. These guys had a talent and happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right product. In the case of the Sicilian Mafia, Prohibition was a godsend. Before that they were just petty thieves, running brothels, a little backroom gambling. Same thing happened to the Mexicans.

It’s a technical point, but George Bush Sr., to make his chops as Vice President, took over the Florida Task Force they created—he was the official head—to shut down the cocaine cowboys in Miami with their cigarette boats and all that. It was the entry point for cocaine. Well, then the Columbians shifted the pathway to Mexico. Then the drug organizations that existed there, these criminal organizations, within five or six years took it over from the Columbians. And of course they moved from a colonial circumstance to a manufacturing point, meaning they were getting higher value. So it exploded and changed the power structure in Mexico in the mid-‘80s. And now it’s enormous.

If I’m reading Dreamland right it also seems like there’s no solution. The solution is like a Chinese box. You write about 12 bodies buried in the back of a condo, in a decent neighborhood. This, in your progression of events, “catches someone’s attention; an investigation determines the incident to be part of a larger problem; the problem is seen as an issue; the issue is seen as a question that demands a new policy.” Nothing gets solved.

Bowden: No. If you look at it realistically, no one on Earth has ever known how to repeal a market economy. The Mexican cartels, the Columbians, the Jamaicans, never created the drug market in the United States. I happen to be a deep fan of Hoyt Axton’s music—he was such a clean writer—but his song “The Pusher” is a fraud. Anybody who’s ever used drugs or been around it knows that it’s not that you’re sitting in your library trying to study Plato and somebody forced drugs on you. It’s nonsense. It’s a self-creating market. It’s a market that exists in the United States, it has enormous dimensions, and you never see an advertisement for it. It has zero ad budget! Name one other industry of that scale with no ad budget—and don’t tell me popular music. Popular music, to the extent it had drugs in it, was reflecting the lives of the listeners.

Drugs create their own market. People like ‘em. The biggest threat logically to the drug industry is the American pharmaceutical industry, which consistently keeps expanding into mood altering drugs. If you shake a woman’s purse it sounds like castanets now. They’re all on some variation of what we used to calls “tranqs.” And of course everybody using those cuts down the illicit market—that’s a lost customer. It will grow because we have convinced the population that they should never be depressed or have a bad day. And we all know that any doctor will give you anything you want, so they’re basically drug dealers now. In fact, doctor shopping is only difficult is you don’t have a car that starts. It’s commonplace; the Rush Limbaughs are just more successful at it, taking his billions of pills. If you’re middle class or higher, you can get drugs licitly; if you’re lower class, you can get prison. The same human need. The parallel, I think, is what we did with gambling. We got rid of gambling by renaming it “gaming.” Now “gaming” and the lottery are all over the country, but we never say we’re going to become vice-ridden. The lottery is looked at as a harmless recreation, when any study you find shows it literally tracks the poor. If you’re living in a bad neighborhood, winning the lottery is the only way you’ll ever get out. I once looked into it, and you can take it zip code by zip code. These state lotteries, they know where it’s being sold, but they never admit it because it’s the most exorbitant tax in the country. There is no casino in Vegas that has a hold of 40 percent. It’s common for these state lotteries to only pay back 60 percent. People bitch about their taxes, but every time they buy a ticket it’s a 40 percent tax. But they don’t see it that way. For the state it’s a godsend. You tax someone 40 percent and they think it’s recreation; they thank you, they still love you in the morning, which is why it spread. It’s like sales tax—it is a tax on the poor. Because if you make a good income, your portion of your income that goes to sales tax is much less than a poor person’s, because they have to consume every penny of their income. They don’t have enough money to stash it or do anything else with it. This is the tax that dare not speak its name.

Going back to the drug industry, the U.S. is self-perpetuating the laws. You have a huge prison industry, all these guards. Convicts are sustaining rural America. We have these huge police agencies spending tens of billions on narcs. And then the one thing nobody ever talks about is the scale of the therapy industry. You go down if you’re willing to drop thirty grand and go to rehab, you don’t go to jail. Recidivism is about one hundred percent with cocaine. This is a farce. This is a big industry, below the water.

About fifteen years ago when I was covering a lot of this, at one of the major detox centers—where people like Rush Limbaugh can afford to go—and about thirty percent of its clientele was drug dealers. Think about it: for thirty grand you buy complete confidentiality. So if things are getting a little hot for you… You can’t find anyone there. You get on a plane in Miami, because they’re going to kill you there, and then check into one of these fucking things, you’re off the planet. I knew a therapist at one, and it was a significant part of their clientele, guys sitting around the pool who were drug dealers, trying to chill out until the heat passed, either from other drug dealers or the authorities. The ultimate safe house. They were doing drugs by the pool, after their little therapy sessions. I always kind of liked that. As a reporter the only way to do the story is to have enough money to get yourself checked in—that’s thirty grand. You can’t freelance it. So I didn’t do the story. I couldn’t really base it off a therapist I’m sleeping with; it wouldn’t work in court. But she told me about it.

As I turned each page of the book, the more I read the more hopeless this situation seems to me. And not only because of the Chinese box solution/no solution. As early into it as page 60 you write: “There’s a new order in the wind. It looks like chaos but it is not. It sidesteps government. If pressed, it steps on government. There’s a new order. It cannot be discussed because any discussion might threaten the old order now rolling in.” Later, on page 105, you write: “No chaos is permitted, because order depends on things staying the same.”

Bowden: Yeah. But of course they don’t. Lookit, the problem people have—I had this argument years ago—NPR had me on, and then they can’t have me back until they forget what it was like the last time. I went through this on illegal immigration. How do we solve the problem? And I told them the truth: you’re seeing the solution. Fifteen million Mexicans have gone from grinding poverty to an affluence they never dreamed of in their lives, by going through the wire. I told them the truth, that this is the most successful development project in the history of the world. For a Homo sapien, five hundred yards can take him from five dollars a day to a hundred, hundred and fifty a day. The New Deal? War on Poverty? Nothing ever accomplished this in the history of the world. Now these wetbacks here, the illegals, they’re sending back twenty to twenty-five billion to Mexico, to their families, which is also sustaining the country. That’s a big piece of change.

There’s one other consequence of that that nobody seems to talk about. It’s the first time in the history of Mexico that money is flowing to poor people without going through the paws of government first. There’s no ward healer. It’s invisible, from some short guy washing dishes in New York to someone back home in the village. Nobody can build political power off it in the traditional structure. This is unprecedented. The very reason the Democratic party went into revolt against Johnson’s War on Poverty was that it was bypassing normal political structure and going straight to the poor, in the ‘60s. The reason the Mayor Daleys hit the fucking ceiling was it wasn’t patronage. They wanted to deliver the turkey on Thanksgiving, not give this money to colored folk. My God! They won’t obey, then, Lyndon! And of course Johnson knew exactly what he was doing, because he had been through the New Deal. In the South, in the New Deal, all the money for the poor went through the rich. They fleeced all the sharecroppers so they could keep them poor and under control—control the labor force. FDR went along with it because he needed Southern votes to get his legislation passed. That’s why he never moved an inch on the race issue—he couldn’t get the votes he needed for the rest of the economic package if he did. I won’t say I agree with him, but it’s not like he was a bigot or something. Well, Johnson lived through that, as a young Southern Congressman, and he did it differently. And it worked. With all the fraud on the War on Poverty, you’ll never see a study where it didn’t dramatically increase income in these poverty belts. You walk around now and you see people in jobs, but when you were a kid you never saw them there. They have different colors. You go into the bank and have to see the Vice President, turns out he’s dark! This thing worked; in one lifetime I’ve seen this huge shift in my society. I didn’t agree with him, but the old son of a bitch was right. It worked; you don’t have to play the blues anymore. You can actually be black and listen to Mantovani. Drive a Volvo! It’s been dramatic.

[Ed. Note: Charles Bowden’s assertions about the impact of the War on Poverty are corroborated in an essay by Georgetown University law professor Peter Edelman, “The War on Poverty and Subsequent Federal Programs: What Worked, What Didn’t Work, and Why? Lessons for Future Programs,” available online at

Look, the only thing that is going to straighten out the death houses in Mexico is legalizing drugs. There’ll be this bumpy passage, as I said—you can’t exterminate an entire industry and displace workers, but that’s manageable. What nobody will face is that you have to legalize all drugs. Otherwise, the cash flow’s still there. You couldn’t end Prohibition by saying, “We’ll just legalize beer.” I mean heroin, all of it. What you have to do is what we did with alcohol. You get norms of behavior. You can drink all you want, and if you go kill somebody while you’re drunk, we throw your ass in jail. You have a car wreck, we throw your ass in jail. You beat your woman, we throw your ass in jail. You can’t go into court and say, “Jesus, Your Honor, I had too much to drink.” If you study the 18th Century gin epidemic in London, suddenly hard liquor became available, cheap, to the poor, and they just had massive alcoholism. We did too in this country, before the Civil War—highest alcohol consumption per capita was before the Civil War. Because anybody could make whiskey, and everybody learned how for a reason that’s forgotten now, that if you raised corn there were only two ways to get it to market in a country with no transportation. One was pigs; you could walk them. And the other was something very compact—whiskey. So people made whiskey everywhere, because it was a way to move grain.

That’s why I think heroin is the drug of the future, as long as the stuff’s illegal, because it’s so compact. That’s the first thing. Now you have to think in marketing terms. If you’ve been around cocaine, most people that get good habits don’t last more than five years. Just blows you out—need a new nose or something. With meth you’re lucky to go a year. You have friends, they get on meth, you don’t see them for three months and then you run into this wraith. Heroin has no effect. You can live forever. What you need is a clean product, guaranteed availability and clean needles. And frankly, if it’s cheap enough a lot of people don’t inject it; they just snort it. And it’s easier to smuggle, takes a lot less bulk. A kilo of heroin will light up a city, and that’s why it’s growing in our society. It has physical effects, but none of them are health-related. Constipation, lack of interest in sex—these are not life threatening. I think in, say, 1988, there wasn’t an acre of poppies in Columbia; by 1994, according to DEA, there were thirty thousand acres. It’s restricted to a zone. Now, Afghanistan is basically, for various reasons, it’s all agriculture. It’s endless poppies now, easy to export, has high value. Our plans to win hearts and minds don’t take this into consideration.

[Ed. Note: The “gin epidemic,” “which allegedly besotted England, between 1720 and 1751,” according to E. Lawrence Abel of Wayne State University, has some interesting parallels in its social and economic causes to conditions in the United States at the time President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty program was launched, and, not incidentally, to conditions in Mexico now. See “The Gin Epidemic: Much Ado About What?” at

Going back to your question, you shouldn’t say something’s hopeless or ask for hope. You should ask, “What are the facts?” and ”What are the choices?” Actually, with the Mexican migration, if you want a stable Mexico there’s no choice except to grow an economy there. Or permit the migration. If you do, and what many of the people I know want to do—ship ‘em all home—the country’ll explode. I don’t mean here. The Left arguments are irrelevant—“My God, nobody will do these jobs!” Anybody’s who worked in New York knows anybody will eat shit if you pay them. That’s preposterous. But if you sent fifteen million people back there, they’d tear the country apart. The country couldn’t absorb them, because they’ve learned bad habits up here. They don’t think the cops are all corrupt, they expect a decent wage, they’re stunned by the idea of public schools. “You mean my kid just goes there and they teach him?” “You don’t have to be rich to go to school?” You talk to these Mexicans, they say, “We’ve had enough,” and go back, then they’re back in the States in two months. They’ve gotten too used to things they weren’t even aware were here. Also, they have a strong family sense. These men and women you see are propping up five or six back there. Lookit, they don’t have much of a sense of civil society, since theirs has always been corrupt. You don’t trust the police, you don’t expect the courts to work, the national government you despise. The only unit, your only safety net, your only security, is this family network. It’s intense, because that’s really the only way you can survive—you help other people and they help you. Part of this migration—let’s say there’s ten or fifteen million here now—they’re all ATM machines. It doesn’t matter if you have twenty thousand people on the line. The sector I’m in, the fifteen or twenty miles I’m facing in Mexico, it’s about three grand to get smuggled in. What happens is, your cousin’s washing dishes in Brooklyn, I deliver him, I get three grand, he pays me. This cousin pays that off in a couple of months. Sleeps on the couch, works. The fee doesn’t matter, given the possible increase in income. So essentially what we’ve accomplished with all these agents is to increase the income of all the people smugglers. A few years ago they were charging eight hundred to fifteen hundred, depending on the route. Now it’s three grand and up. That’s an enormous subsidy for them. And it’s corrupted Federal agents. Because the more the Mexican pays, the more money there is in the pile to bribe, to get passage, and anybody on the border knows that. Corruption in the agencies keeps growing.

ROPE: They see the duct tape seal the mouth, the cord strangle the throat, and all this happens because someone trusted someone and relaxed and thought things were okay, in fact that things were looking up. That is the fatal moment, the moment of ease and trust because once you arrive at that moment you are ripe for betrayal. (Click to enlarge)

Actually I think they figured it at 92 percent who try and make it into the States after a couple of tries. If you’re an agent after five years you think, What I’m doing is pointless. Some guy says, “Look, I’m gonna move ten people up that little arroyo tonight. I’ll give you a hundred a head.” It’ll never show up statistically; they’re getting through anyway. It’s like you’re finally getting your share for failure. And so you’re taking honest people from small-town police departments, recruiting them into federal agencies, then putting them in a hopeless circumstance and they’ll eventually take money. They become, in our terms, “corrupted.” They had a guy here, where I’m sitting down near the border, Border Patrol guy was filling his trunk with dope and charging five hundred a load to run it sixty miles. He only got caught by accident. His brother was in the State Police. He calls his brother one day, he’s got too much, would he come down in a State Police car, and they load that, too. Which they did. You can go right through the checkpoints, both of them—they’re the law. The State policeman, they’re not all too swift, left the camera on in his vehicle. It’s triggered to go on when you stop for a stop. So you police the police. So he and his brother were videotaped loading their trunks with dope. Well, life isn’t fair! That’s the only reason they were caught. An accident. Other guys would remember to turn their cameras off. But I will guarantee you, almost, that if you check these guys’ records, you find nothing. Meaning they weren’t seen as deviants; they hadn’t been beating up Mexicans or whatever the hell you might imagine. But there was nothing in their lives except shit, this is hopeless, let’s make a little money. This is endemic to the circumstance, just as it was if you check Prohibition. Every fucking police agency in a major city became totally corrupted by it. You had a citizenry that wanted to drink, so they all took money. Elliott Ness is a fiction; I mean he actually existed, but it’s preposterous. Al Capone I think had 25,000 speakeasies in Chicago. You need a rocket scientist to find them? There’s at least 20,000 venues in the city of Juarez where you can go and buy drugs now. Little corner groceries, anything, buy cocaine, whatever you want. There’s 150,000 to 200,000 addicts in the city now. It’s so cheap.

Now Mexico’s just wall to wall addicts. Everywhere. That’s a lot of the violence, incidentally. I don’t want to belabor this, but as you know, once you get serious street addiction, every corner’s worth money, and anybody on the corner can be bumped off by anybody else that wants the corner. You create a wheel of violence that can’t end then. It’s just like any other form of capitalism. If you open a Kwik-Mart, I’ll put a Circle K across the street. That kind of thing; it’s competition. That’s a lot of the killing in Juarez.

That give you hope? I think it’s hopeful, actually. The war on drugs has to end, because it’ll bankrupt us. Mexico isn’t going to solve its problem by giving 30 to 50 billion a year to a bunch of killers. That has to end. Just like Afghanistan in the end can’t really have a future being the heroin source of the planet It’ll just be a rough passage. Free trade has failed. The only people who don’t know are people who publish magazines and newspapers, and work at universities. It’s interesting because they’re all in businesses that are insulated, because of proprietary language. They can’t outsource a reporter. Same thing with American academics largely. I’ve had conversations for twenty years with them where they deny everything I’ve just said. If they ever go to a union hall in Ohio like I have and find it cratered…I knew the world would change when Huffy bicycles moved to China, which it did. You had generations of Americans making these cheap bikes, this one town in Ohio, then it’s over. And of course there’s no other job paying remotely that. That’s true all over the Rust Belt. It’s also true in the Arkansas Delta. They had all this light industry. Helena, Arkansas, the blues capitol, until the late ‘80s or early ‘90s—the town’s a ruin now—but it wasn’t back then. It was actually functioning until the early ‘90s, then Mohawk Tire left and it’s never been replaced. The town is an economic disaster, buildings collapsing, the only blacks left are basically addled by susbstance abuse. Then you go down to the Delta Cultural Center, celebrating the blues (laughs). The only juice in that town is once a year, the blues festival. Because they don’t have legalized gambling. You talk to people there, you don’t even get into the first beer or cup of coffee, and you find out they’re angry because Tunica’s right across the river. What is this shit? They have jobs. I got interested in Helena because of the race massacre (The Elaine Massacre of 1919,, which I’m still interested in. As far as I can tell it’s the worst race massacre in American history and it’s essentially been erased, the Elaine Massacre. The minimum number [of dead] in Elaine was two hundred, but there’s strong feeling it was much higher. It was open season on blacks, as it was in Tulsa ( In Tulsa we have a count, because it’s an urban area; they burned it and killed them. In the Elaine Massacre, for about three to five days people drove around the countryside shooting every black person they could find. All of Phillips County was a war zone. It’s a Southern pattern, same pattern as lynching—it’s a form of social control. And if you talk to people there, they’ll talk about it, and of course whites have one version, the blacks another. It just happens the blacks were closer to the truth than the whites.

Richard Wright, the first great American black writer, was in Elaine in 1916. Then the whites murdered his uncle, who was running a bar there. He was prosperous, so they killed him to get his business. He then moved to Helena, and was there during the Elaine Massacre. [Ed. Note: See William Howard’s “Richard Wright’s flood stories and the great Mississippi River flood of 1927: social and historical backgrounds," The Southern Literary Journal, Spring 1984,]. And he asked his mother, as a teenager, why the blacks didn’t do anything. And she slapped his face. He never wrote a word about the massacre. Because her message when she slapped his face was what he came to learn, that you’ll just destroy yourself if you think about this. So this guy who wrote intensely about what it’s like to be black left out one of his key lessons, which I don’t blame him for.

Your story in Dreamland is gripping enough, but Alice Leora Briggs’s illustrations really magnify the horror of Juarez by seeming to interpret as having the quality of medieval tortures. Did she read the text before she started drawing?

Bowden: Yeah, I had written it. Here’s what happened. I’m in Marfa, Texas, a guy calls, I say, “I’m writing a book.” Eventually that spring I went to Juarez again and got involved, went to the death house, this, that and the other. Then I wrote what is now called Dreamland. It was about 28,000, 30,000 words, I forget. Then I thought about dealing with an editor and I threw it on a shelf. I’ve been dealing with editors on Mexico for years and I knew what to expect—“now you’re saying the American agencies, la-de-da-da-da…” And I just thought, I can’t stand to talk to these morons. So I didn’t know Alice.

Then a couple of years ago she sends me a note with a disc of images. She’s living in Lubbock; I’ve never heard of her or met her. She wanted me to give her something I’d written so that she could make drawings from it, and we could do some little chat book or something. So I looked at the disc and I was stunned. Frankly I expected some MFA shit. We got more artists than the world will ever need. To make a long story short, I gave her Dreamland. I didn’t really meet her for about 18 months. I just found her images so stunning. Well, there was a second reason. I knew absolutely nothing about her; I had never met her, never heard of her. And one of the reasons I went into this is because I could look at her images and know that somehow she understood pain. Something had happened in her life at some point, and I like that. Because I see all this bad art trying to depict the problem of Mexico, or the issue or something. You go to museums now, or shows, and there’s some artist explaining to you why racism is bad, and I think, This is one of the most pretentious things a person can do. I need a fucking artist to explain this to me?

But Alice’s work is viscerally moving. So I called the University of Texas and they said yes. I went to them partly because I’ve dealt with them before, and know they have enough money to reproduce things correctly. You have to look out for your collaborator in these instances. Like if you’re dealing with someone and you really believe in their music, you want to get a decent producer and recording studio. That’s all. The rest is what’s in your hand.

What did you think when you saw these images, such as the one on page 101, which shows a Christ-like figure dead in the lap of a woman who may be Mary Magdalene. But the crowd looking on not only is dressed in contemporary clothing, in fact they’re all photographers snapping images of the death scene. And there are other scenes showing people strapped to medieval torture devices but the background is contemporary scenery and people.

Bowden: Yes. And usually in these scenes, not just in this book, most of the people in the scene are ignoring what’s going on. Which certainly, in this instance, is true of the border. If you read the El Paso paper, the Tucson paper, these border newspapers, they’re oblivious to what’s going on. They pretend it’s not happening. And that’s a strong thing in Alice.

But the one that arrested me, I didn’t even notice. Someone pointed it out to me. There’s one of me in a chair, and in the background behind me there’s a bunch of Mexican pathologists cutting up a corpse. I’m the corpse. My friend said, “She’s got you in there as a corpse!” I would work with her, but I would never tell her what to do. If she wanted to show me what she had done, I’d tell her what I thought. I said, “If I think something’s false, I’ll tell you. But I won’t tell you what to draw, because if I had to do that, why would I work with you?”

So while this is going on the year and a half she was drawing this stuff, once in awhile she’d jpeg me something, just a drawing with no explanation. I kind of got to enjoy those, like little Easter eggs, but I never knew what the hell she was up to until last September. She showed up where I am here, with the designer, Kelly Leslie. It's a very designed book, and they had it all laid out, and that’s the first time I saw it. Meaning, it was all laid out, all done, and now it goes off to Texas. Everything looked just like it looks in the book. They had it all done and they had Xeroxed it, sequentially, 8 ½ by 11 pages. So we sat here, I made a French stew, we had a bottle of wine and went over it. That was my only input visually. All the art, the ideas, visually, are Alice’s. I’d be with her in Juarez sometimes, but I never asked her what the fuck she was doing. I gave her connections there so she could really get around. She moved down to that area for eight months; she got really into it. Because of these stories I’ve done I have friends in Juarez, and they helped her. It’s not an easy city to navigate. She got into the morgue. All these guys chopped up from these killings. She saw a lot of things. Then she would just draw, draw, draw. She sent me drawings, but I couldn’t figure out what the hell they had to do with the book.

FEAST ...and the poor will vanish, we have a plan, and war will vanish, we have the right on our side, and drugs will vanish, we will live with a material bliss and ignorance will vanish and violence will vanish and the sea will cough up its fishes and loaves, and ... we have the faith and will keep the faith and so there is nothing to worry about. And anything we worry about is really temporary because something will turn up and fix it. (Click to enlarge)

So your reaction was…?

Bowden: Oh, I was happy. One thing I forgot to tell you—I told her I would pull the plug if she documented the book. I wanted her to respond to it. I’ll tell you exactly what I told her. Since I like music, I said, “It’s like jazz, and we’re two players. We agree on a melody line and then we both respond to the melody line independently. That’s what I want you to do. Here’s the melody line, what I wrote.” She knew what I meant, she’s very intelligent. I said, “You should respond to it emotionally. The drawings should respond to it that way, not documenting the book.” All I can tell you is eighteen months later or so, she and the designer show up with it all storyboarded. I never pestered her. I’d see her every six months or so; she’d drop in by happenstance. We’d have drinks and dinner, but I had nothing beyond that. There’s none of my direction in what she did, zero; it’s all out of her head. But of course the reason I was willing to do that was I thought she could do it, she would do what I wanted. And what I wanted was to have somebody respond to the stuff I’m feeling and seeing. Not to authenticate what I’m seeing. I am living in a hyper-violent situation that nobody else admits exists, and it’s ripping me apart, and here, I’ll get you a ticket to the funhouse. Tell me afterwards what you make of the show! That’s exactly how it worked. I didn’t quite tell Texas this, because fuck them, they’re publishers. They’re happy, they love her work.

This past March, in Ciudad Juarez, a U.S. consular employee and her husband were shot dead while driving in their SUV. In a separate incident nearby, the husband of a Mexican employee at the U.S. consulate was shot dead.  As Democracy Now reported, these attacks were believed to be the first on U.S. officials and their families by Mexico’s drug organizations. Democracy Now turned to Charles Bowden, author of Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields and Dreamland, for an informed perspective on these incidents. As an example of the drug organizations’ power, Bowden notes at one point: ‘I think your listeners should realize is that the President of Mexico has said repeatedly that there’s no part of Mexico that he doesn’t control. Proof positive of his claim today: he’s arriving in Juarez for a visit. When he arrives is a secret. Where he goes is a secret. Who he sees is now a secret. That’s how much control he has over his own country.’

Having written books myself, I know they’re an ordeal. I love that ordeal, but it is what it is. If I had had the experiences you had, and had written Dreamland, then saw what Alice came up with, I think I might have broke down and cried. Because she got it in a way that you could not possibly have explained in words.

Bowden: I agree. Frankly, there would be no reason for the drawings if she couldn’t do that. That’s why films have musical scores. That’s the only reason to me to collaborate, that she brought things to the table that words can’t reach. I know curators can go on forever, but this is beyond normal language. There’s one drawing in there of people fleeing, and there’s Adam and Eve and all that. I know why it’s there, but it isn’t like it’s documenting something. It’s about the breakdown of the human community, that kind of thing. I think she liked it because she never had to explain herself—“Alice, why are you drawing these terrible things?” She could just blame me—“Well, look what’s happening.” In a real sense I think it was liberating for her. I don’t mean she had never drawn anything before; I just mean the circumstance was such that she didn’t have to explain why she was doing these kinds of drawings. It was a given. Now the fact that the book sold at all amazes me. Because everything I write, I’m trying to create a record. If it sells, that’s nice, you know. But if I just wanted money, I’d write for magazines. Books are a black hole. The advance is like a drug guy giving you a free hit of the drug. By the time you finish a book you’re in debt. The advance is an enticement.

I think writing a book is a psychotic state. As opposed to neuroses, an imbalance. You really do move into the imaginary castle and live in it. That’s the intoxicating thing, because it’s more real and fulfilling to you than life has been. I always says, “Jesus, if I can just finish this book I’ll have my life back.” But in fact the best parts of my life are when I’m deep into the book. I’m never bored. I go to sleep and my unconscious mind is writing; I wake up and go back to writing. I don’t have any questions about who I am or why I’m doing something.

Yeah, I like going there. When I’m there I know exactly who I am, what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I have no questions about any of this stuff and it’s the best place for me to be.

Bowden: I agree with you. I always think I’m on a mission. I don’t mean to convert people, but for reasons I can’t explain to myself I have to get this down right because it really matters. It’s like the house of death in Dreamland. The most telling point for me was when I was 15 or something in high school; whenever they nail your feet to the floor and tell you you have to read Death of a Salesman. I still remember Linda’s speech, when Willie dies: “Attention must be paid. A man has died. He’s not a dog.” Well, everything I write, that’s the way I feel. This matters—attention has to be paid. And then my job, for all these drafts I do, is I have to get it right. It doesn’t matter if I’m tired; I have to keep going over and over it. It’s never cost effective. I have to finish a piece for GQ. Frankly, if you were dead you could file a piece for GQ. “Not too bleak, Chuck.” I love it when I do food stuff for them, because I like to cook. It’s classic quick and dirty. You go meet somebody who has a restaurant and some quirky thing they’re famous for, you just hang out and eat and drink with ‘em, then write it! You know? (laughs) It’s not very hard. If you have any ability to capture other people, and you have any interest in other people, it just writes itself. Artists are the same way. Every artist is easy because they’re all obsessed, if they’re any good. So you just listen to their obsession. I’m always interested in obsessed people because they’re always happy on some level. Because they like going to work. It doesn’t matter what kind of art I like; frankly it’s irrelevant.

Fernando Botero

One of the best times I ever had was hanging around [Fernando] Botero, the Columbian who draws these inflated looking people. Richer than God. He’s a real smart guy. I hung around with him for a week, eating and drinking. Of course the reason his stuff sells in the end is because it’s not calculated. It may look pathetic to art critics, but he believes it. This is the world he wants to inhabit. It’s all felt. Seventy-five years old, standing at an easel eight hours a day, seven days a week. I could never talk to him until 7 p.m. He’d show up at the piazza in Italy, we’d eat and get drunk until one a.m. Drove off on his little scooter. He’s wonderful to talk to because he loves art; he’s very critical, but he wasn’t critical in the way a critic is. He’s absolutely obsessed with the history of art and certain people in it. So he can speak not only very knowingly, because he does it, but with great passion. He fucking woodshedded me because I missed Warhol. Which surprised me, because he’s a figurative artist. I told him I thought pop art was a one-trick pony. He gave me this lecture…we weren’t dead drunk..and  he said, if you’d lived through Abstract Expressionism, which he had, what Warhol accomplished was he convinced an entire world of art buyers that they could understand art again. In other words, that this was something they could be part of, as opposed to the gallery owner says, “This Pollack is significant.” It never occurred to me. And once he said it, it was right. It’s like he brought it home again. He was a drinking buddy for years with de Kooning in New York when they were both trying to figure out how to pay the rent. Anyway, it was just wonderful getting drunk with him for a week. Because I’m a guy who sort of likes looking at things but doesn’t know shit about them. It’s like music—I don’t play an instrument, can’t read music, and here’s a guy who’s on the other side, doing it, and has a real insight. Like going to a restaurant and liking food, but not knowing how to cook. Well, you talk to a chef, you learn things. He was a chef.

‘Abu Ghraib,’ painting by Fernando Botero


The Art of Alice Leora Briggs

In her allegorical drawings, Alice Leora Briggs reflects her experiences with the escalating violence along the Mexican borders. "My current focus is Ciudad Juárez. In this city one sees fiction in action, even an hour is time enough to blend truth with myth. I have traveled to sites of recent executions, photo-documented known death houses where members of the Juárez cartel have tortured, murdered and buried fellow citizens. (...) I have been to the Juárez morgue, witnessed the autopsy of a young man fresh from his execution, wandered among the unidentified corpses in the freezers, seen the guns and bullets and maggots and broken instruments of torture pulled from shallow graves."

The drawings consist of a similar blend of reality and catholic myth, which she finds in the sites of the border town and also the technique she uses bears suggestions of violence. Briggs mainly works with an X-acto knife, incising a surface of India ink over kaolin clay, a kind of modified version of Sgraffito (from the Melton Prio Institute for reportage drawing,

Alice Leora Briggs

For many years Alice Leora Briggs has taught painting and drawing in art schools and universities in the United States, including The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and University of Arizona. Since May 2005, she has worked full time as a professional artist. Her drawings are included in collections of the de Young Museum, San Francisco ; University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City ; Nora Eccles Harrison Museum, Logan, UT ; Tucson Museum of Art, Tucson, AZ ; Firestone Graham Foundation, Albuquerque, NM ; The Diane and Sandy Besser Collection, Santa Fe; Frank/Sugiyama Collection, Santa Fe, New York and Tokyo.

People and Power: The War On Drugs, Part 1
Bill Conroy at the House of Death

People and Power: The War on Drugs, Part 2
The continuing story of the House of Death

Where is Lalo now? Out of jail, whereabouts unknown.
‘House of Death Informant, A Confessed Killer, Soon To Be Released From Jail’

Charles Bowden’s Dreamland, with drawings by Alice Leora Briggs, is available at

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