Willie's fingers are thicker than rolls of quarters and his handshake is firm enough to pump the blood out of your arm. He is a large man in his early forties with a fat, unshaven face and a cammo trucker hat. Willie sits on a folding chair underneath a series of low tents surrounded by his own personal bazaar: bolt cutters, machetes, ammo boxes, a glass display case brimming with old Third Reich medals. He has decamped next to an abandoned hotel from the 1920s in the middle of nowhere. Other than infrequent traffic on the Texas road, the only sound comes from white Venetian blinds swinging loosely through windows in the fecund breeze. "I had to stop to open a gate earlier today," Willie says, "and there were fifty mosquitoes in my truck. Be glad for this wind."
The wind almost blows Willie's tents away, but he moves his weight nimbly and pins them down with chunks of old tires.
A hispanic man stops and drops eighty bucks for two car jacks. Willie defies expectations and actually ekes out a living by peddling junk in the middle of nowhere. Ten years earlier he was working a salaried job and feeling stymied but, after a taking the fall for an inept supervisor, he channeled the spirit of Johnny Paycheck and told his boss to "take this job and shove it." So he embraced self-employment, finally marrying his girlfriend of ten years to get on her K-Mart insurance plan. He has seen okay seasons and bad seasons, but never good seasons—Willie had to lay off his son in 2009 which, he says, was tough but not personal. On the whole, he is happy with his decision. He is making five times his previous income and claims to own several houses.
If only Texas would follow Arizona's lead and turn their prison population into a profitable workforce... that would lower his taxes and he'd be set.