Inside Slab City where people go to escape the law with guns and drugs rife

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It's dubbed the last free place on Earth where people can disappear off-grid to live life in whatever way they want.

But Slab City is also a place where guns and drugs are rife, where people go to escape the law – and street justice can be rough.

Now, this square mile in California’s Sonoran Desert is the subject of a new Channel 5 documentary, presented by Ben Fogle.

Ben says: “Slab City is a last-chance place for those who have become homeless, for those who don’t conform, for those who have been let down by society.

“There’s also people who are fleeing the law and others who are suffering mental health problems. And the result is that it is part utopia, part dystopia.

“There’s no rent, there’s no taxes, there’s no government, there’s no laws.

“But there’s no running water, there’s no gas or electricity and many people live in elaborate rubbish dumps.”

Originally a World War Two marine training camp which was torn down in 1956, the empty concrete slabs became a place for drifters and veterans.

Now, its residents live in camps – including the LGBT-friendly Flamingo, Beeside, East Jesus and the tough Pirate camp, which was founded by Pirate Rob eight years ago.

Rob reveals how the pirates meted out their own form of justice to a previous inhabitant who was caught groping an unconscious woman.

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He says: “Everyone got together and went to that guy’s camp the next morning, pulled him out and p***ed on him, told him to get out. The punishment fit the crime.”

Other local characters include Dot, who dresses as a mermaid, and Grandma Booze Killer. Beryl manages the Oasis Club hangout while “Builder” Bill Ammon has lived there for 23 years.

Former IT executive Dot moved to Slab City after being made redundant.

She says: “You can do anything you want to in Slab City and no one cares.

“If you’re having a good time that’s all that matters.”

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Artist Peter Passalacqua who sports eyeliner, flamboyant outfits and has a dancing pole in his “living room”, smokes weed as soon as he wakes up.

“I get stoned first thing in the morning and all day long,” he says. “In Slab City you get to live your fantasy. You get to be the person you always wanted to be before society messed you up.

“I don’t have a clock, I don’t have a calendar, I don’t watch TV and I don’t have a clue what’s going on in the world because I don’t watch the news. It’s blissful. It’s the last free place.”

In the RabbitSide camp, married Jessie and Peter live with Ryan in a polyamorous “throuple”. They moved from Babylon – what Slabbers call the outside world – to escape Jessie’s ex who tried to kill them with a knife.

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Ryan was stabbed in the neck while Jessie was left with stab wounds on her chest. Their attacker was jailed for two years.

Jessie says: “When he got out of prison he made it clear to mutual friends that he’d like to find us and finish the job so we just dropped out.” He later committed suicide.

Last year 17 Slabbers died from heatstroke, drug overdoses and one murder. There’s no air conditioning and the desert temperatures can reach 54C.

Meth and heroin are rife in Slab City and people have guns for protection.

Charlie, who runs the bike shop, admits to being a drug addict and spending spells in prison. As it’s illegal to be homeless in many US cities, he ended up here.

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Despite the hardships of Slab City, Ben believes we can learn a lot from it. He says: “I think there is a need for places where people can live free.

“The shortcoming is they can’t be lawless.

“If Slab City could implement a few more of the laws most of us live by, I think you’re getting much closer to finding a genuine utopian retreat for those who simply don’t fit into society.”

● Ben Fogle & The Lost City airs on Thursday night at 9pm on Channel 5.

  • Drugs
  • Crime
  • Channel 5
  • Ben Fogle

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