Is it broken? It makes the guard’s job that much easier. I got my G.E.D. If he follows down the steps I did, yeah. You start screaming at the door. I usually woke up around five in the morning. It’s a place built upon the criminal code, where the rules of the outside world do not apply – where a person is no longer considered a human, they are simply a number. Rodrigo: Being locked away. I didn’t. But one situation that really grabbed my attention while preparing for this interview was “The Program,” which was essentially a Correction Officer-sanctioned group of inmates who enforced their rules on other inmates through violence. Rodrigo: I came to see my mother in Harlem. Now comes the first night. There was an internal investigation, and I was pulled from prison to come testify about what I saw. Rodrigo: I went straight over to see my kid. But over time, I got over it. Drugs. Rodrigo: You know what, yeah, but I’m reserving it for the right time. What was your situation like? No sound. As a native of New York City, before you went into Rikers, what was your understanding of what went on there? I was used to seeing them and my son every day. Donte Walker, 21, said he was 16 when he was first detained and served time on Rikers from 2010 to 2012 for assault, possession of a firearm and armed robbery. When they picked me up, they didn’t say anything about the shooting. People are beaten, extorted and molested all the time. Rodrigo: Right. It’s your word against the officers. So that really made me stop and think about where I had ended up and what I wanted out of my life. I had no idea it was for that. So you walk in and one of the first things you see is a phone. Reuters was not able to independently verify their statements. I don’t want that for him. My baby’s mom broke up with me while I was in Rikers. Legally, every prisoner who has not yet been tried has the right to be present at the funeral or the wake of a close relative. The drugs and money. “My past kinda caught up with me,” Peartree said, declining to say why he was jailed. Just to be clear from here on out, can you explain the difference for those that aren’t familiar with this system here in the United States? The Village Voice has released gruesome images of violence coming from notorious Rikers Island. One minute I was here, and the next minute I was gone. I turned 19 in there too, so I went with the adults. Vidal explains that Rikers is a "toxic island", built on waste and positioned near the airport The detention centre is due to close by 2026 and … Do you ever think that there will be a point where you tell him about being locked up? My family basically said it was them or the gang. Storm On Rikers Island is the first book in an ongoing series containing stand-alone stories with continuing continuity. The guards are there to control the unit. We’re in a better place now. Eric, 19, who asked his last name not be used, said he was 17 in 2012 when he was held at Rikers Island for committing "a crime which was illegal. Rikers Island is sandwiched between Queens and The Bronx, just above La Guardia airport, here in New York City. For those that haven’t been to jail or prison, specifically one that is as notorious as Rikers, the threat and fear of violence from inmates, I would imagine, would be their biggest concern. But not everybody is like that. When I was sleeping after coming home, if someone walked by the room, I would wake up. When you were released from prison and got back home, what was the first thing you did? So if you get in a fight with them, you’re gonna end up with broken bones – or worse – and put into segregation. And they were very open about the fact that if I didn’t help out, my time would be a lot harder. It forced me to accept that I had to get used to that environment. In one incident, Harmon said he was taken to a room without cameras. You knew you were gonna have to fight. That I’m trying to raise my son. Zumana Karamoko, 19, said he was 16 when he was held at Rikers in 2012 for armed robbery and two assaults. You can be waiting at Intake for days until you get called up. Their voices can’t be heard. They beat me up for a little bit. Rikers Island, one of the country’s most notorious correctional facilities, is closing.The City Council approved plans on Thursday to close Rikers, a jail complex with nearly 10,000 beds, by 2026. Every set has their own lingo, their own phrase. I work my ass off. His smile is a bit aloof, one that a troublemaker bears with an impish charm. Being observant and just didn’t want to become a victim, which I did. I had been arrested before, but nothing like this. After it happened, the ambulance showed up right away and from what I was told, that’s the only reason he survived. I just walked away. I half expected him to turn the notion down, but to my surprise, he was incredibly open to the idea. Rodrigo: I knew people that had been there. “Rikers Island is a city of its own, it is the hell hole jail. You have people going to prison for petty crimes. As soon as you walk in, somebody is gonna ask you what hood you’re from, what gang you’re from. Rodrigo: Yeah, when I was in prison upstate for fighting. It’s inside you. The fast life is fun, but once you hit prison, man, that hits you hard. The officers can try and control those things, but they can never really be there all the time or see what’s happening around every corner. Our son is the priority. The way it works is that if you don’t get into fights and stay out of trouble, you’re security ranking will go down and you’ll eventually be able to join a dorm, which is a huge open room with about fifty other inmates. Sometimes people make mistakes. Typically, your job in the dorm depends on the office. The island is thought to be named after Abraham Rycken, a Dutch settler who moved to Long Island in 1638 and whose descendants owned Rikers Island until 1884, when it was sold to the city for $180,000. Can you break down the typical social hierarchy in prison? The only access into Rikers is the Francis Buono Bridge, which connects the island to the borough of Queens. That’s still true. I tried to stay out of trouble while at Rikers and maybe that’s why I was in the kitchen. I think many people have this idea of the first night of jail being almost like that scene in the ‘Shawshank Redemption,’ with inmates harassing and chanting “Fresh Fish” at the new additions. I hadn’t seen him in almost two years. Jared Peartree said he was 18 when his two-year incarceration at Rikers began in 2013. Because once I did, that would put a target on my back for the guards and my fellow inmates. People can and do change. I went and grabbed my gun, walked up to the car and shot him. They don’t have the time, the money, nor the resources to help people. That’s how jail and prison works. I remember this kid we called ‘Red’ who was getting extorted and molested by another older inmate. After he slapped me, I put my hands back on the wall and they started to punch me in my ribs and my body and I fell to the ground.". A firm believer that the owls are not what they seem. Any kind of connection. While the report said the causes of the widespread abuses at Rikers were “systemic,” the people who received the alleged mistreatment, were, of course, individuals. One can see its sprawling compound on certain flights out, but for most people, no thought is given to what goes on behind the walls; the lives that are shuffled through while awaiting sentencing, the various insufferable horrors that are committed and sometimes documented in local and national news outlets, which only end up getting buried and forgotten about just as quickly as they occurred. His face was just messed up. Norman said that during one prison lockdown, a guard “bended my wrist all the way up to the highest and it popped.” Norman said he was sent to solitary confinement immediately after. Now a new report from the New York Building Congress suggests Rikers be … Rodrigo: Intake is what everybody new has to go through. Rodrigo: All of that is true. So I’d walk over to a trailer where I’d be there from eight till ten-thirty. You’re not seeing anyone. I would definitely sit him down and explain what could happen to him. Something that’s in the air. They become institutionalized. Rikers Island-just six miles from the Empire State Building-is one of the largest, most complex and most expensive penal institutions in the world, yet most New Yorkers couldn't find it on a map. They really don’t care what happens to anyone that’s in there for rape or molestation. If I didn’t get locked up, I could have been involved in a lot worse and looking at a lot more time. People that I knew. He’s my priority now. The morning I was picked up by the police, I was taken to a court in Manhattan and from there went straight to Rikers. He said he was hit by a correctional officer and he struck back. And while convictions have been made in various cases, there has always been this lingering rumor that it still occurred. Karamoko said he attempted to fight back and was beaten by a group of officers who then shot him with pepper spray. You’re surrounded my wolves, and if you look like a sheep, it’s gonna happen. But during intake, we arrived late at night, so everyone was locked up already. But my mentality – what I knew about Rikers – was that as soon as I walked in, I was going to have to fight someone. A member of the Blast Beat Network. You either fight or you get punked by someone. PHOTO: A person holds up a picture of Layleen Polanco, a transgender person who died at the Rikers Island prison, during a Black Trans Lives … You’re here because you fucked up and they make sure you know it. While white supremacy is... For centuries, American culture has been that of recklessness and carelessness for fellow humans; agree or disagree, the facts are the facts. Rodrigo: Then? That’s it. Over the year that you were there, what was the climate like between the inmates? I can say that my time there wasn’t bad like some people’s. How did they react to you? You have guys going in there for marijuana possession and getting one or two years, and a majority of those people are African-American or Hispanic. At Rikers, it was all about the inmates. It is also one of the most troubled. New York City plans to replace Rikers Island with four new jails by 2027. ", He said, "I recommend anybody from the age 16 to 21 not go to Rikers Island. I was just so used to that. I’m here. Unless you’ve done time or had a loved one incarcerated, the emotional gambit that wreaks havoc on the lives of those affected is almost unimaginable. After I left Rikers and went upstate, I heard that the kid was suing the jail and the Corrections Officer. After several inmate deaths, decades of lawsuits alleging inmate abuse and a two-and-a-half-year investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, the city in June agreed to let a federal monitor oversee reforms at the jail, which sits on a 413-acre bean-shaped island in the East River between the boroughs of Queens and the Bronx. Thank you so much for the interview Rodrigo! He also said he was put into the plastic handcuffs known as flexicuffs so tight "from my hands to my elbow is blue." Rodrigo: The inmates are gonna test you. It’s prison. Rodrigo: Upstate, you have to worry more about the Correctional Officers. But prison has changed, though. From your time there, would you agree with that sentiment? They know everyone from top to bottom. Rodrigo, for the most part, is soft-spoken and reserved. Rodrigo: When you go to prison, it’s not just you that goes in. If I had been charged with Assault or Robbery, it would have been different. At first it was just fighting. You’re there, and the idea of getting out is gone. That next morning, around six AM, they showed up again and found me there. One day it just hit me that I wasn’t going home. When that happens, you’ll be given a housing assignment. Rodrigo: Rapists and child-molesters are definitely on the bottom. Rodrigo: Over the three months that I was there, I had already been through three lawyers. Nothing. He said he was told, “Oh, well it happens,” when he reported the incident to another officer. It’s really frequent. You were facing fifteen years initially for Attempted Murder. So making that decision wasn’t that hard or tough. You’d wake up and go to school and see a pool of blood on the sidewalk from someone being jumped or robbed. When asked if he reported the incident, he said, “’Cause who you report it to? How did you originally become involved with the gang you were in at the time? This guy was one of the Alpha Males in the unit. For him, one moment I was there and then I was gone. I’m sorry, but you’re more likely to get stopped and arrested if you’re one of those two groups as opposed to being a white person. Hot pots to cook food. They actually told me that it was for a ticket, or some other bullshit like that. Rodrigo: I was nervous and scared, for sure. I was seventeen years old and hanging out on 115th Street around Park Avenue. Eric Harmon, now 20, said he was incarcerated on Rikers Island from 2010 to 2011, when he was 16, on a drug charge. Courtesy of the Department of Correction For hundreds of young people on Rikers Island trying to finish high school, even Zoom is out of reach. If you give every minority you catch a felony, that’s a lot of people who can’t vote. For the dorm that I was in, I worked in the kitchen. So yeah, it was really over using the phone. They put me in what is called “The Shoe” or the “The Box” for forty-five days. We kept going till they came in and dragged him out and moved him to another block. But then it turns into something else. "After someone is sentenced in New York City, their next stop is Rikers Island. It’s just a matter of time, really. The guard ended up lumping his face up pretty bad to the point where he had to go to the nurse. And while I know this going to maybe bring up some painful memories, how did you end up there? There was this one really small, puny kid. I mean, some people leave prison and come home and get right back into trouble. It was a family owned island until 1884 when the land was sold off to the city for a mere $180,000. Until dumping was ceased before the World's Fair in 1939, the island was noteworthy for lighting up the night sky with all the coal refuse it held and the smoke emanating up. Rodrigo: Oh, it’s broken. They had a guy watching out for any officers or my friends to coming in. I was just trying to fight this and get home. The Dominicans were typically large guys, so they always stuck together. And the fact that they put me – anyone really – away for that amount of time, it fucks with you. Among all these various cultures, religions and lifestyles, Rikers has always had a reputation for being a pit of hell. And it’s apparent that these attorneys don’t care. In fact, it has a sordid history of prisoner neglect and abuse and is almost too long to even really get into here. And it still happens. Rikers Island was named for the man who purchased the land in 1664, Abraham Rycken. My name is Sean Reveron. So that just makes it even worse, knowing that still won’t be able to talk to anyone. I would have been dead. We’re social creatures. Where would you have ended up? And this might sound weird, but in prison, you have more freedom than in jail. Did you have any clue as to the reputations of these two prisons before heading there? No contact with anyone outside of the guards correct? There were a lot of fights that were based just off of race. You start talking to yourself. That I was going to be there for a while. The guards slide the food through a little slot in the door and that’s it. Rodrigo: I took a plea bargain. Upon getting off the bus and being led into admissions, what was the first thing that struck you about your initial exposure to Rikers? Typically, you’ll have one of the veteran officers explain to you what life is going to be like at Rikers. The first two or three days were really bad. The gang I was in came under a federal investigation for a number of things. He didn’t really know me, which was hard. Perhaps the easiest way to began this interview is to ask the hardest question first, the one that’ll set the tone for what is to follow. Blacks stayed with Blacks. And if you do get some kind of response from the guards, it’s not a good one. The officers weren’t always going to be there, nor did they really defend you. He was on his knees pleading for us to stop, banging on the bubble window – where the guards control the cell – begging to be let out. After that, I’d serve lunch and head back to school to until three. At what point during your time at Rikers or in Greene did you want to turn your life around? Even though I’ve been home for three years, I’m still in there. Or maybe it’s because I can be a little rough with people. Twenty three hours a day. It was the gang or them. He remembered his "skin feel like it’s coming off, can’t breathe, you can’t see, so you don’t know what to do." After the year of being at Rikers, you were transferred upstate in order to complete your sentence in prison. Gonzalez said he once was slapped in the face and punched in his ribs by correctional officers for turning a sock inside-out incorrectly after a visit from his mother. There was a lot of shit going on around here. You arrived at the infamous Rikers Island jail on January 3rd, 2011. Eric said he was sent to solitary confinement after the incident because officers "said I assaulted an officer and that was that.”, Describing his experience at Rikers, Eric said, "Coming from the street to there just had me on guard. Was there anything in particular that really shocked you? It’s like the younger you are, that’s the one they actually will pick on the most. When you’re there, it’s not something out of the ordinary. They just look at you and say, “Fuck no, you can use the phone when you get assigned a dorm.” You’ll go through intake, which is where you sit and wait for all your paperwork to be cleared and a dorm assigned to you. That’s all there is to it. What were the main differences between Rikers and the two prisons you were at? When my lawyer told me that, I initially freaked out. If you hit me, I can get away with murder.” Most of the officers live in the town around the prison. There’s no contact with anyone. In prison, they typically have TVs in the cells. If it happens, hopefully no one that I love will be around. The way I looked at it, I could plea out, do the three and half years and have my life back. They ask permission to use the bathroom or to eat. The prison staff tends to pay more attention to the gangs and what’s going on with them in the prison. Did you feel acclimated to the system that was placed around you? At the time, there was a lot of stuff going on in this neighborhood. Eric Harmon, now 20, said he was incarcerated on Rikers Island from 2010 to 2011, when he was 16, on a drug charge. No. To us, the law-abiding citizens of America, this is a place for people who deserve to be there. Published. When I showed up, she told me that the police had come by and were looking for me. So people want to make phone calls and get in touch with whomever. A couple other COs (correctional officers) jumped in. As I briefly mentioned earlier, Rikers has a reputation for being a den of corruption and violence. That I was there for a serious charge. New York is actually one of the states that allows a convicted felon to vote after they’ve completed parole. When I went to the party, it was pure luck that he showed up. Sooner or later, he might come back and I’ll see him. Prison scars you. I had to fight back the tears. Were you ever exposed to a situation or witnessed a moment where this kind of thing happened and was swept under the rug? But I realize that I’m better then that. In prison, most people are just trying to do their time, go home or have ‘retired.’ Upstate, it’s known that that Officers are racist as fuck. I think most people have misconceptions about what a jail is and what prison is. Gonzalez said he was incarcerated for not completing community service and not paying overdue tickets. He was in another gang. On my end, you look at a lot of people in prison, and their fathers were never there. Had it sunk it yet how serious of trouble you were in? I try and stay on top of him now. They get passed off to Public Defenders and these lawyers already have a shitload of cases. After that, it’s your time. There was this one officer who had a tattoo of a little black baby with a noose around his neck. So seeing her was really hard. My phone had broken, so I had no clue that she knew what had happened. The Robert N. Davoren Center on Rikers Island houses men 18- to 21-years-old. ", Harmon said he did not report the incident because "I never seen a good outcome of someone reporting a CO.", For full functionality of this page it is necessary to enable JavaScript. While I was being processed, I had to talk to an Assistant District Attorney for Manhattan. You’re looking for that connection with somebody else. I dream about it. Rodrigo: Man, if you’re not in a gang, you’re not gonna live. June 9, 2016. As someone who spent time on Rikers as a young person, I found that every single story rang true to me. That not everyone will always be a bad guy or whatever. And there’s only so many of them. As our time together and familiarity with one another increased, I approached the subject about his time served. And people especially don’t forget shit like that. Rodrigo: I was actually at two prisons upstate. They had to get used to me being back and I had to get used to them being in my life. I remember him saying, “You’re in my house. Let’s put it this way: I once told a guard that if he would bring me Popeye’s Chicken for lunch, I’d beat up whomever he wanted. Hispanics with Hispanics. I went to Auster, which pretty much served as my intake process until my papers were processed. You gonna report it to another CO which he’s cool with – he probably eats lunch with everyday. I know in some other jails and prisons, the Correction Officers or Veteran Inmates will discuss daily life and what’s to be expected. In a way, time stops for you and everyone else. Prison is your permanent home for however long you’ll be there. Which they don’t really care about, nor do a good job of. "He smacked me. After some time, I  contacted him about doing an interview for CVLT Nation. You can fight it, but you can’t beat it. Rodrigo: You have to be violent. If you don’t have any books or a radio – which you could buy in the prison – you start talking to yourself. Required fields are marked *. When I first got in there, I was the only Hispanic guy in the unit. So, a lot of it was about protection. The thing about Rikers is that most people who come here haven’t spoken to their friends or family for a few days. So I really had to take a look at my life and decide what I wanted. You walk into there and you know it’s a jail. What was your family like when you got out of prison? Rodrigo: At the time I was growing up, everything revolved around race. My family gave me a choice while in Rikers. I mean, ninety days isn’t enough time to get used to it. Some people come home from prison and shower in their boxers. Here are the, instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser. The first was that of a father murdered on the street, but the family asked that the son, who was at Rikers, not come to the funeral. “For adolescent inmates, Rikers Island is broken,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara today, as he presented a truly horrifying report detailing how … You’re in there by yourself. If you want something, you’re gonna have to give me something. While Rikers was deemed a fit location for a workhouse, its prevailing use was as a landfill. I was imagining things. And yeah, I was the one who shot him. While just about anyone can walk through its gates because of a crime, not everyone can make it out, or even through their sentence. How prevalent were the gangs in Rikers during your stay? New York City had on the books a population of 8.2 million people at the time. It was just the cleaning crews and guards going through the hallways. To think otherwise would be foolish, ignorant and plain inhumane. I miss it sometimes. Actually, pretty much everyone I knew had been there. What were the events that led up to you being arrested for the shooting? Rodrigo: Well, I guess getting sentenced after Rikers, I saw it as a blessing. In an incident after a lockdown, Karamoko said an officer pulled him out of a class, escorted him into another room and started beating him. Her stunning, award-winning debut book, Lockdown on Rikers: Shocking Stories of Abuse and Injustice at New York’s Notorious Jail, published in 2015, opened many eyes and strengthened the growing #CloseRikers movement. That’s all you are. I hated her for leaving me like that. I’m in jail.” There’s something about it. And I didn’t want to take that risk. Catch up on the day’s top five stories every weekday afternoon. The prison system is a business. I think that’s another way of keeping minorities down. What was your typical day like? I don’t want to be that person. Rodrigo: Dead. If I went to trial, it was a gamble. The COs (corrections officers) treat inmates bad in there.”. Every race has their own gang, and it was apparent who was who. But it wasn’t good. I mean, I got shot in front of my apartment once. Rikers’ population has swelled significantly since a drop in the summer, with 4,821 inmates on the island as of Dec. 4, according to data from the … Rather than go to trial, I took the plea. There are so many young people that go into that system and before you know it, they’ve been in and out for twenty or thirty years of their life. If someone wanted extra food and I knew they weren’t supposed to have it, I’d always say no. As I left the there, some people called to let me know where he was. You have to prove your ‘paperwork.’ They want to know that you’re real and not just claiming it. It’s a place where you’re held while you’re fighting your case or awaiting sentencing. Correctional Health Services handles medical care for the nearly 5,000 inmates currently held at Rikers Island and other city-run lockups. But at one point he did shoot at me, about a year before that. Me and him started fighting. Three and half years when compared to the full sentence is nothing. And while in my younger years I had the lovely chance to be a guest at a county jail – a stay that woke my ignorant ass up to where my life was headed – not everyone is so fortunate. I was born in L.A. on April 8th, 1969. As you were being transported over that bridge, what was going on in your mind? Over the course of two hours, while sitting on the front steps of apartment, witnessing spring finally being ushered into this urban sprawl, Rodrigo walked us through the three years of his life spent in the American prison system. “Knew a guy that told horror stories of working at a men’s prison. But there comes a point where you just give in. The guards don’t care. 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