261: Kids in the System with Jeff Severns Guntzel

This week’s guest is Jeff Severns Guntzel, an investigative researcher with 20 years of journalism and humanitarian work under his belt. He joins Brett to talk about the juvenile detention system, prison abolition, activism, good deeds through hardware hacking, and trips to the garbage dump.

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Brett: [00:00:00] [00:00:00]This week’s guest is Jeff Severns Guntzel an investigative researcher with 20 years of journalism and humanitarian work under his belt. How’s it going? Jeff,

[00:00:16] Jeff: [00:00:16] It’s going very well. Thank you.

[00:00:17] Brett: [00:00:17] do you know when the last time you were on the show was

[00:00:21] Jeff: [00:00:21] Oh, I had just left a job in public radio, so I want to say it was like 2013 or something.

[00:00:28] Brett: [00:00:28] 2014, very close.

[00:00:30] Jeff: [00:00:30] 14. Oh God, I should’ve listened back. Or I only have so many things to say.

[00:00:35] Brett: [00:00:35] Well, it’s been long enough that if anyone still remembers the last time you were on, I’m sure they won’t mind a refresher, but we have new stuff to talk about since then, too.

[00:00:45] Jeff: [00:00:45] Yeah, I haven’t heard anything about people still talking about it to this day. So I’m just going to assume we can call this a clean slate.

[00:00:51]Brett: [00:00:51] So this just for listeners this will be the last official episode of [00:01:00] systematic on this. We’ll call it a season. I’m going to take a little break after this. There might be a bonus episode. Jeff May have something to say about that, but at least a month or two we’re gonna go dark and hope to be back soon.

[00:01:14] But anyway, that sounded like I was finishing the show, but

[00:01:18] Jeff: [00:01:18] nah,

[00:01:19] Brett: [00:01:19] I

[00:01:20] Jeff: [00:01:20] it’s just, I buy it as a season finale.

[00:01:23] Brett: [00:01:23] So you have the distinguished honor of being the season’s final guest.

[00:01:30] Jeff: [00:01:30] I thank you.

[00:01:31] Brett: [00:01:31] SSo what do you do for a day job right now?

[00:01:35] Jeff: [00:01:35] What I do for a day job is what I call investigative research. There is a thing called investigative research in the sort of academic research world, which I am not a part of. But it seems to have, it seems to have fizzled a little. So I’m just like borrowing it for a little bit. So I don’t have to explain, like, I’m not a journalist anymore, but I’m still doing journalists, like things with that said I’m not a journalist anymore, but I’m still doing journalist-

[00:02:00] [00:01:59] like things. I started working on a project with a small team of people in Omaha, Nebraska about four years ago. And the purpose of the project is to. Really get inside the experiences of the kids there who are going through the juvenile justice system and their families and their siblings.

[00:02:20] And to really kind of understand how how experience with the system ripples through an individual’s life, but also through their family life and their social life and all of that stuff. Because we don’t spend too much time talking about that. And so the way that project works is I am not interviewing kids.

[00:02:37]Instead we have a team of people. I have these amazing colleagues in Omaha who have been interviewing kids who have experience working with kids who themselves have experience with the system. So that it’s not, I mean, in my case, it’s not a white guy coming in from Minneapolis, gathering up stories, tucking them under my arm.

[00:02:59] And flying [00:03:00] back to Minneapolis, right? Like that model should die. And this model we felt was like going to be something a little different. So we started this project called the lived experience project, and it was initially to collect stories and then figure out what the stories or the kids were telling us should happen next.

[00:03:17]Where my job comes in is, you know, it only took us about a dozen interviews to realize that if we’re going to be having Frank conversations with kids about their experiences in the system, that we’re going to start hearing about ways in which the system harms them.

[00:03:32] And we didn’t want to be in a situation where things like that were being shared with us. And we were just filing it away in our database of interviews. We wanted to be sure that we took those cues when they came, even if they were implicit, like if someone said something subtle about a certain facility, but it kind of matched something subtle.

[00:03:52] Someone else said about a facility, my job was to go, okay, what are the other ways of knowing here? Right? We’re not going to, [00:04:00] we’re not going to put it on this kid to tell us everything that happened, because that puts them in a really It puts them in a potentially dangerous situation and it puts a lot on them.

[00:04:08]When I was, you know, doing reporting the kind of main rule when you got information from a source was, first thing you do is go try to get it from something else so that you can kind of shield your original source of that story or that document or whatever. So I was taking that approach and I had to kind of start from scratch because in a way, like in these interviews, we weren’t learning super specific things, right.

[00:04:32] But we were learning types of harm in the system. We were learning ways you can be harmed. We were learning how kids defined harm, which is very different from kid to kid based on whatever their sort of norms are. And so I, in a way kind of broke off of all of that and just focused on how can I see into this system, which is very opaque.

[00:04:55] And in some cases necessarily opaque, but in some cases, [00:05:00] That opaqueness kind of protects people who are doing harm in the system. So how can I see in? And so my job became working with public documents, pulling whatever data I could about any given facility from like 911 data to tracking down court records that discuss what life was like in that particular facility.

[00:05:19]I would cold call former staff of different facilities. I would talk to state agencies, all that stuff all as a way of sort of. Seeing into the system so that I can start to see patterns and red flags which was something that was not previously possible in Douglas county, juvenile justice system, or actually just wasn’t previously done, I guess.

[00:05:38] And so that’s what I do. I’m like, I’m a journalist in this very, I’m an investigative researcher, investigative journalists in this very narrow sort of scope that is not even my hometown that I’ve been doing for a few years now. And that I really hope when we’ve really kind of nailed down this model can be not scaled from us, but can be like toolbox can [00:06:00] be, you know, borrowed like a little to have a little tool lending library for these things we’re creating.

[00:06:05] So anyway, that’s the long answer of what I do. Next question, please.

[00:06:09] Brett: [00:06:09] it’s an hour long podcast. You can take as long as you like for answers. So with the lived experience project, now that you’re, you’ve been doing this for a while and you’ve been gathering data and you’ve been analyzing, it has the mission statement of the lived experience project changed at all.

[00:06:28] Now that you’re kind of in the weeds.

[00:06:30]Jeff: [00:06:30] Where I stand. No the idea for me was if what we were doing and learning was going to become part of a reform conversation. And by the way, we’re funded by a private foundation. Who’s interested in reforming the Douglas county juvenile justice system. We are not in and of ourselves a reform project, but.

[00:06:53]We are supported by this foundation so that we may use, you know, youth voice and lived [00:07:00] experience to contribute in a hopefully meaningful way to a discussion about how the system can stop harming kids in it. And so, for me, the first thing that, you know, I worried about when we were only collecting stories and not collecting data yet was like, you put.

[00:07:18] Any story of a kid. Who’s saying that while I was in the system, after I got in trouble, I was harmed. And the first thing that the system is going to Do just instinctively is knock it down, you know? Oh, well, okay. So they say this place was rough. Well, of course it’s rough. That’s where we send the rough kids, that whole idea of the rough kids as if there’s any such thing.

[00:07:38]Just kids. And so we wanted to be sure that we were standing alongside them a little bit of ground under their feet, if that was helpful, whatever, with data that said, yeah, here’s a story that suggests a pattern and here’s some data that actually expands our sense of that pattern. And in some cases, highlights a pattern that is far worse than what we [00:08:00] might’ve assumed was true based on this one story.

[00:08:02]And so. My mission in this work has not changed. It’s just to be sure that we can create as much solid ground under the feet of these kids who have been harmed as possible so that their stories can’t be ignored or pushed aside or erased by, by the system itself.

[00:08:21] Brett: [00:08:21] Do you consider yourself a prison? Abolitionist?

[00:08:25]Jeff: [00:08:25] Yeah.

[00:08:27] yeah.

[00:08:28] abolitionist generally. Which of course, like, let’s just remember. I mean, we’ve had to hear so many versions of this since George Floyd’s death, when abolition. Sorry. We’ve had to hear so many versions of this since George Floyd’s murder. When the abolition conversation became something like mainstream I am an abolitionist.

[00:08:51] I believe that these systems are rotten at their core. I believe that these systems harm people and [00:09:00] especially black and brown people at an enormously disproportionate rate. And that in some cases, most cases they’re designed that way doesn’t mean that everyone who takes a job in the system says, I’m going to go take a job in that system that hurts black and brown people every day.

[00:09:18] That doesn’t happen for everybody. Probably. I’m Sure. there’s a couple candidates who have that in the back of their mind in some maybe less direct way, but. This thing that people chant here all the time. No good cops in a rotten system. I think it’s a really profound chant and it brings you a little further than all cops are bastards ACA B.

[00:09:38] This is the other thing that kind of goes with it. I’m not critiquing people use what they got to do to try to kind of push this conversation forward. But the idea of no good cops in a rotten system, I think is really powerful because it focuses you on the system. And so much of where the conversation about what happens to people [00:10:00] like George Floyd or Philando Castiel to name a couple of local cases. So much of what happens in that conversation is it becomes about the bad apples, or it becomes personal. Like people start taking it personally, cause maybe they’re thinking of the police officer in their life. Or they’re thinking about a time when they were in danger and they relied on the police.

[00:10:21] And it’s become this sort of personal thing. This idea of no good cops in a rotten system says, Hey, you can go in wanting to be a good cop. Sure. Of course. Everybody goes in with different motivations. And only they really know what they are. And probably some people don’t even know what do you know, your motivation for everything key.

[00:10:41] You do know, but you know what you tend to gravitate towards. Right? So anybody who goes in thinking I’m going to be a good cop. And I think there’s a lot of people who do that. The point is not no, you can’t go in and be a good cop in a rotten system. You become part of a system that is just habitually and systematically harming people every day.

[00:10:59][00:11:00] And so for me, that’s what makes me an abolitionists. Now I work with people who are formerly incarcerated and are abolitionists and what one of them, my colleague, Dominique Morgan will say, it’s like, look, yeah, I understand having been in prison that you can’t just burn the damn thing down because then what?

[00:11:18] Right. You can’t just burn the whole system down and eliminate all the supports, the ones that are mostly broken, but still acting as supports and not hurt a lot of people. So what is powerful to me about abolition? Is it forces my brain to imagine a world where this system doesn’t exist and then to imagine what would have to take its place.

[00:11:43] And that is why in the work I do around juvenile justice. Like I’m really focused on qualities of hurt and qualities of help, essentially. So qualities of harm, qualities of help. And for me, those are abolitionist concerns. Like we know that the system [00:12:00] hurts people, but there is a real need to lay out all the ways in which it hurts people, because there are small ways.

[00:12:06] The system hurts people that we never talk about. Someone who’s been in prison and comes out and can’t turn the lights off at night and they have to sleep with the lights on every night or can’t put their, you know, they have to put their back to the wall and the restaurant, or, you know, back in the day when you were on a pay phone or something like these are other, these are also ways that people are harmed.

[00:12:24] So there are all these ways that you want to be able to sort of lay out how the system harms people. And then you want to be able to look as well at how interactions with the system have helped where they’ve helped. And for me, that’s an abolitionist line of inquiry.

[00:12:40] Brett: [00:12:40] Sure. So I’ve gotten to know you pretty well over the last year. It’s been about a year, right? Since we started kind of working together.

[00:12:49] Jeff: [00:12:49] like August of last year, I think.

[00:12:51]Brett: [00:12:51] I would say that you are a person who is exceptionally sensitive to the suffering of others. Has that always [00:13:00] been, is that like just an innate personality trait or did experiences like your early work in journalism instill that in you.

[00:13:09] Jeff: [00:13:09] So yes, I have had a sort of drive to find light in dark places, essentially, since I was pretty young, I just didn’t really know how to act on it then. And my first real, like my first real, almost like job experience in the world while I was like, I was a lawnmower and a dishwasher for a long time.

[00:13:38] But then in 1998, I was born in 75. I don’t remember how I don’t want to do the math right now. What is this? A math podcast? So I was some years and I realized like I was in this punk rock band. I was traveling around. I really loved it, but I did not love the. The sense of just where am I [00:14:00] going with this?

[00:14:00] Right. Like, I just didn’t know where I was going with it. And I knew that I had all these things I cared about. And so I decided that my first step was going to be, I was going to start a zine, cause you know, it was 1998, right? gotta start a Z and it was going to focus on prisons. And so I put an ad in prison, life magazine, that was great magazine called prison.

[00:14:19] Life magazine back in the day, started by this former prisoner Richard Stratton. And and they focused on issues in prisons, but they also just focused on prison life. And then there was like, there were classified ads, people looking for pen pals or whatever else. And I was like, Hey, I’m this kid. And I want to do a, you know, like zine about kind of experience in prison for like a young adult audience, essentially.

[00:14:44] Right. And it was incredible because I must’ve received 80 or 100. Letters and pieces of artwork and advice and all of these things from prisoners across the us. And I [00:15:00] started corresponding with them and my little zine never came to fruition, but it was a moment to sort of step out of my own life, which I was in a certain sense, looking to do and engage the world, engage places that I knew were kind of hard to engage.

[00:15:21] And once I did that and had the benefits of corresponding with people. I was like, I wanted more of that. Like I just felt like that’s where I wanna be. I wanna, I want to be part of hearing voices that are otherwise very difficult to hear and if possible, be part of amplifying those voices.

[00:15:40] And so that’s like my very first sort of worky, like thing and everything after that, followed that pattern. I did work in Iraq for, from like 1998 to like 2001. I went to Palestine during a war there in 2002, a [00:16:00] Israeli invasion of the west bank. I started visiting death row around that same time in Illinois with the Illinois coalition against the death penalty.

[00:16:08] And it was like almost this pathological drive to be in dark places. And what. We’re in places that we tell ourselves are dark. Right. And then the, like the real power of recognizing over and over again. Oh, I’m in this place. That’s supposed to be a dark place. And it is in many ways, like if you take death row, but like realizing in all these different scenarious that I don’t feel any different as a person when I’m in them.

[00:16:37] It’s not like, I feel like I’m in somebody else’s life or in a movie or something like that. It’s like, I can be right in the middle of an act of war zone. And I still feel like myself and the people standing across from me still strike me as. People standing across from me. And this is also silly to say it’s also simple.

[00:16:55] It almost sounds absurd, but I was completely changed by [00:17:00] the experience of recognizing in a really felt way that everything on earth, every conflict we read about every anything is people trying to figure out how to manage a situation that has gone from ordinary to extraordinary. And that has been fascinating to me.

[00:17:18] Now, the story you asked me about traumas. It is also, I believe the case that I was sort of hiding behind other people’s traumas. Cause I had my own to unpack which I’ve done over the last couple of years thanks to therapy. But it doesn’t mean I want to step away from this, so yeah.

[00:17:34] Brett: [00:17:34] so do you clearly, you were an activist in your youth. Do you still consider yourself an activist?

[00:17:41]Jeff: [00:17:41] I mean, I’m happy to be called an activist. I mean, in journalism, what sucked about being in journalism was that thing where even as journalists in the, like, what. Early mid-2000s started recognizing that this [00:18:00] voice from nowhere thing is is just utter crap. This idea that you are talking about an issue, but bringing nothing of yourself into it, because of course you are, you’ve chosen who you’re going to talk to.

[00:18:11] You’ve chosen, which of their words they’re going to use. You’ve chosen, which people you’ve talked to. You’re going to put into conversation with which ideas. And then of course you’ve chosen all the things that will be left out. And so the idea that like a journalist who is, for example, doing like a really powerful investigation about it, let’s say a juvenile justice system and publishes a five-part series about abuses in that system.

[00:18:33] Like. For me, I don’t think it’s dirty. I would say that’s good activist work. They like to use the advocacy word more often than not. And sometimes that’s meant as a positive and sometimes it’s like, you’re too much of an advocate here. Right? Like, but like, man, if you’re clean about it, if you find ways to be transparent, not just with your audience, but with the people you’re speaking with about what it is you’re trying to do and what it is you think you understand that to me [00:19:00] is just like, that’s all I need from journalism or anybody trying to tell me about a truth.

[00:19:05] They think they understand. And so do I call myself an activist, which is question I’m not really doing a good job of answering. It’s like, no, I just don’t call myself on anything really. Because I feel like all words are so. Loaded, you know, these days, but look, if you want to start over and say, this is, you know, I’m introducing my guests, Jeff Severns Guntzel, he’s an activist, like fine.

[00:19:26] Good. I’d rather be that than not.

[00:19:28] Brett: [00:19:28] Sure. So I think the common image people have of an activist is someone out in marches and protesting in the street. And I feel like you found other ways to support those who do that. And to be, can we an ally perhaps without actually marching in the street?

[00:19:50] Jeff: [00:19:50] co-conspirator.

[00:19:51] Brett: [00:19:51] Yeah, I like

[00:19:52] Jeff: [00:19:52] Yeah. Yeah, I you know, so what I did in my twenties, when I went to Iraq to Palestine, like I. In both [00:20:00] cases, I was in active war zones and I really you know, I almost died and I was scared and I was, you know, shot at or whatever. like I was almost hurt. I almost died. And, you know, I have these nights where I’m just like, why?

[00:20:13] Like, there’s a lot of ways to care about Palestine or Iraq. Why am I choosing this particular one? Right. And, you know, I came out of a phase like that really burned out doing that.

[00:20:22] kind of work really burned out. But I also felt like, I just felt like I, I understood so much more by being there and I had an ability to communicate it to other people.

[00:20:34] And so just started to feel like it almost felt like I was obligated to do it. No one was telling me I was, and I don’t mean that with any hubris, like this is a gift I can give or anything like that. I mean, like literally there was an engine in me that was like driving me into those types of situations.

[00:20:50]And at some point I recognized that it was hurting me quite a bit without really helping anybody else. I mean, maybe, I don’t know, but I don’t really think in [00:21:00] any significant way. It was more about making sure we were shining some light on some aspect of suffering or life or whatever. And so I had to kind of sit with that. Like, what does it mean that. I don’t feel like I can do the things that I’ve done for the last, you know, five, seven years, because it’s hurting me.

[00:21:20] Like, what do I do? Cause I still have this drive to gather, and CCC and tell. And that’s kinda like how I entered journalism. Like I was really hiding in journalism. I loved it at times. I loved some of the people I worked with, but I felt like I was always I felt like I was always kind of both hiding from the people I worked with in the sense that like I did have this like activist heart and past.

[00:21:43]And it was significant. Cause like when I would go to Iraq with this group that was an anti sanctions group. This is the long story back in the nineties, the U S and and the UN had sanctions on Iraq as punishment for the Gulf war in 1991. And then Saddam Hussein’s ongoing [00:22:00] or apparently ongoing chemical weapons program.

[00:22:02] And those sanctions were so. Intensely strict in terms of what could come into the country that that the infrastructure of the country was just crumbling. It’s a long story. It would be its own whole podcast. But the point is the group I hooked up with was going to Iraq against us law. Like it was against the law for Americans to spend money in Iraq as part of the sanctions.

[00:22:26] But it was also against the law for Iraq to import some pretty basic medicines that the U S said could also be used for a chemical weapons program. And so there were all these UN reports about how, you know, the elderly and children are being affected and how, you know, the infrastructure which had been bombed so severely by the U S was.

[00:22:46] And so we were taking these trips against us law as an act of civil disobedience and doing it very publicly. And so when I went into journalism, like I never highlighted that. Right. But like there’s an internet [00:23:00] and I don’t really feel like. I know that anybody that hired me all the way up to like public radio, which would be extra sort of itchy about something like that, never bothered to like Google that part they knew I went to Iraq and they knew, you know, whatever, like they knew this stuff, but, and so so why am I saying all this? I don’t know. It’s like a, it’s like a trauma ramble maybe, but like the point is when I was in journalism, I both felt like I was hiding from whatever part of me said.

[00:23:31] You’re really supposed to be getting hurt right now. And at the same time I was hiding from. The people I worked with, who I felt if they really knew like the full, you know, body of my work prior to becoming a journalist. Cause I was an anti-war activist. I was on TV. I was on like the layer NewsHour or like, whatever, right?

[00:23:52] Like. That they would not want me anymore. That may not have been true, but that was where I was at that time. And so for in journalism, I just hid and hid and [00:24:00] hid. And then when I finally got out of it and started doing this research work, I realized I could be an activist again. Like if things went down, I could be an activist again.

[00:24:08] And the first time I recognized that was this isn’t funny at all. This is the anniversary of the killing of Philando Castiel and there was a March and the March was one of these big marches in the twin cities that was destined to shut down 94 and. I felt really moved to go. And when I would go to big protests or something, while I was a journalist, I always found ways to just be a journalist.

[00:24:34] And it’s not like I was chanting and taking notes or something. Like I was never much of a good protest person. Anyhow, I like, didn’t like holding signs and I don’t know what to chant and, you know, whatever I was just kind of, I would just be there, you know, and just be like, be witness. So I could do that as a journalist.

[00:24:51] And then when I wasn’t a journalist, I would still bring her a Porter’s notebook and put it in my back pocket, which you can always see. And I just felt like I wasn’t being honest with myself. Right. And [00:25:00] this was the first time I went to something and I did not bring a reporter’s notebook, which for me, nobody would have noticed that I’m a guy walking around without a reporter’s notebook.

[00:25:07] But for me, I felt like I wasn’t wearing pants and I’m walking along and all of a sudden, the whole crowd veers towards 94 and I’m like, oh, We’re going to go shut a highway down. And I just follow the group because I was frankly curious how that all works because I had been seeing it happen on the news.

[00:25:24] And So as I’m walking down the entrance ramp, I pass a photo journalists here with one of the big newspapers that I know. And he’s like, Jeff, what are you, doing here? And then next to him is a reporter from Minnesota public radio, who I hadn’t met yet. And he’s like, oh, you’re Jeff. Hi. You know, I had worked there.

[00:25:41] So it’s like, I’ve heard about you, you know? And then that one, the guy, I didn’t know, goes, what are you doing here? And I kind of choked and I looked at him and I said, nah, you know, I’m just looking around and then proceeded to walk down and help shut down 94. And that was like a huge breaking point for me.

[00:25:57] Cause I was like, it’s okay. Like you can leave the [00:26:00] people on the sidelines with their microphones and their cameras and everything aside and just like do what your heart tells you. You want to do, you want to follow all of these people that are going to go down and put themselves in danger in order to make a really important point about the murder of black men by police.

[00:26:14] Right. And that’s okay. Jeff, like go for it. Right. And so back to your question about finding ways to be more of like a co-conspirator and less of a sort of direct action type of person when George Floyd was killed when George Floyd was murdered, which is not far from my house We were essentially like invaded by police.

[00:26:36] And then later military, like I saw more military on lake street, the big thoroughfare in Minneapolis that burned on the news. Last year, I saw more Humvees and military presence in one day there. Then I saw in my first couple of days in Baghdad after the invasion, like. It was [00:27:00] of course more concentrated, but the point is like I had to drive and look in Baghdad a week after the invasion to find Humvees, but here they were at my pharmacy gas station.

[00:27:11] They were, you know, on lake street, which again is a main thoroughfare near my house. And I had to make a decision because my experience in the past had been to sort of be in these sort of conflict areas and have a comfort level in walking through them and being helpful in them. Despite the fact that people are pointing guns at you or whatever else.

[00:27:30] And I just thought I was kind of done with that. It never occurred to me that I’d have to revisit that decision in my own neighborhood. And that was really intense. I made the wrong decision initially, but it was a really quick and low consequence, wrong decision, but I recognized what it could mean for me to sort of put on, you know, the hat I wore through my twenties.

[00:27:55] And that I would hurt myself and that in this case I would hurt my family as well. Because if you go [00:28:00] all in, you become, I mean, if I go all in, I become detached from anything that feels warm and loving around me. And I knew that, and I was like, there has to be a different way to be helpful. It’s like I said, it’s like, why the war zone there’s other ways to care about this place.

[00:28:16] I’m glad I went, don’t get me wrong. Like the relationships I’ve built have been lifetime relationships. But I had to find some other way. And what I have settled on is like, I’m kind of the supply guy. I’m like a supply chain guy. So like when Dante Wright was killed here, When Dante Wright was murdered here and all of the activists in the cold and in the snow were out there at the police station in Brooklyn center.

[00:28:44] And they were teargassing that first night. So hard. I called a friend the next day, who I knew was always down there, kind of organizing things a little bit. And I said like, what is needed? You know, for tonight when people go back there and she said, you know, we [00:29:00] need safety goggles. We need dry shirts.

[00:29:02] We need we need, you know, masks. We need like those kind of like a mask you’d wear in the workshop, but has a couple of filters attached to it. I mean those things. They’re expensive. And so I just went out. And started rounding this stuff up, earplugs, all this stuff. And as I’m rounding it up, I’m texting people.

[00:29:18] Do you want to donate some money on donate some… You know, so you get a big old pile of stuff and you drop it off. Where there, that stuff is being collected. And for me, knowing that I was helping to protect people who were being so incredibly brave was extremely meaningful. And I was home with my kids who after the city burned last year and we had neighborhood watches and we had scares right in our neighborhood and all of that, like they needed me.

[00:29:47] And wanted me to be home and I wanted to be that for them. Cause it was good for me too. And so I’m all about support. So we have all these homeless encampments here right now. And when COVID first started, when we [00:30:00] were all super obsessed about hand-washing, which is like still a good idea, don’t get me wrong.

[00:30:04]I kind of built this model for a hand washing station that had like a foot pump based on some things I found on the internet and started just pumping those out and getting them out to camps and stuff. And like I just was, I’m still in this phase of learning how to help without hurting myself.

[00:30:19] And it’s awesome.

[00:30:21] Brett: [00:30:21] So you build stuff in addition to hand-washing stations,

[00:30:25] Jeff: [00:30:25] I love to build a thing.

[00:30:27] Brett: [00:30:27] what, tell me about this I guess survival kit, almost like in a utility box. I don’t know what call it. Yeah. Cyber dek. Tell me about

[00:30:37] Jeff: [00:30:37] Yeah. Okay. Okay. Okay. So, again, I’m really close to where George Floyd was murdered, close to lake street, which was burning and, you know, my own pharmacy burned down and, you know, like it was all right here. And that was such an interesting experience for me as somebody who really likes to be prepared not like prepper prepared, but just like, I know what it [00:31:00] feels like to be in a really dangerous situation and completely lose your situational awareness and really not know what’s going on down the block.

[00:31:08] Right. I mean, like I instantly having had war experiences, like every morning of the George Floyd uprising, I would sort of drive a perimeter around our neighborhood to just see how much closer it got, you know, just so I know I’m not going to bail unless there’s a real good reason to bail, but I’m more likely to stay behind, but like, That’s situational awareness is like a way of caring for me It’s like a love language. And I started seeing these things online and I like, I mean, like my areas of making are they go from like working at the table, saw to like copying someone’s code and doing something cool on a raspberry PI or whatever. Right. Like, it’s like, I don’t really care about the tool. I just really liked to build a thing.

[00:31:50]And so I started seeing these things, these cyber decks that people were building and they were inspired by science fiction. And the idea was like, you have this small container [00:32:00] computer essentially that has like access to all knowledge in it. And so people were like putting all of offline Wikipedia into these things.

[00:32:08] And all of you could put all of like offline stack overflow into it, or you could put all the Ted, they were making like apocalypse machines, which like is a really cool. Cool like game, but like as a thought experiment to me, it felt really like, it just felt really like why are we doing this?

[00:32:26] Like, we’re having like real problems right now. We’ve got a global pandemic, right? We’ve got cities burning. I actually don’t know where any of this is going to go. And I wonder if we could like, imagine something more practical than just a well-designed little computer machine that lets you look up, you know, Wikipedia.

[00:32:44] And so for me, I was like inspired by those things and thought like, Okay.

[00:32:48] I’m going to think back to like the two kind of most uncertain nights during the George Floyd uprising here in Minneapolis. And those were nights where our [00:33:00] governor had come on television. To say that white nationalists are believed to be inside of the city and that they may be planting incendiary devices in alleys to use later on in the night.

[00:33:12] And so our governor was on TV telling us to hose down our fences. Anything that could be burned, bring it inside, bring your trash cans inside. And people were organizing like neighborhood watches. Right. And there was like, Based on where some power stations are in relationship to where everything was burning on lake street, there was some real questions about, would we lose power?

[00:33:32]Which would mean we lose a certain level of communications and what does it mean in a situation like this to not have landlines anymore. And anyway, I just started thinking of these questions and I was like, okay, what if there was a cyber deck that like, yeah, I had a lot of useful knowledge right on it, but also was really a situational kind of awareness machine.

[00:33:50] So like what if it was also a police scanner, right. And you could be listening to what was going on the police scanner to help you understand a little piece of what’s [00:34:00] going on around you. It’s all dangerous data because police scanners can. Majorly kind of send you a skew, but the point is it’s a line of information coming in.

[00:34:11] If everything else goes dark. Right. And then I was like, what if you don’t have internet? Like, how do you deal with that? And I found this cool like modem for something called other net. And it’s like a very basic internet. They’re very basic satellite internet that if you buy this little modem and a little like piece to put onto a satellite dish, you can actually pull in the news of the day, you can pull in various information.

[00:34:34] And then I started realizing you can make like local neighborhood networks, right? Like you could make your own kind of private neighborhood wifi networks. And the way that neighborhood watch was going, that appealed to me neighborhood watch was very scary here because it was a lot of scared people deciding very suddenly as we do as humans, that their block.

[00:34:56] Is a place to defend and no longer [00:35:00] part of a sort of interwoven community, right. And people who were untrained were observing and people who are untrained in some cases were confronting. And I remember a neighborhood meeting after two nights of that, where I said to people, I said, I’m really scared because this has basically worked, but it’s worked because the people were watching out for are white people, white nationalists that we’re told are driving around.

[00:35:27] If we were told to watch out for any kind of person of color, this would have been people getting killed. Like it’s just, it’s too scary of a thing to have it be completely Isolated blocks. Right? So I was like, is there a way that you can kind of have communication? Anyway, the cyber deck, my idea was like a civic media, cyber deck, where like you have access to information, including information about what the police are doing.

[00:35:53] And you have ways of communicating with at least a group of people in a very [00:36:00] specific area. If you’re all kind of stuck in your houses, which we were, there was a curfew, right. There was like a curfew all night. And so you actually can’t go wandering about, or, you know, you’re told that you shouldn’t be necessarily going a block over, and if you do go a block over, let me tell you, the people on that block have decided their block is the thing to defend.

[00:36:21] The first thing they’re going to do is freak out. The second thing they’re going to do is maybe take the time to recognize that you’re the guy from down the block that they see every day otherwise, right? Like it was. Super scary. And what I was doing with this, like civic media, cyber deck was just saying, all right, I’m looking at an, I bought one of those Pelican cases, like an orange Pelican case that you use for like cameras, like waterproof cases.

[00:36:45] And you got a raspberry PI and a monitor, and I’m looking at that and I’m going, what all could you do for me? If like what happened during the George Floyd uprising was just turned up maybe three or four notches, [00:37:00] right? Cause that is the point where things start to really kind of crumble and it becomes hard to know what’s true and hard to get just basic important information.

[00:37:08] And so I am working on this thing kind of longterm as part of a fellowship I’m in, at the Annenberg civic media lab. And the point of it is changing all the time, but it’s really this like. What are the ways this machine could help with situational awareness and help people who are trying to help people who are trying to keep communities safe, help people who know that they can’t at this moment, trust law enforcement. What what kind of machine, what kind of functions would a machine have?

[00:37:37] Just continue to like build out the ideas, like, you know, I told you about the internet thing. There are also just like meaningful ways to track planes. We’ve had surveillance planes up here and it’s nice to know when the surveillance planes are up and circling and and so it’s like a dark way of thinking.

[00:37:53] And I joked earlier that the people making the cyberdecks were doing apocalyptic thinking, I don’t mean for this to be actual [00:38:00] apocalyptic thinking. Although as I explain it to you now, it sounds like it I just. I just know that when we lose our ability to know, when we lose our ability to sort of have information that we trust, we turn on each other.

[00:38:15] So God damn fast. And I’ve seen that happen in different places around the world. And I saw really clear signs of it in my own neighborhood and in my own city last year. And it was humbling. And. A little bit terrifying because I feel like we had police shot a young man just last night. It’s not clear what the story was, but like we’re just one more away from everything kind of becoming a light again.

[00:38:47] So that was not a pitch. I would give to somebody trying to give me money. But but I’m also not trying to get money. I’m just trying to, I use this thing as a thought experiment and I let myself go a little off the [00:39:00] edge and then I bring myself back, you know, as I just did in this conversation.

[00:39:05] Brett: [00:39:05] why I love it. Like when I was young, I marched I was in Minneapolis, I was big on the activism scene. There was basically like two or three marches a week. And I was always out there with signs and different causes and like enough that I could barely keep up with what I was protesting at any given time.

[00:39:24] And when I got older, I just, I no longer had the. I didn’t like standing around with a sign. I didn’t like chanting in unison with people anymore, but I still believed in the causes and the idea of finding ways to support whether you’re a delivery guy, whether you’re hacking in your free time to make preparedness easier for everybody.

[00:39:51] Like that’s heartening to know that there are ways to support your causes without having to stand on the street with a sign. I [00:40:00] love that.

[00:40:01] Jeff: [00:40:01] I like how you described that because it doesn’t, it, there was No.

[00:40:05] judgment for people who do stand on the street with a sign and that it was just that recognition of like, it’s not for you, which is something I relate to. I feel like the people who are going to go straight out to the streets are the ones that will over and over again, save us.

[00:40:18]And what’s important once they’re out there is just what you said is like, okay, so what else can be happening? Like everyone has a role they can play. Everyone has seasons in their lives. Right? Like my season of going to every protest, it’s not exactly over, I still go here now it’s right here in my neighborhood.

[00:40:34] Like, but I sometimes decide not to go. right.

[00:40:36]And instead I think to myself, like, I wonder if there’s something else I can be doing right now. And I think that’s really, I think that’s just so, so, so important. Like there always, what was the, I’m not going to use that example. I mean, look, here’s the thing.

[00:40:51] Someone needs to clean the toilets, right? Like that’s kind of how I think of it. Like there always needs, there, there are always support needs and oftentimes there are [00:41:00] support needs for things that are like, Hey, you don’t need to bring any special skills in here. My friend, you know, you just need to bring a brush and some soap.

[00:41:09] Brett: [00:41:09] Yep. So I’m going to take a sponsor break and there’s really no way to segue this smoothly into talking about credit card debt. But I’m going to do it because that’s what I get paid for. So, this week’s episode is brought to you by upstart. When it comes to paying off debt, it can often feel like an uphill battle, high interest rates resulting in minimum monthly payments.

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[00:42:51] When you go to upstart.com/systematic that’s upstart.com/systematic loan amounts will be determined [00:43:00] based on your credit income and certain other information provided in your loan application. Just go to upstart.com/systematic. Have you ever tried to say slash systematic?

[00:43:11] Jeff: [00:43:11] me. Well, I mean it weirdly. Yeah. It’s somebody, I kind of say to myself as I try to go to sleep.

[00:43:17] Brett: [00:43:17] It’s a tongue twister. So that brings us to the top three picks.

[00:43:22] Jeff: [00:43:22] Okay.

[00:43:23] Brett: [00:43:23] I feel like we’re going to get nerdy now. Are we going to get nerdy?

[00:43:27] Jeff: [00:43:27] We’re definitely going to get a tiny bit nerdy. I’m going to have to do my own transition from like that epic ramble about cyberdecks, which you know, let’s keep going someday to my top picks, but I’m ready and I’m ready. I’m ready. I’m going to get succinct.

[00:43:42] Brett: [00:43:42] hit me with number one.

[00:43:45] Jeff: [00:43:45] The dump. I I have been taking my youngest son to the dump. They call them transfer stations now and, you know, whatever, you’re cleaning doing some remodeling, you got some junk to bring over there, whatever, but our dump is amazing. It’s not one of those [00:44:00] dumps. That’s like. You know, massive piles, right?

[00:44:03] Like it’s not that kind of dump. it’s the kind of dump that has a little section for metal, a section for mattresses gross a section for wood and a section for like tires. Right. And then there’s also a section for electronics, like the kind of stuff that has precious metals in it. And I love digging through the dump.

[00:44:21] Like always come out with something from the metal section. Often I get weights that I use for woodworking, like when you’re doing glue ups, right. Lumber’s really expensive right now, like two by fours, the prices quadrupled. And I got like 10, eight by eight, like, beams at the dump the other day, I felt like I am going to flip these.

[00:44:40] And and then my son and I were looking at the precious metals kind of computer area, there was a pristine iMac. Was it, is it the from 20 what? 13, there were white. They were white and boxy and you can take it apart with three Phillips screws. And you got the whole damn computer [00:45:00] apart and you can go in there and you can fix it up just like we used to do in the old days when you actually like had some agency over, like how over the life of your computer, right.

[00:45:08] And the health of your computer. So this was amazing to just like take apart an iMac and have everything just be kind of modular and you can pull it out. So the dump man, and there’s a guy at the dump. There’s always a guy at the dump that knows everything that like literally knows where the bodies are buried.

[00:45:23] So there’s a guy there that I always talk to. He’s got great history of the dump. So the dump that’s pick one.

[00:45:27] the dump go find your dump.

[00:45:28]Brett: [00:45:28] That is one of the most unique picks that the show has ever been privileged to host. I don’t know if I mentioned it, but I no longer do my own top three picks. So it’s straight on to number two for you

[00:45:40] Jeff: [00:45:40] Whoa. you

[00:45:41] don’t do your own like, like you just don’t do picks

[00:45:43] Brett: [00:45:43] moved I’ve moved beyond topics. It’s it’s just you

[00:45:47] Jeff: [00:45:47] grown. You’ve grown a lot. All right. My second pick is is a Udemy course which is one of these places where you can pay a little money and, you know, get a little money to the creator of the course.

[00:45:58]Patrick McDonald has has [00:46:00] a course called dot files from start to finish ish and it’s on Udemy. And it is fantastic. And what dot files, if you don’t know, dot files are like, they’re literally the files with dots before them in your computer, that they’re invisible files, they’re configuration files.

[00:46:17] They’re the files where all the action happens and dot files, like just creating sort of your own like dotfile universe. The intention of it is to be able to create something that allows you to rebuild your system as it is now, like instantly basically. So if your machine breaks down and you need to.

[00:46:37] You know, start a new machine up, you’ve got your top files and you can just like put them in and install your computer as it had been. It’s So once you get it, you know, ironed out, it’s extremely smooth. And I use a few computers for different projects. And so for me, I want them all to be identical and that’s always been something I’ve been extremely messy about.

[00:46:58] And now [00:47:00] I can just use my collection of dotfiles and a really important tool called dotbot to basically, you know, boot up a brand new computer, run a script. And it just becomes the computer that I knew the day before. Hopefully I’ve known for a long time because I used to have a situation where like I only ever had one computer and I had a great system going.

[00:47:21] And like I had my apps that I just had totally tweaked when I started operating with different computers, for different projects or different employers or whatever, all that stuff fell apart. And with dot files now.

[00:47:32] I can really just like I can build kind of a lasting configuration for my computer. And Patrick McDonald is an amazing teacher.

[00:47:40] And I personally, like, I’m not like a super sharp guy at the terminal. Like I can kind of my way around, but there were a lot of pieces I missed as I kind of taught myself how to be like a power user and a programmer. And Patrick McDonald does a beautiful job of just like walking you, right, [00:48:00] right.

[00:48:00] Through this whole process of understanding how your computer works at the configuration level from the terminal and really setting you up to be kind of confident in how you use that side of your machine. So anyway, it’s fantastic. Patrick McDonald, you’ve done a great job, sir.

[00:48:18] Brett: [00:48:18] All right. I thought was going to be a pick on its own. So I’m looking forward to seeing what number three is.

[00:48:24] Jeff: [00:48:24] oh man, hold on. Can we just say something about dotbot though?

[00:48:26] Brett: [00:48:26] Yes.

[00:48:27] Jeff: [00:48:27] Cause like dotbot basically gathers up. You’re yeah, Gathers up your dot files. Not exactly, but the point is dotbot is the glue. Dotbot is the thing that makes it possible to recreate your machine in minutes. And if you use Homebrew at all, a great example of like what dotbot folds into it.

[00:48:45] If you use Homebrew at all to install packages or apps through the casks or whatever you can create something called a brew file, which has all of the formulas and casks and everything that you’ve installed on your computer. It’s just a list of them. And it includes max Mac app store apps [00:49:00] through a fancy utility called MAs.

[00:49:03] And it can just take that list. Like if I did nothing else, I could just take that damn brew file and a simple dotbot set up and say, Hey, put all this stuff on my machine and it’ll look back at me and go, Hey, no problem. It’s beautiful.

[00:49:15]Brett: [00:49:15] I got bit, I tried to do it and I mixed in the utility called Mackup

[00:49:21] Jeff: [00:49:21] oh yeah.

[00:49:22] Brett: [00:49:22] And it was Mac up on its own would have worked for me, but I did a lot of my own kind of Dropbox SIM linking. when I tried to run the magical incantation to set up a new machine I spent a good two days of repairing all of the mistakes I’d made.

[00:49:44] Jeff: [00:49:44] Yeah. That’s the thing about liking to control your computer? Isn’t It

[00:49:49] Brett: [00:49:49] It is.

[00:49:49]Jeff: [00:49:49] My third pick man, my third pick is all this like steady, increased drum beat of UFO news. [00:50:00] Like, I have been interested in UFO’s like many since I was a small child. Right. But I was sort of. I was sort of deep in the like big green people with big eyes and whatever, like that whole scene. And it took me away from feeling like it could be something that’s real, just felt like I was, it was like being in the D&D I was like, I’m super into aliens, you know?

[00:50:24] And now have you seen this, your phone news that continues to come up now? Like the new Yorker had a huge feature piece about about sort of the history of the people who held the UFO, sort of who held the banner of, we have UFO’s and nobody wants to tell us right. All the way through to some of the more serious journalism and leaks of the last few years.

[00:50:45] So the Navy’s like officially even released footage of what they call, what they don’t call me up bows. They call them like they call them like unidentified aerial events or whatever,

[00:50:55] Brett: [00:50:55] That’s right.

[00:50:55] Jeff: [00:50:55] which is also the United

[00:50:57]Brett: [00:50:57] Emirates, that’s why it sounded familiar to me. [00:51:00] Maybe

[00:51:00] Jeff: [00:51:00] right. That’s right. But anyhow just today I was reading, there’s like three stories in the New York times today.

[00:51:06] And it’s because during Trump’s last days, I can’t believe, I just said his name. I’ve been trying not to do that. Anyway during dude’s last days there was a bill passed that called for government agencies to share in an unclassified report. What they know about UFO’s now I’m not so into UFO’s and I’m

[00:51:25] like, yeah, but are they going to do this and this?

[00:51:27] And we’re going to do area 51. And you know, I’m not, that’s not my deal, but like, I love the idea that we’ve reached a point. And if you just go search this stuff right now, and I can get some links for the show notes, we’ve reached a point where there are just videos circulating that are not from kooks.

[00:51:42] They are from Navy fighter planes. And you hear the pilots and this came from the Navy. And you hear the pilots going just as you or I would, dude. Did you see it? Whoa, you know, like it’s like, that’s the narration and it’s these things without wings or anything that are going [00:52:00] against wind and going faster than F18s

[00:52:02] and apparently we are not saying they’re not UFO’s, but we are saying we have no evidence that they are alien technology. That’s apparently how this report will come out. We’re not saying they’re not, we’re not saying they are, but man, it’s pretty exciting for me.

[00:52:16] Brett: [00:52:16] Sure. I it’s. The odds that an advanced alien race would find us travel light years to fly around in our atmosphere without making contact are pretty slim that said some of that stuff is very hard to explain. And I’m very curious.

[00:52:39] Jeff: [00:52:39] embrace the mystery brother. Embrace the mystery. That’s all. That’s all there is to it. That’s what makes me wide eyed and happy is just the kind of like, wait, what, like, even if we find out it’s the Russians, that’ll be kind of exciting. But anyhow that’s me and UFOs. Have flows.

[00:52:54] Brett: [00:52:54] So if people want to know more about all the crazy stuff you do, is there anywhere they can [00:53:00] find you online?

[00:53:01] Yeah.

[00:53:02] Jeff: [00:53:02] Well, the project I work for and with with Lived Experience Project is that discoverlexproject.com. I’m on GitHub, but all my stuff’s private. Oh, except I’m about to put a gist in there called kill your masters. And it’s how you can make sure that git doesn’t automatically create a master branch instead of, and instead creates a main branch, which is

[00:53:24] Brett: [00:53:24] They default to main for all the repos now.

[00:53:27] Jeff: [00:53:27] no GitHub does, but get doesn’t.

[00:53:29] Brett: [00:53:29] Oh yeah.

[00:53:31] Jeff: [00:53:31] So it’s only in your little private, personal git situation, you know?

[00:53:34] Brett: [00:53:34] Yeah.

[00:53:34]Jeff: [00:53:34] But that’s not that’s, you can find me. They’ve got a Twitter, jsguntzel. I retweet mostly Instagram at forestofthings there. I do my own content creation. That’s it.

[00:53:45] Brett: [00:53:45] All right. Well, thanks for being here today.

[00:53:49] Jeff: [00:53:49] I really appreciate it. I definitely have that feeling I have after any party I go to where I’m like what did I just say? And did it make any sense? And so there was something in there you liked [00:54:00] Brett or listener. That’s fantastic. And if you feel like this was a huge waste of your time, I’m sorry.

[00:54:05] You did that.

[00:54:08] Brett: [00:54:08] It’s not on you.

[00:54:11] Jeff: [00:54:11] All right, brother.

[00:54:12] Brett: [00:54:12] Thanks a lot.

[00:54:14] Jeff: [00:54:14] Take care.