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Featured An Introduction To East Jesus

Discussion in 'Squatting' started by Matt Derrick, Apr 7, 2012.

  1. Matt Derrick

    Matt Derrick StP Founder, Admin, and travel addict
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    Update: If you're interested in visiting East Jesus after reading this article you should read this important update.

    My friend Sydney and I wandered through the desert in southern California, completely lost. Not the kind of lost that makes you fear for your survival, since we could clearly see RV’s and other signs of the Slabs all around us. It was the kind of lost born of total confusion and frustration. We knew we were in Slab City, a squatter town no more than a square mile long, yet we had been wandering the desert now in total darkness for well over an hour and a half without a single sign of familiarity. Gradually, far off in the distance, we could hear the sounds of thumping techno music and purple flickering lights. With no other real option, we began walking towards the lights and thumping bass that clearly wasn't home, but we hoped would somehow help us get our bearings back.

    We crested over the final hill to our destination, stumbling down into an encampment of clean-cut twenty-somethings gathered around a fire playing banjos. The light of the camp fire was almost blinding after spending so long in the darkness, but not nearly as bewildering as the sights beyond it. To the left of us was what appeared to be a black wooly mammoth standing nearly twelve feet high; to our right, a white geodesic dome in a constant change of blue and purple colors where the music that had drawn us here was coming from; and just behind the people and the campfire we could make out a myriad of other strange sculptures and artifacts that were outlined in colorful lights, but were still shrouded in enough darkness to defy description.

    The twenty-somethings stopped their music, and turned towards the confused looks on our faces. Sydney and I looked at the them, the strange sculptures around us, then back at each other. I had the wonderful, yet disorienting feeling that we had just accidentally walked into a Burning Man festival.

    This was my introduction to East Jesus, a place that I had no idea even existed in the Slabs until I stumbled right into the middle of it. Over a year later, I find myself waking up every morning in a perfect little trailer located right in the middle of it all.

    What is it?

    The name East Jesus sounds like a weird cult perhaps, and while we do often make jokes about drinking the Kool-Aid, the name actually comes from the idea of being way out in the middle of fucking nowhere. That’s fairly accurate, since it’s not a place you can find easily. It’s a place you have to seek out. That is, if you know it’s there at all.

    East Jesus lies on the outer edge of Slab City, which itself is a squatter town near Niland, a town in the Salton sea region of southern California. Started by Charles Russell in 2006 as an artist retreat, it’s a place for those that want to escape the world for a while, create amazing art in the desert, and live in a place where they're free to do and act as they please.

    Charles Russell Memorial (Closeup)_12-11-2011_001.
    In May of 2011, Charles Russell passed away at the age of forty-six. He left behind too many friends to count, and in his absence these friends came together to make sure his life’s project and dream didn’t die. It was at this point that East Jesus became more or less a collectively run project, maintained by a rotating cast of residents. East Jesus continues to be a place of inspiration and experimentation in habitable sustainability.

    I've been living at East Jesus since December of last year, and it’s been an amazing experience. There’s new art being developed nearly every week, parties almost every weekend, and an almost constant flow of new people coming to visit from around the world. The only bad part about East Jesus is that there’s generally so much going on I've barely visited the rest of the Slabs since I moved here. So today I thought I would write about what it’s been like living here for the past four months, and give you an inside look as to how things work behind the scenes.

    The Art

    East Jesus Art - 038 - December 11, 2011.
    At center of East Jesus is the art. Charlie Russell’s focus was on repurposing trash into something beautiful. There’s simply so much of that re-purposed material here that even after four months I'm still seeing little things I've never noticed before, on the ceiling, on the walls, and hidden in little nooks everywhere you go. The art garden is the first thing you'll see when visiting East Jesus, since it’s a stretch of desert approximately 100 yards long and 30 yards wide filled with all kinds of unique sculptures. There’s a lot of art to see here, but if you want a small preview, check out the pictures above or have a look at their website at EastJesus.org.

    The Community

    Buzzard plays banjo_12-31-2011_001.
    The residents of East Jesus is what keeps the camp going year round. It’s a surprisingly diverse set of people from a number of backgrounds, and new people come and go fairly often throughout the year. This year’s long-term residents have included Joe Angio, an electrician from Indiana, his wife Anna, who became one of EJ’s most popular tour guides; Phil Morsby, an incredibly talented writer that has become a voice for EJ’s blog; Frank Redford, a sarcastic giant, whose artistic and organizing skills have laid the foundation of EJ’s success this year; Sue Whitmire, a school teacher and sculpture artist, her husband Ken, a professional videographer; and lastly, myself as the resident “computer guy”, doing things like designing the EJ website, and putting together the Indygogo fundraising campaign to replace one of the batteries in our solar panel system.

    These are just a few of the amazing people who have spent weeks or months at EJ. There’s a lot more. Too many to mention. Like everyone that spends time out here, they've all made considerable contributions during their visits, and it’s one of the few things that EJ demands of its residents. It’s had all sorts of guests from woofers to weekend partiers, but if you want to spend more than three days here, get ready to contribute.

    Frank Redford is often heard telling guests, “We give you the first three days to get comfortable, relax, and get to know the place. After that, we put you to work.”

    East Jesus Art - 045 - December 11, 2011.
    Work generally consists of at least two hours a day of building art, taking out compost, cleaning solar panels, or anything else that needs doing around the camp. It’s hardly grueling, and in this kind of relaxed atmosphere EJ hasn’t come across too many people who weren't willing to do their part.

    Outside of Slab City, EJ has a huge array of friends. The majority are from the Los Angeles area, friends of Charlie Russell who come out on a regular basis to contribute building materials, or just lend a hand at building art pieces in the garden. The rest of EJ’s friends are from all around the world, and generally keep in touch through the EJ Facebook page, a place for friends and former visitors to keep an eye on the project’s progress.

    Behind the Scenes

    Expenses

    untitled shoot-120.
    Living at EJ full-time (or even just visiting for a few weeks) is one of the more unique experiences one can have in Slab City. Thanks to the forethought of its founder Charlie Russell, it’s blessed with a lot of the amenities missing from other parts of the Slabs. An incredible array of solar panels gives it the power needed to provide electricity for power tools, lighting for the living areas and sculptures at night, and even a decent internet connection (at $70 a month), one of the things that will keep you sane during wind storms or the slower seasons of the year, like the summer.

    nowhere article_031_03-19-12.
    Water is brought in by Toy Man, a man in the Slabs with a truck and water tank. Toy Man has an arrangement with Mae’s, the local grocery store in Niland, to fill up water from their business and sell it to the residents of Slab City for roughly fifteen dollars per 100 gallons of water. He'll even set you up with your own water tank and stand for around sixty dollars. EJ uses about 200-300 gallons a month for general consumption and watering of a meager garden in front of the music room.

    Composting Toilet at EJ_03-19-2012_011.
    As part of EJ’s sustainability mission, they have incorporated a “humanure” system for human waste. It’s a composting system designed to take something most people just bury, and turn it into something productive and reusable. The bathrooms at EJ are sitting toilets just like you'd have at home, but with a bucket instead of a toilet bowl. Once done with your business, there’s another bucket next to you filled with peat moss. You use this peat moss to bury your waste, thus completely eliminating all the disgusting aspects associated with outdoor toilet systems, like files, smell, and so on. When the toilet bucket gets full, an EJ resident will take it away to be dumped into the compost heap where it will spend the next six months or so breaking down into fertilized soil that will be used for the garden.

    east jesus-005_Jan-06-2012-49.
    Aside from the items mentioned above and occasional building materials, the only other real expense at EJ is diesel fuel for the generator. This is rare, since the solar panel system and EJ’s energy consumption is closely monitored to prevent having to use it. Despite this, in the desert there are often “wind days”, where the gusts reach upwards of forty miles per hour or more, creating occasional sand storms, and days where overcast skies will severely impact the amount of power the solar panel system brings in. It’s on these occasions that it’s incredibly useful to have a 5,000 watt generator around.

    Living Spaces

    Bordello table_01-05-2012_001. Bear Rug Bed_01-05-2012_001.

    One of the most amazing things about living at EJ is the living spaces themselves. There’s a wide variety of trailers and RV’s to live in, combined with more unique sleeping areas, like the Sunset Suite, an outdoor bedroom covered by a truck canopy that faces towards the horizon. The amazing sunsets happening daily in this region make the Sunset Suite a popular spot for guests. A recently built and yet-unnamed outdoor bedroom lies on the roof of EJ itself, and when finished will provide an amazing view of the stars at night, coupled with an unfortunately early wake up time when the sun rises. As with most things at EJ, these spaces are often referred to in a tongue-and-cheek fashion as their “less-than-luxurious-suites”.

    EJ Living Room_03-19-2012_006.
    The communal areas of EJ are centered around the living room and campfire area. They're two areas that vary in popularity depending on the weather. The living room consists of chairs gathered around a rebuilt poker table made from a school district throw away. This area is covered, providing protection from the sun and occasional rain storm. The campfire area is more popular at night. Made out of a clothing washer found in the desert, the fire pit is surrounded by comfortable couches and is a wonderful place to take a nap in the sun.

    EJ Kitchen Pano_03-19-2012_007.
    The kitchen of EJ is something to be proud of. Clean, functional, and having the same artistic twist everything else has at EJ, it boasts a fully functional refrigerator, microwave, oven, six propane burners, and dish washing area. While a kitchen is something most take for granted in their homes, I often look at the kitchen in EJ with wonder. In a place as poor as the Slabs, it’s one of the fanciest setups I've seen out here.

    The Music Room

    flip_music_room_pano.
    My favorite place in the EJ camp has got to be the music room. It’s the one place I can look at and always be reminded that I've been living in a gypsy mansion for the past four months. It’s an amazing backdrop of art and lighting that makes it a magical place hear live music. In the time I've been here I've seen perhaps a dozen or more amazing acts play in this room. It’s definitely a place to experience first hand, but since this is the internet and all, a few videos will have to suffice:






    The Library

    Inside the EJ Library_04-03-2012_001.
    Another nice part of EJ is the library. Out of all the communal libraries I've seen, this one is by far the most interesting. It has a great selection of odd and interesting books, including some H.R. Giger, an autographed Bob Ross book, the complete Monty Python series on DVD, and dozens of copies of Bizarre Magazine, which is one of my favorite bathroom readers. There’s a lot of interesting items in the back as well. If you make it out here to visit, ask someone to tell you the story of the stuffed caged birds in the back.

    The Gun Range


    Towards the back of the EJ property is a lot of neat little random things, like a buried metro bus, the hitchhiker camp, an artsy little shack, and other odds and ends, but the one spot worth mentioning the most is the infamous “clothing optional” gun range. Located down in the wash next to EJ, it’s a safe spot for guests and residents alike to fire off some rounds into targets set up on a desert wall. In the tradition started by Charlie himself, most residents of EJ are a big fans of shooting guns, fire, and explosions. Guests are encouraged to bring their own guns and ammo as long as they are legal and have proper paperwork.

    Paradise Found?

    Overall, East Jesus has been a winter well spent. I've made friends and had experiences I never would have expected, and I'm going to be very sad when it comes time to leave. If you're traveling through southern California, you should really put East Jesus on your map. Stop by and have someone give you the tour (there’s generally always someone around happy to do so), just remember to make your visit during the day, since wandering onto people’s property at night is generally frowned upon in the Slabs.

    If you're interested in a weirder and more unique woofing-style experience, get a hold of them on their website and ask if you can volunteer. Make sure to explain your areas of expertise and how you can contribute, and who knows, maybe I'll be seeing you next season.
     
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    #1 Matt Derrick, Apr 7, 2012
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2016
  2. sitk

    sitk Hungry for Knowledge

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    Well this is the coolest thing I've read all day. Great photographs.
     
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  3. OP
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    Matt Derrick

    Matt Derrick StP Founder, Admin, and travel addict
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    thanks man! makes me glad i wrote it!
     
  4. tobepxt

    tobepxt Sir Posts a Lot

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    wow. thanks for sharing all of these photos and this great write up. what an amazing, and frankly inspiring place.
     
  5. Auto

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    Nice pics, I was there in the slabs from early Nov. to mid April. Didn't get to see EJ though, went up there once when I first got there but was unknowingly with 2 of the biggest douchebags in the slabs and they said they were really busy and wouldn't let us in. Haven't heard anything bad about EJ or the people that live there though. The slabs are a great place, and I'm hoping to be heading back out there soon from Fort Collins, probably going to wait a month or two though when it cools down some.
     
  6. OP
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    Matt Derrick

    Matt Derrick StP Founder, Admin, and travel addict
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    that's the exact time frame i was there last winter at EJ... who were the douchebags?
     
  7. Auto

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    cyanide and Jeff, they ripped a lot of people off shortly after I arrived. Doubt I met you while there, I hung out at A camp and lived in the wash behind edge road.
     
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    Matt Derrick

    Matt Derrick StP Founder, Admin, and travel addict
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    it's cool, yeah, i heard cyanide was pretty sketch.
     
  9. Ekstasis

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    Wow. Great article! There are some amazing things going on in EJ! Very cool!
     
  10. happyearthhomes

    happyearthhomes Celebrated Poster

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    Matt, very well written and I am stealing some of these pictures.
     
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    Matt Derrick

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    So it's been a few years, and things change, for better or worse. Unfortunately in the case of EJ it's for the worse. After editing this article today and updating some of the links, I feel like there's a few warnings I should give folks before they try to contact the East Jesus collective.

    East Jesus is still run by Frank Redford. As long as this remains the case I can't recommend that anyone visit EJ much less live there until this changes. In the years since I left, Frank, a self-described 'bully', has pretty much turned EJ into his own little hipster playground. People with Frank's kind of personality disorder tend to surround themselves with good people that are easily pushed around, and therefore easy to control.

    I had to remove several lines of my article about EJ not being 'a private club' because, well, that's basically what it's become. If you don't have something they want, aren't a cool LA hipster that makes Frank feel cool, or have breasts for him to oogle over, you're not getting in. Frank has continually shown no interest in being a part of the Slab City community, and has referred to the people who live in Slab City in derogatory terms countless times.

    To my knowledge, Frank has basically replaced everyone at EJ with people that are more easily subjugated to his control. Some of these folks are good people, and I bear no ill will to them, but it says something when everyone that I lived with at EJ during my time there has cut all ties with Frank and the EJ 'collective' as a result of his bullying and fascist control.

    I would also like to make it known that Frank Redford misspent nearly the entire $5,125 raised by the Indiegogo campaign that was organized by myself and the friends of EJ that were kind enough to contribute. Not a dime was spent on the battery for the solar panel system as was advertised in the campaign. This alone should go a long ways towards exposing his character and interests.

    Some people might wonder why I wrote this article if EJ was so bad, and I would just like to point out that many of the things I've written here didn't become apparent until well after I left, and the things I was aware of (mostly the extortion of EJ funds) I didn't want to bring up until now because I wanted to avoid any fallout that might occur because of it.

    The only good thing about the current situation at EJ is that in Frank's disdain for the rest of Slab City's residents, he almost never comes out of the EJ property except to occasionally hit up the hot springs late at night. Which is fine by me, since as far as I'm concerned, he can rot in the lonely little paradise he's created for himself there. The slabs certainly don't need that kind of person in their community anyways.

    So, that's all I have to say about EJ. It was a good place, but don't bother visiting until Frank is gone. There's a ton of good people involved with EJ and Charlie's vision, but until that cancer is removed it's just never going to live up to it's former glory.
     
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    #11 Matt Derrick, Aug 26, 2015
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2016
  12. Johnny P

    Johnny P Hungry for Knowledge

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    Man that's a bummer! I just finished reading your first post and absolutely fell in love. I plan on visiting the slabs on my way through southern CA. Since this place in general was hindered by certain peoples actions, also I'm a few years late on viewing this content. What are some communities in Slab City you would recommend checking out and camping out in my van? I don't know how long I would stay, but I definitely would like to experience the environment. I'm always game to contribute and leave a positive footprint. I wish I could make it to the Jambo, but unfortunately not in the cards for me. Let me know any thing you would positively recommend and hopefully I'll run in to you sooner than later!

    Cheers!

    Johnny P
     
    #12 Johnny P, Oct 21, 2016
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2016
  13. Wyle E Coyote

    Wyle E Coyote One of the Regulars

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    Fuck, I hate to see that EJ has fallen under the control of some facist asshat. I spent about a month there holding it down with pepper right after Charlie passed before Kat manipulated me out. I spent a considerable amount of time reading through his journals and THIS is definitely not what he intended. Can't the board do something? Surely Charlies friends wouldn't let this happen.. I would hope :/
     
  14. anyiki

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    Man what a fuckin drag to hear this beautiful place has a steely claw gripping it now ... really appreciate the unhindered honesty about it, though. bad deeds deserve to be known, above strictly interpersonal conflicts imo, and when those deeds affect many, along with bad power trips, well fuck off out loud.

    hopefully coming thru slab city early this winter for the first time -- any update on EJ since 2016? looks like such a dream and i'd really love to contribute
     
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  15. moonwalker

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    yeah, I've been interested in east Jesus, but what the fuck?

    anyone in slabs know what's up with that situation?