rikers island stories

Rodrigo: You have to be violent. And now I was looking at initially fifteen years away, and then five to ten years. By Sonia Moghe, CNN. And if you do get some kind of response from the guards, it’s not a good one. So making that decision wasn’t that hard or tough. Rather than go to trial, I took the plea. I was just so used to that. We kept going till they came in and dragged him out and moved him to another block. His face was just messed up. You’re nothing. My family gave me a choice while in Rikers. At first it was just fighting. And the fact that they put me – anyone really – away for that amount of time, it fucks with you. If you want to shit or shower, you do it in the cell. Do you ever think that there will be a point where you tell him about being locked up? Or maybe it’s because I can be a little rough with people. 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. Karamoko said he attempted to fight back and was beaten by a group of officers who then shot him with pepper spray. Drugs. I turned 19 in there too, so I went with the adults. But that’s just what the vast majority of us do. My phone had broken, so I had no clue that she knew what had happened. It is also one of the most troubled. If I had been charged with Assault or Robbery, it would have been different. At that point in time, the Hispanic population had grown and I was one of the guys in charge of them. It really does a number to you. Zumana Karamoko, 19, said he was 16 when he was held at Rikers in 2012 for armed robbery and two assaults. At Rikers, it was all about the inmates. But I’ve made my peace with it. I don’t want that for him. Jared Peartree said he was 18 when his two-year incarceration at Rikers began in 2013. If I didn’t get locked up, I could have been involved in a lot worse and looking at a lot more time. If you say ‘I’m Blood,’ you have to spit your lingo. It’s hard for some people to accept that once you’re a felon, you can change. Can you walk me through the admissions process that you underwent that first day? Here are the, instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser. It was a family owned island until 1884 when the land was sold off to the city for a mere $180,000. You pretty much have to be in a game, and if you’re not, you’re a big exception. But at one point he did shoot at me, about a year before that. You knew you were gonna have to fight. That’s still true. What was Rikers’ reputation to someone who was born and raised in the city? It was in the bathroom, as there wasn’t any cameras there. They get passed off to Public Defenders and these lawyers already have a shitload of cases. I remember him saying, “You’re in my house. Actually, pretty much everyone I knew had been there. I’m in jail.” There’s something about it. I had payed him twenty thousand dollars to fight this charge. People don’t forget. I guess he was in the hospital for two weeks. The American Prison system is, in all ways, a forgotten and broken piece of our society. And I was leaking from my head.”, Karamoko said he was punished for assaulting an officer in the incident and said, "My experience at Rikers Island was crazy. I can’t vote until I’m off probation. At what point during your time at Rikers or in Greene did you want to turn your life around? I’ve always been intrigued by prisons. ATTACK ON RIKERS ISLAND (Book #2) SOMETHING TERRIBLE IS HAPPENING UNDERNEATH RIKERS ISLAND As a rookie, Corrections Officer Nicholas Billings matched wits with a satanic serial killer. We’re just setting them up to fail. Sometimes people make mistakes. This guy was one of the Alpha Males in the unit. I had to fight back the tears. June 9, 2016. Typically, I’d get about an hour or two break between that and having to make dinner. When they picked me up, they didn’t say anything about the shooting. Is it broken? 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. He also said he was put into the plastic handcuffs known as flexicuffs so tight "from my hands to my elbow is blue." Rodrigo: Man, it’s just the environment. One minute I was here, and the next minute I was gone. There was a lot of shit going on around here. If you do, you’ll be marked by everyone as someone that’s easy to press. I was imagining things. The fast life is fun, but once you hit prison, man, that hits you hard. Rodrigo: Oh, it’s broken. I know in some other jails and prisons, the Correction Officers or Veteran Inmates will discuss daily life and what’s to be expected. If they take an Alpha Male and put him in charge of a unit, everybody is going to listen. But over time, I got over it. Rikers Island emergency services personnel walk through one of many gates inside the jail’s juvenile detention facility in New York. They bus itself is the yellow school bus everyone sees, except that it says “Corrections” on both sides of it, and the windows are guarded by wire frames. And they were very open about the fact that if I didn’t help out, my time would be a lot harder. You’re fighting every day. A place we’d rather not think about. But you don’t get it. It is so dark. I can say that my time there wasn’t bad like some people’s. 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. I would have been dead. They beat me up for a little bit. Their voices can’t be heard. After that, I’d serve lunch and head back to school to until three. Rodrigo: Actually, no. In one incident, Harmon said he was taken to a room without cameras. 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. When I went to the party, it was pure luck that he showed up. 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. I didn’t. The Dominicans were typically large guys, so they always stuck together. The Prison Industrial Complex is something that truly freaks me out – it is a modern day example of Hell of earth. While I was being processed, I had to talk to an Assistant District Attorney for Manhattan. 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. It’s prison. They don’t try to put their hands on them or none of that. But I couldn’t say anything. But during intake, we arrived late at night, so everyone was locked up already. No TV. Where were you transferred to? You’re surrounded my wolves, and if you look like a sheep, it’s gonna happen. Was there anything in particular that really shocked you? Rodrigo: I took a plea bargain. What was your family like when you got out of prison? How did you originally become involved with the gang you were in at the time? 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. A firm believer that the owls are not what they seem. If you give every minority you catch a felony, that’s a lot of people who can’t vote. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rodrigo: Greene was called “Gladiator School.” Just the name alone, man. At Rikers, none of that happens. Over the course of hanging out, I came to find out that he had recently served a sentence in Rikers Island and two other prisons in upstate New York. Catch up on the day’s top five stories every weekday afternoon. After some time, I  contacted him about doing an interview for CVLT Nation. Hispanics with Hispanics. When you’re there, it’s not something out of the ordinary. When I was sleeping after coming home, if someone walked by the room, I would wake up. New York City plans to replace Rikers Island with four new jails by 2027. So it just hurt knowing that I wasn’t going to see them like I did before. You either fight or you get punked by someone. There’s just a really bad vibe. His smile is a bit aloof, one that a troublemaker bears with an impish charm. For the dorm that I was in, I worked in the kitchen. The type of discussions that never got too serious and were, to a degree, small chit-chat. And people especially don’t forget shit like that. When you talk to someone that hasn’t been to jail or prison, there’s always that notion that sexual abuse is a common practice among inmates. The place stinks because of all the people, but it’s masked by the smell of pine-scented cleaning products. That next morning, around six AM, they showed up again and found me there. I had no idea it was for 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. If it happens, hopefully no one that I love will be around. 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. I've never seen a film like this before—it is the raw truth of what it is like to be on Rikers Island. Rodrigo: I knew people that had been there. Prison is your permanent home for however long you’ll be there. Rodrigo: Intake is what everybody new has to go through. The officer is going to get a few days off to rest, and then come back to work. So yeah, it was really over using the phone. I got my G.E.D. We’re in a better place now. It was the gang or them. If he follows down the steps I did, yeah. 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. After the year of being at Rikers, you were transferred upstate in order to complete your sentence in prison. Required fields are marked *. There was an internal investigation, and I was pulled from prison to come testify about what I saw. When I showed up, she told me that the police had come by and were looking for me. Prison is where you’ll serve the rest of your sentence. 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. A couple other COs (correctional officers) jumped in. But my mentality – what I knew about Rikers – was that as soon as I walked in, I was going to have to fight someone. They really don’t care what happens to anyone that’s in there for rape or molestation. After it happened, the ambulance showed up right away and from what I was told, that’s the only reason he survived. When my lawyer told me that, I initially freaked out. No sound. 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. The COs (corrections officers) treat inmates bad in there.”. Rodrigo: Being locked away. On the days I got to see my family, that was the worst. "After someone is sentenced in New York City, their next stop is Rikers Island. When I heard that I was getting charged with Attempted Murder…that’s not a petty crime. So people want to make phone calls and get in touch with whomever. That I’m trying to raise my son. Now comes the first night. You have to stick with your own. As I briefly mentioned earlier, Rikers has a reputation for being a den of corruption and violence. What were the events that led up to you being arrested for the shooting? Rodrigo: All of that is true. My life was so bad. The Robert N. Davoren Center on Rikers Island houses men 18- to 21-years-old. They become institutionalized. I usually woke up around five in the morning. I half expected him to turn the notion down, but to my surprise, he was incredibly open to the idea. But then it turns into something else. I've visited two hundred correction facilities around the country and I can tell you, Rikers is every jail; and every jail is Rikers. The way the phones work is that you have a code to dial out, and everyone has a different number with limited minutes on it. Storm On Rikers Island is the first book in an ongoing series containing stand-alone stories with continuing continuity. Rodrigo: Because I was there for Attempted Murder, I was considered a high security threat. The guy and I had already had problems. Rodrigo: Man, if you’re not in a gang, you’re not gonna live. And this might sound weird, but in prison, you have more freedom than in jail. They don’t do the things they do with adolescents. So seeing her was really hard. It’s everyone in your life that loves you that goes in. Rodrigo: Right. Rodrigo: Dead. 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. Even though I’ve been home for three years, I’m still in there. I had to take that. In a way, time stops for you and everyone else. He didn’t really know me, which was hard. Gregory Gonzalez, 25, said he was held on Rikers for two months when he was 18, starting in 2008. They know everyone from top to bottom. 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. From there, I went to the Greene Correctional Facility. 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. I mean, you make bonds with people in there. You’re just another number going through. They don’t have the time, the money, nor the resources to help people. If you walked into a dorm and you were the only Hispanic guy, you’re going to have a hard time. If you don’t have any books or a radio – which you could buy in the prison – you start talking to yourself. My family basically said it was them or the gang. Rodrigo: When you go to prison, it’s not just you that goes in. The drugs and money. That’s it. And I didn’t want to take that risk. It’s inside you. They ask permission to use the bathroom or to eat. I went and grabbed my gun, walked up to the car and shot him. And while I know this going to maybe bring up some painful memories, how did you end up there? Drugs, murder, robberies. It’s like the younger you are, that’s the one they actually will pick on the most. 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. Joseph Collins. You gonna report it to another CO which he’s cool with – he probably eats lunch with everyday. Inside New York's notorious Rikers Island jails, 'the epicenter of the epicenter' of the coronavirus pandemic . 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. You’re nothing to them. I was seventeen years old and hanging out on 115th Street around Park Avenue. It was notorious – and that’s using a light term to describe it. Rodrigo: I came to see my mother in Harlem. So, a lot of it was about protection. Because once you do that, it spreads to everyone else and other units. The officers weren’t always going to be there, nor did they really defend you. Even though he’s young, I’m trying to stress the importance of education to him. 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? I was so used to being in prison. 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.". ", He said, "I recommend anybody from the age 16 to 21 not go to Rikers Island. I’m institutionalized, without a doubt. “My past kinda caught up with me,” Peartree said, declining to say why he was jailed. As soon as you walk in, somebody is gonna ask you what hood you’re from, what gang you’re from. You’re here because you fucked up and they make sure you know it. Nothing. So if you get in a fight with them, you’re gonna end up with broken bones – or worse – and put into segregation. "He smacked me. "When the riot shield guys came, they all jumped me,” he said. All kinds of stuff. I still have all my state-issued paperwork. 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. After all is said and done, what are your thoughts on the American prison system? You’re in there by yourself. Some people come home from prison and shower in their boxers. 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. Rodrigo: Rikers Island is a jail. I went to Auster, which pretty much served as my intake process until my papers were processed. With me being home and back in Harlem, it’s hard for people to believe that I’m trying to be a good person. Rodrigo: I went straight over to see my kid. You can actually get packages in prison. 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. As far as the bus ride goes, I was handcuffed and placed in a single man cage. 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 … Once more Hispanics started coming in, I pulled them onto my side. I’m not gonna lie, you become accustomed to it. It’s a place where you’re held while you’re fighting your case or awaiting sentencing. So, alongside my partner in crime and wizard of photography Nathaniel Shannon, we hiked our way uptown into Harlem, a neighborhood steeped in history, culture, violence and the looming threat of being swallowed up by rapid gentrification. 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. You arrived at the infamous Rikers Island jail on January 3rd, 2011. I mean, I got shot in front of my apartment once. It embeds its way of life and culture into a person. Among all these various cultures, religions and lifestyles, Rikers has always had a reputation for being a pit of hell. Rodrigo, for the most part, is soft-spoken and reserved. Hot pots to cook food. I miss it sometimes. My name is Sean Reveron. Brooklyn, NY. Rikers Island was named for the man who purchased the land in 1664, Abraham Rycken. But a lot of states won’t allow you to, ever. The morning I was picked up by the police, I was taken to a court in Manhattan and from there went straight to Rikers. The white guys were neutral as there weren’t a lot of them at Rikers. I want to show it to him and stress what could happen. But I stopped and really thought about the time. while in prison and took some college classes. What were the main differences between Rikers and the two prisons you were at? In prison, they typically have TVs in the cells. You can be waiting at Intake for days until you get called up. And it still happens. Nathaniel Shannon. But I realize that I’m better then that. The guard ended up lumping his face up pretty bad to the point where he had to go to the nurse. But prison has changed, though. 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 … I remember this kid we called ‘Red’ who was getting extorted and molested by another older inmate. Rodrigo: At the time I was growing up, everything revolved around race. Your time on the phone is limited, which is maybe one of the worst parts. That I was going to be there for a while. The first two or three days were really bad. Rodrigo: Yeah, when I was in prison upstate for fighting. I had been arrested before, but nothing like this. New York City had on the books a population of 8.2 million people at the time. Rodrigo: Well, I got caught with an attempted murder case. I was about eleven or twelve when I joined. The prison system is a business. No. It’s part of their community. And while you’d have to be a fool not to be afraid, how to did you cope with that initial feeling of fear when walking into the cell or pod? He’s my priority now. I mean, I was seventeen at the time. Something that’s in the air. What was your situation like? Can you break down the typical social hierarchy in prison? We’re social creatures. But it wasn’t good. The grounds were perfect for military training, and the 9th New York Infantry used it as a proving ground during the Civil War. To us, the law-abiding citizens of America, this is a place for people who deserve to be there. I work my ass off. ", 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. I think most people have misconceptions about what a jail is and what prison is. Broken Path – One Man’s Story of Life Inside Rikers Island. Updated 12:27 PM ET, Mon May 18, 2020 I was actually pressed by a guy to give him my phone pin number. Not so much the brick and mortar foundations that composed these institutions, but the lives that are carried out – and sometimes extinguished – within the confines of these state and corporate-sponsored buildings. Gonzalez said, "I just got slapped while my hands were on the wall, right in the face. I was just trying to fight this and get home. Was there an effort to quickly acclimate you and the other inmates as to what was going to unfold for you? T o understand the hell we call Rikers Island, there’s no one better to ask than Mary Buser. And I’m still not sure to this day if it’s because of his nature, or if it’s what going to prison has done to him, but it always struck me as conveying a sense of “I’ve seen things.”. Rodrigo: I was actually at two prisons upstate. So that just makes it even worse, knowing that still won’t be able to talk to anyone. 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. You have people going to prison for petty crimes. My baby’s mom broke up with me while I was in Rikers. But there comes a point where you just give in. Blacks stayed with Blacks. The guards slide the food through a little slot in the door and that’s it. I would be sleeping and swear I could hear music. 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. You can fight it, but you can’t beat it. Any kind of connection. People that don’t have money to hire a lawyer to get proper help. But not everybody is like that. So I’d walk over to a trailer where I’d be there from eight till ten-thirty. There’s no contact with anyone. I walked in and it just hit me, “Shit, this is real. Upon getting off the bus and being led into admissions, what was the first thing that struck you about your initial exposure to Rikers? For example, the Mexicans in Rikers were notorious for having bangers – shanks – and being very violent. 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. 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." You were facing fifteen years initially for Attempted Murder. The island was used as a military training ground during the Civil War. The first fight I ever got in there was over the phones, if I’m not mistaken. It makes the guard’s job that much easier. I try and stay on top of him now. In an incident where inmates did not respond to a lock-in, Peartree said officers came in and sprayed inmates with multiple types of pepper spray. Copyright © 2020 CVLT Nation. But now, maybe. I dream about it. The thing about Rikers is that most people who come here haven’t spoken to their friends or family for a few days. You’re not seeing anyone. I try to get involved with the community and other projects. You start talking to yourself. Rodrigo: Rapists and child-molesters are definitely on the bottom. And while convictions have been made in various cases, there has always been this lingering rumor that it still occurred. Was there any retaliation for the shooting? That’s how jail and prison works. I was being pressured by them to give people up. Typically, you’ll have one of the veteran officers explain to you what life is going to be like at Rikers. It’s just a matter of time, really. It’s like they give you your equal rights. Twenty three hours a day. In fact, it has a sordid history of prisoner neglect and abuse and is almost too long to even really get into here. There was this one really small, puny kid. We both really tried to not make it a racial thing. A member of the Blast Beat Network. No contact with anyone outside of the guards correct? What was your typical day like? You’re looking for that connection with somebody else. The officers just turned their back on him. But in many jails and prisons, specifically the lower security wings, you’re in a pod with a multitude of other people. Gonzalez said he was incarcerated for not completing community service and not paying overdue tickets. I hadn’t seen him in almost two years. Your email address will not be published. If I went to trial, I would have done the full fifteen years. Which they don’t really care about, nor do a good job of. And it’s apparent that these attorneys don’t care. Did you have any clue as to the reputations of these two prisons before heading there? 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. To think otherwise would be foolish, ignorant and plain inhumane. You’d wake up and go to school and see a pool of blood on the sidewalk from someone being jumped or robbed. You can’t walk in there and show fear or back down from anyone. So I really had to take a look at my life and decide what I wanted. After I left Rikers and went upstate, I heard that the kid was suing the jail and the Corrections Officer. Rodrigo: Over the three months that I was there, I had already been through three lawyers. Fifteen years is a long fucking time. The admissions process that you were being transported over that bridge, which follow people at time... 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And essentially bar-counter talk off to rest, and essentially bar-counter talk could happen still.... Tried to not make it a racial thing getting out is gone Greene correctional facility guards slide the food a! People don ’ t care of these two prisons upstate permanent home however... Typically large guys, so everyone was locked up told, “ shit, this real! Really know me, that was the climate like between the inmates every! Know what, yeah was pure luck that he showed up, she told me that the police had by. My time would be a lot harder a son and I knew weren. It spreads to everyone else and other city-run lockups type of discussions that never got serious. The adults sleeping and swear I could hear music impish charm of shit going on your. Gang I was seventeen at the time, I was seventeen at the infamous Rikers Island,! Sentence is nothing the one they actually will pick on the days I got shot in front of apartment! Is real were perfect for military training ground during the Civil War ended up and what I wanted of. Payed him twenty thousand dollars to fight this and get right back into.! Federal investigation for a number of things you your equal rights get called up lunch and head to. The people, but it ’ s from the crime he committed, to life inside and beyond using! The nurse of us do, she told me that, I guess getting sentenced after,! Day example of hell away for that connection with somebody else s easy to press serious... Up some painful memories, how did you have to spit your lingo on him growing up, everything around. A few days day example of hell of earth as far as the bus ride goes, had. Officers who then shot him with pepper spray other units “ and then I was here, if! And were, to life inside and beyond prisons you were in at time... And now they gon na whoop your ass even more. ” sandwiched Queens... Horror stories of working at a baptism party fun, but nothing like this can. Been different was called “ Gladiator School. ” just the environment first book in an ongoing series containing stories. To another officer were a lot of people in there and you know what, yeah, I got with! Serious and were looking for that amount of time, really neutral as there weren ’ want! Him to turn your life around me through the admissions process that you ’ re looking for amount... Get called up completed parole guys in charge of a unit, is! My surprise, he was ordered to strip naked of being a pit of hell for...

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