I mean, ninety days isn’t enough time to get used to it. So making that decision wasn’t that hard or tough. The first two or three days were really bad. Just to get a reaction from the guards. I guess he was in the hospital for two weeks. Three and half years when compared to the full sentence is nothing. One day it just hit me that I wasn’t going home. If you do, you’ll be marked by everyone as someone that’s easy to press. So yeah, it was really over using the phone. I was seventeen years old and hanging out on 115th Street around Park Avenue. All that just added to what was going in my mind while I was being transported to Rikers. After that, it’s your time. Storm On Rikers Island is the first book in an ongoing series containing stand-alone stories with continuing continuity. It’s part of their community. I had no clue what they got me on. I mean, some people leave prison and come home and get right back into trouble. I would definitely sit him down and explain what could happen to him. Inside New York's notorious Rikers Island jails, 'the epicenter of the epicenter' of the coronavirus pandemic . If they take an Alpha Male and put him in charge of a unit, everybody is going to listen. After it happened, the ambulance showed up right away and from what I was told, that’s the only reason he survived. You have people going to prison for petty crimes. When you were released from prison and got back home, what was the first thing you did? Their voices can’t be heard. June 9, 2016. The guards slide the food through a little slot in the door and that’s it. New York City plans to replace Rikers Island with four new jails by 2027. People don’t understand that being in a cell for that amount of time does things to you mentally. It is so dark. It really does a number to you. 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. That I’m trying to raise my son. I’m not gonna lie, you become accustomed to it. I would have been dead. Rodrigo: I went straight over to see my kid. I met Rodrigo about three years ago through various friends who I had worked with at an old job. Broken Path – One Man’s Story of Life Inside Rikers Island. The prison system is a business. Jared Peartree said he was 18 when his two-year incarceration at Rikers began in 2013. People are beaten, extorted and molested all the time. I was born in L.A. on April 8th, 1969. Rodrigo: You have to be violent. The American Prison system is, in all ways, a forgotten and broken piece of our society. I was actually pressed by a guy to give him my phone pin number. You can fight it, but you can’t beat it. He took it from fighting to a whole new level. For him, one moment I was there and then I was gone. ", He said, "I recommend anybody from the age 16 to 21 not go to Rikers Island. You have to prove your ‘paperwork.’ They want to know that you’re real and not just claiming it. Rodrigo: When you go to prison, it’s not just you that goes in. At first it was just fighting. Rodrigo: At the time I was growing up, everything revolved around race. Some people come home from prison and shower in their boxers. My life was so bad. We both really tried to not make it a racial thing. 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. He’s my priority now. Or maybe it’s because I can be a little rough with people. That’s still true. But now, maybe. I dream about it. When you’re there, it’s not something out of the ordinary. But I stopped and really thought about the time. Once more Hispanics started coming in, I pulled them onto my side. From the daily operations, to the social hierarchy built as a necessary means of control, prison is a world unto itself. Rodrigo: The inmates are gonna test you. And while I know this going to maybe bring up some painful memories, how did you end up there? Your email address will not be published. Even though he’s young, I’m trying to stress the importance of education to him. You gonna report it to another CO which he’s cool with – he probably eats lunch with everyday. A place we’d rather not think about. Photographer Elizabeth Shafiroff sought out seven of these former inmates to hear their stories, which follow. Hispanics with Hispanics. So, a lot of it was about protection. As I briefly mentioned earlier, Rikers has a reputation for being a den of corruption and violence. No sound. They had to get used to me being back and I had to get used to them being in my life. A couple other COs (correctional officers) jumped in. 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. Because once I did, that would put a target on my back for the guards and my fellow inmates. It’s like they give you your equal rights. Rodrigo: All of that is true. Which dropped my charges down from Attempted Murder to Attempted Assault in the First Degree. 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. No. I hadn’t seen him in almost two years. Your email address will not be published. Rikers Island was named for the man who purchased the land in 1664, Abraham Rycken. They don’t have the time, the money, nor the resources to help people. 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. I’ve always been intrigued by prisons. It’s a place where you’re held while you’re fighting your case or awaiting sentencing. I’m here. If you say ‘I’m Blood,’ you have to spit your lingo. When he refused, he said, he "got put in a headlock, officers started beating on me, punching me in my head, my body, kicking me, had me in fetal position, stomping on me.”, Directly after the incident Eric said the officers "put me in flexicuffs then they (pepper) spray." As I left the there, some people called to let me know where he was. Copyright © 2020 CVLT Nation. Me and him started fighting. Prison is where you’ll serve the rest of your sentence. The only access into Rikers is the Francis Buono Bridge, which connects the island to the borough of Queens. By. 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. At the age of 6, my mom moved me and... One of the main arguments of white supremacy is that the conditions we face today have no context in history. I didn’t. And while convictions have been made in various cases, there has always been this lingering rumor that it still occurred. The Prison Industrial Complex is something that truly freaks me out – it is a modern day example of Hell of earth. Damien Norman (above), 20, said he was 17 while awaiting trial on Rikers Island in 2012 for robbery and said his wrist was broken in an incident involving a corrections officer. Catch up on the day’s top five stories every weekday afternoon. But I’ve made my peace with it. On my end, you look at a lot of people in prison, and their fathers were never there. The guards are there to control the unit. You start screaming at the door. ", 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. 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. It was a family owned island until 1884 when the land was sold off to the city for a mere $180,000. I was just trying to fight this and get home. Eric Harmon, now 20, said he was incarcerated on Rikers Island from 2010 to 2011, when he was 16, on a drug charge. Rodrigo: Over the three months that I was there, I had already been through three lawyers. It was the gang or them. I got my G.E.D. What was your typical day like? We’re just setting them up to fail. I can say that my time there wasn’t bad like some people’s. It was in the bathroom, as there wasn’t any cameras there. Was there an effort to quickly acclimate you and the other inmates as to what was going to unfold for you? But I couldn’t say anything. A firm believer that the owls are not what they seem. There were a lot of fights that were based just off of race. This guy was one of the Alpha Males in the unit. The island was used as a military training ground during the Civil War. While Rikers was deemed a fit location for a workhouse, its prevailing use was as a landfill. They had a guy watching out for any officers or my friends to coming in. If you give every minority you catch a felony, that’s a lot of people who can’t vote. While just about anyone can walk through its gates because of a crime, not everyone can make it out, or even through their sentence. 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. With me being home and back in Harlem, it’s hard for people to believe that I’m trying to be a good person. I want to show it to him and stress what could happen. What was your situation like? “For adolescent inmates, Rikers Island is broken,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara today, as he presented a truly horrifying report detailing how … After one altercation with another inmate, Walker says he was put in flexicuffs and punched "mad hard, like real hard" in the face by a correctional officer. Rodrigo: Well, I guess getting sentenced after Rikers, I saw it as a blessing. The thing about Rikers is that most people who come here haven’t spoken to their friends or family for a few days. The guards don’t care. They become institutionalized. 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? Drugs, murder, robberies. It’s hard for some people to accept that once you’re a felon, you can change. Now comes the first night. That I was going to be there for a while. To us, the law-abiding citizens of America, this is a place for people who deserve to be there. But a lot of states won’t allow you to, ever. But during intake, we arrived late at night, so everyone was locked up already. His time there was horrible. When I was sleeping after coming home, if someone walked by the room, I would wake up. 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. I had to fight back the tears. It’s really frequent. You’ve mentioned Alpha Males, and those that are on the top of the food chain, so to speak. They don’t do the things they do with adolescents. After I left Rikers and went upstate, I heard that the kid was suing the jail and the Corrections Officer. There was this one officer who had a tattoo of a little black baby with a noose around his neck. Gregory Gonzalez, 25, said he was held on Rikers for two months when he was 18, starting in 2008. It’s just a matter of time, really. Had it sunk it yet how serious of trouble you were in? The grounds were perfect for military training, and the 9th New York Infantry used it as a proving ground during the Civil War. Karamoko said he attempted to fight back and was beaten by a group of officers who then shot him with pepper spray. 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. How prevalent were the gangs in Rikers during your stay? 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.". What happened that allowed you to only do three and half years? That’s all there is to it. He was there for less than a day. And he’s gonna tell him and now they gonna whoop your ass even more.”. The place stinks because of all the people, but it’s masked by the smell of pine-scented cleaning products. And when they with the adults, it’s much more respect. I try and stay on top of him now. Because once you do that, it spreads to everyone else and other units. I’ve always been intrigued by prisons. There’s no contact with anyone. I walked in and it just hit me, “Shit, this is real. After some time, I  contacted him about doing an interview for CVLT Nation. Once you’re in there, you’re in there. Is it broken? You’re there, and the idea of getting out is gone. "He smacked me. If you walked into a dorm and you were the only Hispanic guy, you’re going to have a hard time. Upon getting off the bus and being led into admissions, what was the first thing that struck you about your initial exposure to Rikers? And if you do get some kind of response from the guards, it’s not a good one. 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. You’re nothing to them. The officers just turned their back on him. You start talking to yourself. Rikers Island, the New York City jail complex that houses about 9,800 inmates, is one of the largest in the United States. Rodrigo: Because I was there for Attempted Murder, I was considered a high security threat. What was your family like when you got out of prison? At the time, there was a lot of stuff going on in this neighborhood. You’re surrounded my wolves, and if you look like a sheep, it’s gonna happen. The guy and I had already had problems. I work my ass off. When that happens, you’ll be given a housing assignment. It’s inside you. But you don’t get it. You can’t walk in there and show fear or back down from anyone. I've never seen a film like this before—it is the raw truth of what it is like to be on Rikers Island. I was just so used to that. But that’s just what the vast majority of us do. 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. Every set has their own lingo, their own phrase. Rodrigo: Being locked away. For example, the Mexicans in Rikers were notorious for having bangers – shanks – and being very violent. I mean, I got shot in front of my apartment once. In prison, they typically have TVs in the cells. It was just the cleaning crews and guards going through the hallways. The guard ended up lumping his face up pretty bad to the point where he had to go to the nurse. As far as the bus ride goes, I was handcuffed and placed in a single man cage. 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. The Village Voice has released gruesome images of violence coming from notorious Rikers Island. As someone who spent time on Rikers as a young person, I found that every single story rang true to me. And I didn’t want to take that risk. When I showed up, she told me that the police had come by and were looking for me. Rodrigo: Actually, no. Rodrigo, for the most part, is soft-spoken and reserved. When asked if he reported the incident, he said, “’Cause who you report it to? You arrived at the infamous Rikers Island jail on January 3rd, 2011. Rodrigo: I was actually at two prisons upstate. What were the main differences between Rikers and the two prisons you were at? Fifteen years is a long fucking time. Rodrigo: Absolutely. The prison staff tends to pay more attention to the gangs and what’s going on with them in the prison. Murders. And this might sound weird, but in prison, you have more freedom than in jail. Updated 12:27 PM ET, Mon May 18, 2020 They really don’t care what happens to anyone that’s in there for rape or molestation. You’re not seeing anyone. You knew you were gonna have to fight. 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. Did you have any clue as to the reputations of these two prisons before heading there? 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. So I really had to take a look at my life and decide what I wanted. But there comes a point where you just give in. I was being pressured by them to give people up. You pretty much have to be in a game, and if you’re not, you’re a big exception. I don’t want to be that person. Gonzalez said he was incarcerated for not completing community service and not paying overdue tickets. You were facing fifteen years initially for Attempted Murder. 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. But prison has changed, though. 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. The first fight I ever got in there was over the phones, if I’m not mistaken. They get passed off to Public Defenders and these lawyers already have a shitload of cases. So I was placed in a single man cell. Rodrigo: You know what, yeah, but I’m reserving it for the right time. You’re looking for that connection with somebody else. In one incident, Harmon said he was taken to a room without cameras. It’s everyone in your life that loves you that goes in. 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. Peartree said the inmates were beaten by "wooden sticks, four inches thick. "When the riot shield guys came, they all jumped me,” he said. 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. Thank you so much for the interview Rodrigo! Prison scars you. 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? After that, it just made me be more aggressive and hostile.”. 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. But over time, I got over it. It was all gang-related, and the guy got shot close to the heart at a baptism party. That next morning, around six AM, they showed up again and found me there. When they picked me up, they didn’t say anything about the shooting. Rodrigo: I knew people that had been there. Rodrigo: Greene was called “Gladiator School.” Just the name alone, man. One time at Rikers, there was this kid who must have been sixteen or seventeen, and was in there for raping a little girl. As I said, the gang I was in at the time was under a huge federal investigation. Now a new report from the New York Building Congress suggests Rikers be … He also said he was put into the plastic handcuffs known as flexicuffs so tight "from my hands to my elbow is blue." And they were very open about the fact that if I didn’t help out, my time would be a lot harder. But not everybody is like that. Typically, you’ll have one of the veteran officers explain to you what life is going to be like at Rikers. In a way, time stops for you and everyone else. Rodrigo: Oh, it’s broken. 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