It seems every few years I move from the East Coast to the West Coast or vice versa. I have made this journey several times. I know the highways well enough.
The southernmost interstate that traverses the country, Interstate 10, passes close to the border of Mexico in west Texas near El Paso. Due to the American government’s war on some drugs, the third world country of Mexico has become a savage land that services the American people’s demand for illegal drugs. Because the drugs are illegal they are highly profitable since no taxes are paid on them. Where there are illegal drugs there are violent criminal organizations that trade drugs for money.
This violence and these drugs first make their way into the States near the Mexican American border. Interstate 10 is a major thoroughfare for this activity. As a result, the US government takes extraordinary measures on policing this highway.
One of these measures is a Border Patrol inspection checkpoint in Sierra Blanca, located on the border of nowhere and nowhere in west Texas. I would say the checkpoint is located in the town of Sierra Blanca, Texas except the only thing in Sierra Blanca is a Border Patrol inspection station.
The extraordinary thing about this checkpoint is that Interstate 10 goes through it. This is a permanent checkpoint that chokes Interstate 10. Every car and truck, commercial or private, has to stop at this checkpoint in the desolate middle-of-nowhere west Texas. This is the only place I’ve ever seen in the U.S. that shuts down an entire interstate.
Usually checkpoints for D.U.I.’s or drugs or whatever, are temporary chokepoints on smaller highways. There is too much traffic on Interstates to bring all the traffic to a halt. This is why the Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 10 at Sierra Blanca is so unusual.
I’d been through this inspection checkpoint 10 years earlier. I vaguely remembered that it existed and its location. I was not surprised to see it when I was driving through the middle-of-nowhere, then had to come to a full and complete stop at a check point.
HELD UP AT GUNPOINT
As I come out of the darkness of the Texas summer night into the bright lights of the inspection station, I brought my car to a complete stop before a white line and a large red STOP sign. A serious looking man greeted me, he was not smiling. He was outfitted in a forest green Border Patrol uniform. He looked like a soldier. He was wearing black military style boots laced half way to his knee and he carried some type of automatic rifle slung low across his chest. His torso was padded, he was wearing a bulletproof vest under his uniform, across his chest in white letters were the words BORDER PATROL.
I had the window of my car rolled down.
“Good evening officer.”, I said.
“Are you a U.S. citizen?” the officer said in an aggressive tone.
I didn’t expect such a question. It didn’t make much sense to me, plus I’d been driving through the desert for the last 6 hours, so I paused a second before answering.
U.S. citizen? What else would I be I thought.
“Uh, yes” I replied.
As the Border Patrol officer questioned me, I watched through my rearview mirror as another officer with a German Sheppard walked around the back of my car.
“Ok, pull over for inspection” the officer said.
He directed me to park between the office building and a series of orange cones. I was the only car I saw that was asked to pull over. The other vehicles seemed to stop briefly, then proceed down the interstate.
As I parked my car another Border Patrol officer said, “Turn off your vehicle and get out of the car.”
“Do I need my license and registration?”
“No, step away from the vehicle.”
I got out of my car. I was wearing a t-shirt, a thin pair of shorts made out of a breathable fabric, short socks and athletic shoes. I had nothing in my pockets.
The officer told me to stand in a spot that was 10 yards in front of my vehicle. An officer stood and watched me and made sure I didn’t cross an arbitrary white line on the pavement. I thought, “This will be interesting”, but I wasn’t worried. I looked back as two Border Patrol agents opened the back gate of my car and started rummaging through my belongings. Another agent had a German Sheppard on a leash. The German Sheppard had climbed in to the front passenger seat.
I wasn’t thrilled at having dog hairs all over the seats of my car. There wasn’t much I could do but watch.
I’ve learned how to deal with Border Patrol agents, cops, and highway patrol. You need to be cordial, respectful, and then talk about the most boring shit ever. I started asking what the elevation was in Sierra Blanca.
“What is the elevation here? Is it higher than El Paso? I just drove over some small mountains.”, I asked.
“No, it’s lower” replied the Border Patrol guy.
It’s always a good idea to talk about the weather, they can’t stand that stuff.
“I heard there was flooding in Texas. Will I have to worry about that on I-10?”
“No, that was over 3 weeks ago.”
The idea is to talk about tourist stuff so that the Border Patrol, cop, or highway patrolman will want to get away from you as soon as possible. It’s like bug repellant for those types.
It didn’t work on this occasion.
The officer with the German Sheppard had found something in the cooler full of fruit, energy bars, and a 3-liter bladder of water that I kept in the front passenger seat on the long cross country trip. He found my half full gallon zip-lock bag of made-from-scratch chocolate chip cookies.
He comes charging up to the officer that was watching me, with the leash to the German Sheppard in one hand and holding my bag of cookies up in the air with his other. He had a smirk on his face that seemed to say, “I got you sucka.”
When I saw this I was not stoked.
He walks up to me holding my bag of cookies up high and says “You smoke bro?!”
I stare at the cookies and reply “No”.
“I said You smoke bro?!?!” he yelled with more force than the first time.
Again, I look at my beloved cookies. What the fuck is this guy saying? What am I gonna do? Stick chocolate chip cookies in a pipe and try to smoke them? Or is he asking if I smoke cigarettes?
“No!” I reply, enunciating properly so he could understand me.
The accusing officer looks at the bag of handmade chocolate chip cookies for a second and realizes he may have made an error in his line of questioning.
“These cookies are laced with THC!!!” he accuses.
I thought “laced” was a terrible word. Laced? What the fuck? “Laced” sounds like something that is done with crack or meth. Or maybe something industrial food producers put into fast food and junk food. Laced?
This is all fantasy land speculation, this is completely hypothetical–but if those cookies had THC in them, they most certainly were not laced. If those cookies hypothetically contained THC, then maybe they were made with the best THC oil to be found.
Remember what Papa John likes to say, “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza”? Same is true for chocolate chip cookies. T hose cookies hypothetically could have started with the highest quality strain of high altitude hand crafted cannabis to be found on the West Coast.
Then maybe said cannabis was used to make potent ganja butter by the hands of a master chef. Then most assuredly the chef used flour, sugar, butter, and chocolate chips, just the basic ingredients, no preservative garbage, to bake some wonderfully delicious chocolate chip cookies.
Then, hypothetically, I tested the cookies while out playing a game of disc golf and decided the cookies were too strong because after playing two holes I went over to a park bench, sat down drooling on myself, and stared at the clouds for an hour.
I may have told the master chef that the cookies were too strong, that I needed something less potent because I was driving across the country and couldn’t afford to pull over for a couple of hours at a rest stop while my cookies wore off.
The recipe, using the same high quality ingredients, could’ve been altered a few times until they were as Goldilocks would have liked them–just right.
Those handmade chocolate chip cookies were definitely not laced with THC.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about” I said.
“Has anyone been in this car besides you?”
“No one has been in the car. I’m driving by myself across the country and those are my cookies.”
The officer that was making sure I didn’t cross the arbitrary white line on the pavement completely changes his demeanor and becomes mean. He grabs my hands and puts them behind my back.
I realized I was getting arrested.
“This sucks”, I thought. I’m in the middle of bum fuck nowhere west Texas getting arrested at a Border Patrol station.
The officer takes me in to a long white hall in the station and makes me face the wall. He starts asking me my personal information like name and date of birth, that type of stuff. I answer respectfully but I don’t volunteer any info.
Next he tells me to put my hands on the wall, and raise them as high as I can. When I say “tell”, I mean it was like a low volume yell. It was a command.
I put my hands on the wall but I didn’t understand the “raise your hands as high as you can part” so he repeats the command “raise your hands as high as you can!”
“Huh?” I say as I raise my hands up the wall a bit more. Now my face is right against the wall with my toes a few inches away from the wall. My arms are raised up so high my armpits are almost touching the wall.
The whole time I’m facing the wall he was his hand pushed firmly in the middle of my back. I guess this gives him more leverage in case I start resisting.
“Do you have any knives, needles, or weapons on you?” he commands.
I had left Phoenix, Arizona that morning where it was 110 degrees. It was the middle of June and I was driving through west Texas. I was wearing a t-shirt and a pair of thin breathable athletic shorts, a pair of tightie whitties, below-the-ankle tennis socks and running shoes.
If I had my keys or my wallet in my shorts you would have been able to tell just by looking that something was in my pockets. When I got out of the car they told me to leave all that stuff. I thought it was obvious I didn’t have anything, besides where could I have put it?
Since his one hand is firmly pressed against my back, he takes his free hand and starts aggressively searching me.
Then he takes his hand from my back and puts one hand on each side of my leg. If you’ve ever skipped the x-ray machine at the airport and had the TSA do the manual search, this is similar.
The difference is the amount of force. The officer raises his hands with way too much force and the impact of his hands and my undercarriage, or “nads”, was too much. I coughed, my nads aren’t used to blunt force trauma. Then the officer moves to the next leg and repeats the procedure. I cough again at the uncomfortable assault.
The feelups the TSA give you at the airport are quite pleasurable compared to how the Border Patrol does it.
The officer stands back up and immediately puts his hand in my back again and with his right boot he steps on and crushes the heel of my right shoe.
“Take your shoe off.” the officer commands.
With my hands high against the wall, my face an inch from the wall, and his hand pushing me against the wall, I had no idea how I was supposed to lean down and take my shoe off. I didn’t want to struggle with the guy. I thought it was in my best interests to be cooperative, but everything was happening so fast, and I was confused as to how I was supposed to take my shoe off without being allowed to bend over to do so.
I made the mistake of saying “Huh?” again.
“Take off your shoe!” he yelled.
“Look, I’m trying to cooperate here. I don’t want to cause trouble, but how am I supposed to take my shoe off if you won’t let me bend over to do so?”
The officer responded by crushing the right heel of my shoe even more.
“Slide your foot out of your shoe!”
I was happy to do so because it did not feel good with his boot crushing my heel. I slid my foot out of my shoe.
With his left hand still firmly planted in my back, the officer reached down and picked my shoe up and examined it. I guess he was looking for drugs, weapons, or human trafficking.
After a careful examination he did not find anything except the unique smell that I insert into all my athletic shoes.
After examining my shoe he dropped on the floor and commanded, “Lift up you foot.”
I lifted my right foot off the ground maybe an inch or so. I thought it was some sort of test like they give to people suspected of driving while intoxicated.
He was pissed. I didn’t do what he wanted. “Give me your foot!” he yelled.
I was confused again.
I didn’t know how this process was supposed to work so instead of saying “Huh?” I just stuttered a few times. He realized that I didn’t know what he wanted so he reached down and pulled my right foot up, with the bottom of my foot facing the ceiling. The position is the same if you are trying to stretch your hamstrings while standing on one foot.
With his left hand firmly planted in my back, me standing on my left foot with my hands up on the wall, he takes his right thumb, while holding my right foot, and runs his thumb up and down my sock.
Again, I guess he was looking for drugs, weapons, or humans that I might be smuggling into the country. Again, he found nothing.
The officer dropped my right shoe then crushed my left heel.
“Take off your shoe!”
This time I knew what to do and promptly obeyed.
Next he commanded, “Put your ankles against the wall.”
Now I was really confused. How do you put your ankles against the wall? I can put my big toes to the wall, but I can’t put my ankles to the wall.
Again, I reiterated that I wanted to cooperate, I wasn’t resisting, but I had no idea how I was supposed to comply with his command.
The officer became somewhat reasonable. He could see that I wasn’t resisting and I’m as harmless as I look.
With his hand firmly planted in my back he calmly explained the procedure. I was supposed to twist my leg 90 degrees so that the inside ball of my ankle was touching the wall. Then I was supposed to repeat the maneuver with my left leg, so that the heels of my feet are facing each other about shoulder width apart. The right leg was easy enough. The leg left was more difficult. I severed my ACL 3 years earlier and had surgery to repair it. Even though I’ve done a massive amount of physical therapy it doesn’t work or flex like a normal knee.
I didn’t bother explaining this history to the Border Patrol guy. As I was trying to set my left leg the same as I had my right, I began to wonder how I was going to do this without falling over. My hands were so high on the wall that my armpits were almost touching the wall. I had my head turned to one side so my nose wouldn’t be crushed against the wall. With my legs in the position I’ve already described it was almost impossible for me to keep my balance.
It was as if the officer could read my mind.
“Don’t worry, I got you. I won’t let you fall.” he said as he applied more pressure to his hand that was in my back.
Oh thanks, I thought as I maneuvered my left leg into the position he desired. It was one of the most awkward positions I’d ever been in. If the officer wasn’t holding me up I’d have fallen over.
You are completely defenseless in this position. I guess that was the point. I was put in that weird position to see if I would be cooperative and to display the officer’s dominance. He didn’t do anything else while I was in that position, he didn’t pat me down, he just had me stand there for a while.
When he was satisfied he let me off the wall to stand like a normal human being.
Next we walked into the large office area adjoining the wall. There were several Border Patrol agents in their green military outfits typing at computers and joking with one another. On one wall was a long bench that ran the length of the room. There was a Hispanic mother and her young child sitting on one side of the bench while a Border Patrol officer sat typing at a computer in the desk facing them.
I noticed that every 2 or 3 feet on the bench there was a set of handcuffs attached to a chain. As the officer walked me to his desk he told me to sit on the part of the bench right in front of his computer terminal that was facing me.
I was a relieved when I realized he was not going to hand cuff me to the bench.
The officer informed that I was being arrested and slid a piece of paper across his desk. There were 3 boxes at the top of the page. I had to check 2.
The first box was informing me of my rights. Instead of verbally reading me my rights, they were written down. I had to check the box indicating that I had read them.
The officer explained the next 2 boxes.
The first one indicated that I would cooperate with the government and they could ask me questions about the cookies. If I cooperated I might be able to get a better treatment.
The second box indicated that I chose the right to remain silent and requested a lawyer. If I did this then the officer couldn’t speak to me about the allegations and couldn’t “help me out.”
I was getting arrested in a Border Patrol checkpoint in west Texas. It was the middle of nowhere. I figured I would sit in jail for a few days before I was able to talk to a lawyer.
I was not happy about the situation I was in.
I told the officer, “I dunno. What do you think? It kinda sounds like I need a lawyer.”
I was trying to play as dumb as possible while also being polite to the guy.
“If you ask for a lawyer then I can’t talk to you and I can’t help you out” said the officer.
I politely checked box number 2.
In case you don’t know… NEVER TALK TO THE POLICE. This also applies to any other branch of government that can arrest you. Remember, “Anything you say, can and will be used against you.” What they don’t say is nothing you say can be used in your defense.
Do yourself a favor and don’t say anything.
Please watch this video. It explains in detail why you don’t say anything when you are getting arrested.
“Ok, he lawyer’d up” the officer announced to the other Border Patrol officers milling about the large open office. They didn’t seem interested enough to look up from whatever they were working on.
The officer takes my license out of my wallet and places it on the desk next to his keyboard. Then he starts asking me the question of name, date of birth, place of birth, social security number, height, weight, occupation, those type of questions.
I politely answer but don’t volunteer any extra information than asked.
“Have you ever been arrested before? Remember, don’t lie to me.”
This is a tricky question for me to answer. Being a young, rebellious, and a fan of alcohol, I made a few mistakes as a kid. Most of those mistakes got taken care of by lawyers and were expunged from my record. The one that stayed on my record was a DUI I got as a teenager.
I figured that’s all they needed to know about.
“I got a DUI as a teenager” I said.
“You’re lying! I told you, don’t lie to me!” the officer fired back.
This is another reason why you don’t talk to the police, they hate it when you lie to them. And they ask you questions in a way that is meant to confuse you and trip you up so that they can yell “Don’t lie to me!”
I stumbled. “Well, I got arrested this one other time but I it was expunged from my record”
“Where?” the officer asked as he peered at the information on his computer screen.
What I didn’t realize is I was dealing with the government. The government collects everyone’s data on everything.
You’ve heard of the NSA? They know that you’re reading this website, they know you buy food at McDonalds, and that you watch a lot of Katy Perry videos on YouTube. The government also knows how many times you’ve been arrested, and whether those instances were expunged or not.
I realized I needed to shut up because I was only going to get myself in more trouble. I realized that they didn’t ask me about another scrape or two I’d had. I wasn’t going to volunteer the information and I knew if they asked I would just lie to them.
The questioning ended and the officer was content to let me sit there and worry while he punched at his keyboard.
After a while the officer said, “Were checking your information against the databases in the FBI, the Dept. of Homeland Securtiy, and the DEA. If you’re lying to me you’re gonna make it worse.”
“Holy shit” I thought. I hadn’t done anything and these guys think I’m some international criminal. I kept my mouth shut.
The longer I sat there the more worried I became. I was in the clutches of the government and the government can do whatever they want to do. There is no rule of law. There is only the will of the physically stronger.
It did not matter that I was not hurting anyone or breaking any laws. It didn’t matter that I was minding my own business. It did not matter that I paid my taxes.
The only thing that mattered was reality. The reality was my future resided in the whims of the Border Patrol.
I realized the situation could spiral out of control.
I remembered hearing a story about a guy who got arrested with some cocaine. The guy didn’t have that much cocaine, but he concealed it inside a plastic box with a bunch of other stuff in the box to try to hide the cocaine. Instead of taking the cocaine out of the container and weighing it by itself, the police weighed the container and all the contents with the cocaine. This weight was of a much greater weight than the cocaine itself.
The suspect then got charged with possessing the weight of the entire object as if it was all cocaine. This made it seem like the suspect had way more cocaine than he actually did and the penalty for this greater weight was much more severe.
I had a large bag of chocolate chip cookies that allegedly was infused with THC. If they wanted to, they could weigh the bag and the cookies and consider it all THC and come up with a large weight that made it seem like I possessed an enormous amount of the illegal plant substance.
They could also charge me with DUI, intent to distribute, resisting arrest. Hell, they could charge me with whatever they wanted to.
I tried not to dwell on all the terrible possibilities.
As bummed as I was, I was kind of happy about how I was handling the situation. I was responsible for the situation I was in and I’d take it like a Stoic, I would face whatever came my way. I tried to use my Dale Carnegie powers of persuasion, I was polite to the mean guys with assault rifles. I tried not to laugh when they talked about my bag of chocolate chip cookies as if they were a dangerous substance.
Several times over the course of the holdup the officers had to call in the situation, either by hand-held radio or by phone to some superior officer. It was funny to hear their explanations. On the phone they would say, “Yeah, we got a Mr. Paulson here with a bag of THC cookies.”
They would always have to repeat that part, then say “No, cookies. Marijuana cookies. They have THC in them.”
This explanation would usually be followed up with, “No, they’re for personal use.”
That was good to hear. I didn’t think they would try to get me on an “intent to distribute” charge. I didn’t look like a Girl Scout selling Thin Mints.
It took awhile for the background checks to come back from the various government agencies. During this time Border Patrol agents would come up to me from time to time and hand me possessions from my car. They gave me my phone and wallet. Then someone brought my emergency cash I keep in the center console of my car.
I became depressed sitting on the bench thinking how miserable it would be to rot in a jail in west Texas. I let out a deep sigh of resignation.
The officer sitting at the desk in front of me did not like this.
“I’m tired of hearing you moaning and moping around. Be quite. As long as you’ve told us the truth and nothing comes back on the background checks, you’ll be free to go. But if you’re lying to us or if you have a warrant out for your arrest, you’ll be going to jail for a long time.”
I sat straight and perked up. I couldn’t believe what I just heard. What? They might let me off? I hoped nothing came back on that background check.
I didn’t mention that the state of California had just suspended my license for letting my insurance lapse. The California DMV had screwed up the paperwork. I moved out of Cali and was a resident of Nevada with legal license, registration, and insurance. California didn’t get the memo, thought I wasn’t paying my taxes and suspended my license. I was tired of dealing with the bozos and gave up trying to correct them. I was hoping that didn’t come back to haunt me.
I sat on the bench and did not say a word.
Time started to slow down as I waited for the background checks. At last the officer informed me that there were no outstanding warrants for my arrest and I was on good standing with the Dept. of Homeland Security, DEA, and the FBI.
“You got lucky. If you had been here this time last week you’d be getting arrested. But, we’re gonna let you go” the officer informed me.
Holy smokes. I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea what he meant by “If you had been here this time last week you’d be getting arrested.” I didn’t dare ask what had transpired in 7 days that would change my status from criminal to non-criminal.
I was stunned that I was going to walk out of that place. And I was proud of how I handled the robbery.
When I was younger, it was known amongst my friends when we went “out on the town”, if we ever were to encounter the cops, that I was never allowed to speak to them. I was always sent to the back of the group and those in our group with better social graces would converse with the police. For some reason, when I would talk to the police, it always ended up badly, usually with handcuffs.
If I had this encounter with the Border Patrol 10 years earlier, I would have gone to jail, guaranteed. Since then life has crushed me. I was forced to admit how weak I was. I was forced to learn. I learned much about psychology and the inherent weakness of human thought. I learned how to consider the other person’s perspective from Dale Carnegie.
The Border Patrol officers had no idea what was going on. They had no idea that they were the criminals. I was traveling along peacefully causing no harm and interfering with no one, and they stopped me at gunpoint. They stole my property. They harassed me.
The Border Patrol agents didn’t know they were engaged in criminal activity. They didn’t know that they worked for a vast criminal organization called the government. They thought they were they good guys.
They probably had a good laugh after work that night while enjoying my chocolate chip cookies.
There was a warm breeze that night as I walked out of the Border Patrol station to my car. I was relieved to be set free and I was also tired. The interrogation took about 2 hours and it was late when I got back on the road.
I drove for an hour more, then pulled over to a rest stop and slept in the back of my car. I woke up the next morning to a vast dusty view of west Texas stretching out as far as the eye could see. As I pulled onto the highway, with 14 hours of Texas driving ahead of me, I thought, “Damn, it’d be nice if I had a cookie.”