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Border Junkies

Border Junkies

Scott Comar
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  • Book Info
    Border Junkies
    Book Description:

    The drug war that has turned Juárez, Mexico, into a killing field that has claimed more than 7,000 lives since 2008 captures headlines almost daily. But few accounts go all the way down to the streets to investigate the lives of individual drug users. One of those users, Scott Comar, survived years of heroin addiction and failed attempts at detox and finally cleaned up in 2003. Now a graduate student at the University of Texas at El Paso in the history department's borderlands doctoral program, Comar has written Border Junkies, a searingly honest account of his spiraling descent into heroin addiction, surrender, change, and recovery on the U.S.-Mexico border.

    Border Junkies is the first book ever written about the lifestyle of active addiction on the streets of Juárez. Comar vividly describes living between the disparate Mexican and American cultures and among the fellow junkies, drug dealers, hookers, coyote smugglers, thieves, and killers who were his friends and neighbors in addiction-and the social workers, missionaries, shelter workers, and doctors who tried to help him escape. With the perspective of his anthropological training, he shows how homelessness, poverty, and addiction all fuel the use of narcotics and the rise in their consumption on the streets of Juárez and contribute to the societal decay of this Mexican urban landscape. Comar also offers significant insights into the U.S.-Mexico borderland's underground and peripheral economy and the ways in which the region's inhabitants adapt to the local economic terrain.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-73537-8
    Subjects: History, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Howard Campbell

    The lineage of opiate narratives in Western societies stretches from the nineteenth century to the modern era: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas de Quincey, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Jean Cocteau, William S. Burroughs, Alexander Trocchi, Piri Thomas, Richard Hell. Across decades and centuries, the experience of opium, morphine, and heroin addiction has generated its own logic. Existence is reduced to the cellular need for dope, punctuated by bouts of euphoric delirium. Excess baggage is discarded or pawned as the junkie desperately acquires the money needed to buy the next fix, get high, and repeat the cycle. In the literary re-creation of...

    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. One VIAJES
    (pp. 1-14)

    When things go wrong, they always seem to go wrong at the worst possible time. One morning, in the late summer of 1998, I was driving through the streets of Colonia Felipe Angeles in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, with my girlfriend’s brother Jorge. Jorge and I were about a minute away from his family’s place. We had just copped five globos (small balloons) of Mexican black tar heroin and made an extra stop at the pharmacy to buy insulin syringes, jeringas. As we headed back to Jorge’s, two Juárez municipal police cars approached us from the opposite direction, passed us, did...

    (pp. 15-30)

    On the Trailways bus headed south on the New York State Thruway, I spoke to a guy who had just been released from of one of the prisons upstate. He was heading back to New York City and said he had some people down there who would look out for him. I was kind of envious, since I had always liked the city and my journey wasn’t even going to bring me close to it. In Albany, I transferred to a bus that was destined for Buffalo. It was already late afternoon, and I knew that I was in for...

  8. Three DOWN AND OUT
    (pp. 31-44)

    Colonia Postal and the surrounding neighborhoods are a maze of paved and dirt roads that intertwine and crisscross through hilly terrain. As the summer of 1999 wore on, I became more familiar with the shortcuts, connections, and networks near my casita. I also started to become part of the barrio in more ways than one. After I gave up driving for the Bandit Lady, I had more time to explore the neighborhood. Since moving into the casita, I had found three primary heroin connections in the surrounding neighborhoods: dealers in the neighborhood of La Quinta Loma, and the local dealers...

    (pp. 45-65)

    During the late summer of 1999, I landed at the Rescue Mission of El Paso. The mission is located right across the river from Colonia Felipe Angeles in Juárez. After Laura dropped me off at the bridge, I walked to El Paso and checked into the mission. Upon my arrival, I completed an intake interview with a counselor there named Klaus. Klaus ran a recovery program at the mission, so I admitted to him that I was strung out and would surely be sicker than hell by morning. That night I slept fairly well, but the next day, the withdrawal...

  10. Five LA NAVIDAD
    (pp. 66-76)

    My landlord, Martín, was a nice guy and all, but like any other landlord, he wanted to get paid. I left the cuarto in early December 1999. Martín gave me an ultimatum that I knew I couldn’t comply with, since I already owed him a hundred dollars in back rent. I packed my bags and tried to fit everything I had in them. Leaving the cuarto on Segundo de Ugarte didn’t seem like a big deal. With money in my pocket from a few good rounds of panhandling, I was confident in my ability to conseguir (acquire money) on the...

    (pp. 77-93)

    On New Year’s Day 2000, large wet and slushy snow-flakes covered the streets of downtown Juárez, quickly melted, and created icy pools of water. The street in front of the hotel bustled with people as the buses passed and sprayed slushy water all over the sidewalks. People filled the nightclubs, and it was a good day to get lost in the crowd. I had spent New Year’s Eve watching TV and enjoying the last part of my little vacation. Soon I would be back to my usual routine, panhandling money for the rent or a “bus ticket back home.” After...

    (pp. 94-112)

    It was nice to have an apartment to go back to, but I had fallen behind on the rent and knew that at the rate I was going, I would never be able to pay it. I sold my color TV and VCR and went down to Juárez to fix again. By July 2000, everything I had built up had quickly disappeared. Finally, I just walked out of the apartment with a duffle bag full of clothes and some books and papers. I never returned. I knew that I was hooked again and that life in El Paso had become...

  13. Photo section
    (pp. None)
  14. Eight MIGRATIONS
    (pp. 113-134)

    In the fall of 2000, Víctor Vásquez returned to the neighborhood. We had been friends since my first week in Juárez in 1998, and when he got back, we hung out together like before. Víctor was like a brother to me, and when he learned about my circumstances, he offered to let me stay at his mom’s place with him. Hanging out with Víctor was more appealing to me than trying to hide my habit and conform to Serna’s schedule. I told Serna that I was moving to Víctor’s, and she wished me luck. Sometimes I would stop by and...

  15. Nine VIGILANCE
    (pp. 135-159)

    The nice thing about living with Víctor’s family was that when I wasn’t home, they watched my room. Elsewhere in Juárez, there was always the possibility that someone would have cased my place, broken in, and cleaned me out. One weekend as I walked through the neighborhood, I was almost attacked by a group of vigilantes who accused me of stealing a radio. After questioning me, they persuaded me to walk to the door of a nearby house where they asked an old woman and someone else inside, “Is he the one?” One of them had a baseball bat, and...

    (pp. 160-199)

    The summer of 2001 went slow and fast. I had no major problems on the street. The money continued to flow, and I maintained my habit. One afternoon near the end of that summer, as I walked down the street in Juárez, I noticed a few guys moving a dentist’s office. I stopped to talk to them and see whether they needed some help. Coincidentally, I showed up right when they were having trouble with a heavy dentist’s chair. I had already made my quota for the day, and I was feeling pretty good, so I agreed to help them...

    (pp. 200-210)

    My intention in writing this book was to share my personal experience in the hope that someone would be able to develop a deeper understanding of what addictive patterns are all about. By no means do I want readers to develop any romanticized notions about life on the streets. The life of a street junkie is one of constant uncertainty; it is dirty, painful, and full of unfulfilled dreams. It is impossible to put into words the depth and breadth of my experience. What I have written about are my experiences as best I can recollect them. They are by...

    (pp. 211-214)

    During the summer of 2008, I met Professor Howard Campbell and shared some of my experience with him. At that time, I had no idea that people would be interested in the everyday life of a junkie on the U.S.-Mexico border. I had previously sent him an e-mail regarding his research on drug trafficking in the borderlands, but I did not expect anything more than a few passing words in response. For the most part, people in my situation who find recovery and take another shot at life find themselves in some sort of subaltern state when it comes to...