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Gabriel Thompson

Little Shop of Horrors

Though I didn’t know a carnation from a chrysanthemum, I wasn’t nervous before starting a new job in Manhattan’s flower district. I hadn’t known anything about farm work, but survived two months harvesting lettuce in Arizona. More recently, I had endured a crash course in the art of slaughtering and processing industrial chicken. A vegetarian since grade school, I didn’t even know what a chicken breast looked like before working the graveyard shift at a poultry plant in rural Alabama. By the second week, I was tearing apart more than 7,000 breasts a night—by hand.

In Conversation

ROBIN NAGLE with Gabriel Thompson

Irate drivers, garbage juice, urinating dogs, and super storms are just some of the challenges faced by our sanitation army, who are more than twice as likely to die on the job as police.

Immigration Hysteria Hits Gotham

When Minutemen founder Jim Gilchrist recently brought his message to Columbia University, he didn’t have to worry about dramatic backdrops like border fences or nighttime operations—all he needed was a group of screaming students, who graciously obliged.

Confessions of a Child Smuggler

At present, my greatest fear is not that I will be mistaken for a kidnapper, or a child molester, or someone set on bringing a two-year-old girl and her three-year-old brother from Mexico to the United States on a diabolical organ transplant scheme. My concern is less fantastic, and more frightening.

When Even the Minimum Wage Is a Distant Dream

Inside the basement of a large manufacturing building in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, with windows that are tinted less by design than sheer grime, nine immigrant women are sitting in front of sewing machines, stitching together pink and gray fabrics that are in the process of becoming T-shirts for young girls.

Reflections on the Immigrant Rights Movement

For reasons that remain a mystery even to myself, at various times during the past year I’ve found myself settling down for the evening with Lou Dobbs and Bill O’Reilly.

One Immigrant’s Journey: Chasing the Dream in NYC

Full disclosure: Enrique is my friend. I met him through my work, as an organizer at the Pratt Area Community Council, a not-for-profit housing organization in central Brooklyn.

Hallowed Halls of Justice?

As David Feige describes in his recent memoir Indefensible: One Lawyer’s Journey into the Inferno of American Justice (Little, Brown, Company, 2006), early in his career as a public defender, before Feige became trial chief at the Bronx Defenders, he was an attorney with Brooklyn Legal Aid. In 1994—a year in which more residents of New York City were victims of violent crimes than the entire population of Atlanta—he takes his first homicide case.

Joe, We Hardly Knew Ya

In 1902, a young man named Joel Hägglund boarded a ship from Sweden to the United States. Like many immigrants of the period, he had managed to squeeze a lifetime’s worth of hardship into his short existence: his father had died from head injuries suffered on the job, while his mother was laid to waste by the macabre-sounding “consumption of the spine.”

Inside the Motor City

What to make of a city like Detroit? Once a thriving metropolis that lured working-class strivers with solid paychecks and stable neighborhoods, it now attracts attention like a deadly pile up on the freeway, with journalists (and readers) slowing to crane their necks and gawk.

In Conversation

A Bard from East New York: Martín Espada

Called “the Pablo Neruda of North American authors” by Sandra Cisneros, Martín Espada has published eight books of poetry, including Imagine the Angels of Bread, winner of an American Book Award, and Alabanza: New and Selected Poems 1982-2002, which received the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement.

An Afternoon with Enrique

Ed.’s note: There’s No José Here is a behind-the-scenes account of Mexican immigrants in New York City, focusing on a 34-year-old livery cab driver named Enrique. From the floors of hidden sweatshops in Bedford-Stuyvesant to the impoverished rural villages of Mexico, the book traces the journey of Enrique and his family as they continue a seemingly endless search for economic opportunity and stability.

Dark Hopes for Peace in the O.T.

On a gorgeous late afternoon I follow an energetic boy through his father’s desert garden on a hillside. It has been another sweltering day, but by now the weather is cooling off nicely out here in the country.

"It's You, Stupid."

Extreme feelings of isolation, desperation, and depression can serve both as catalysts for positive and negative transformation. The recently incarcerated may have a spiritual awakening behind bars, but can just as easily give up on life entirely. Alienated teenagers could find fuel for artistic expression, but might also start running with gangs. Alcoholics, if lucky, stumble upon the twelve steps and a community of solidarity; if not, more alcohol.

Reflections on the Nation

Starting, and then sustaining, a non-commercial, proudly ideological magazine has never been an easy feat—even less so in the present era of hyper conglomeration, where advertiser-fueled, sex-drenched glossy pages of puff spill over the aisles of grocery stores across the country. The conscious choice to publish an independent political journal, and try somehow to survive financially, is not one that should be made lightly.

Games Without Frontiers

Last spring, Iraqi artist Wafaa Bilal moved into a cordoned area set up in the back of a Chicago art gallery, where he would remain for one month. The makeshift cell contained a computer, desk, bed, lamp, coffee table, and stationary bike (which, like most stationary bikes, went untouched).

In Texas a Model of Criminal Justice (Honest)

The specter of the incorrigible, violent criminal animates much of the debate in our country around criminal justice. Inevitably, it has seeped into our notions of juvenile justice as well.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2023

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