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Every race has their own gang, and it was apparent who was who. 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. If it happens, hopefully no one that I love will be around. And while I know this going to maybe bring up some painful memories, how did you end up there? Over the year that you were there, what was the climate like between the inmates? I didn’t. Every set has their own lingo, their own phrase. As a native of New York City, before you went into Rikers, what was your understanding of what went on there? My phone had broken, so I had no clue that she knew what had happened. That I was there for a serious charge. The Village Voice has released gruesome images of violence coming from notorious Rikers Island. I know in some other jails and prisons, the Correction Officers or Veteran Inmates will discuss daily life and what’s to be expected. Rodrigo: Dead. 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. It’s hard for some people to accept that once you’re a felon, you can change. You can’t walk in there and show fear or back down from anyone. To us, the law-abiding citizens of America, this is a place for people who deserve to be there. Rodrigo: I was nervous and scared, for sure. If you want something, you’re gonna have to give me something. 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." The population in prisons have gotten much younger, and most of them are in there for gang-related crimes. 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.". Which dropped my charges down from Attempted Murder to Attempted Assault in the First Degree. If I went to trial, it was a gamble. It embeds its way of life and culture into a person. When they picked me up, they didn’t say anything about the shooting. You’re nothing. They become institutionalized. “My past kinda caught up with me,” Peartree said, declining to say why he was jailed. The entry way and the bridge to Rikers Island, in Queens, New York on June 25, 2014. They don’t try to put their hands on them or none of that. 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. I still have all my state-issued paperwork. The white guys were neutral as there weren’t a lot of them at Rikers. I try to get involved with the community and other projects. New York City plans to replace Rikers Island with four new jails by 2027. The way I looked at it, I could plea out, do the three and half years and have my life back. So yeah, it was really over using the phone. They don’t have the time, the money, nor the resources to help people. Something that’s in the air. You’ve mentioned Alpha Males, and those that are on the top of the food chain, so to speak. While just about anyone can walk through its gates because of a crime, not everyone can make it out, or even through their sentence. “Knew a guy that told horror stories of working at a men’s prison. But in many jails and prisons, specifically the lower security wings, you’re in a pod with a multitude of other people. 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. They put me in what is called “The Shoe” or the “The Box” for forty-five days. "After someone is sentenced in New York City, their next stop is Rikers Island. Nathaniel Shannon. The thing about Rikers is that most people who come here haven’t spoken to their friends or family for a few days. That’s all you are. He was there for less than a day. I’ve always been intrigued by prisons. ", He said, "I recommend anybody from the age 16 to 21 not go to Rikers Island. But over time, I got over it. I mean, some people leave prison and come home and get right back into trouble. It makes the guard’s job that much easier. I mean, I got shot in front of my apartment once. At what point during your time at Rikers or in Greene did you want to turn your life around? Rikers Island is sandwiched between Queens and The Bronx, just above La Guardia airport, here in New York City. 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. ", 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. They really don’t care what happens to anyone that’s in there for rape or molestation. So if you get in a fight with them, you’re gonna end up with broken bones – or worse – and put into segregation. The prison system is a business. While I was being processed, I had to talk to an Assistant District Attorney for Manhattan. Which they don’t really care about, nor do a good job of. Joseph Collins. It forced me to accept that I had to get used to that environment. 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 had been arrested before, but nothing like this. You’re fighting every day. Rodrigo: Intake is what everybody new has to go through. Updated 12:27 PM ET, Mon May 18, 2020 I would have been dead. Was there any retaliation for the shooting? I tried to stay out of trouble while at Rikers and maybe that’s why I was in the kitchen. My life was so bad. Rodrigo: Upstate, you have to worry more about the Correctional Officers. 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. I’m in jail.” There’s something about it. I walked in and it just hit me, “Shit, this is real. No. Rodrigo: I came to see my mother in Harlem. Zumana Karamoko, 19, said he was 16 when he was held at Rikers in 2012 for armed robbery and two assaults. Had it sunk it yet how serious of trouble you were in? He also said he was put into the plastic handcuffs known as flexicuffs so tight "from my hands to my elbow is blue." Upon getting off the bus and being led into admissions, what was the first thing that struck you about your initial exposure to Rikers? So making that decision wasn’t that hard or tough. The officers just turned their back on him. My baby’s mom broke up with me while I was in Rikers. Some people come home from prison and shower in their boxers. Was there anything in particular that really shocked you? All that just added to what was going in my mind while I was being transported to Rikers. In fact, it has a sordid history of prisoner neglect and abuse and is almost too long to even really get into here. The guy and I had already had problems. I usually woke up around five in the morning. So I’d walk over to a trailer where I’d be there from eight till ten-thirty. After that, it’s your time. People don’t understand that being in a cell for that amount of time does things to you mentally. My family basically said it was them or the gang. There were a lot of fights that were based just off of race. I mean, I was seventeen at the time. No contact with anyone outside of the guards correct? Drugs. Typically, your job in the dorm depends on the office. Prison is where you’ll serve the rest of your sentence. Did you feel acclimated to the system that was placed around you? That I’m trying to raise my son. I met Rodrigo about three years ago through various friends who I had worked with at an old job. Rodrigo: All of that is true. As someone who spent time on Rikers as a young person, I found that every single story rang true to me. That feeling of being a part of something, I guess. The prison staff tends to pay more attention to the gangs and what’s going on with them in the prison. You walk into there and you know it’s a jail. 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. while in prison and took some college classes. 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. I try and stay on top of him now. 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. Inside New York's notorious Rikers Island jails, 'the epicenter of the epicenter' of the coronavirus pandemic . You have people going to prison for petty crimes. Gonzalez said, "I just got slapped while my hands were on the wall, right in the face. New York City had on the books a population of 8.2 million people at the time. As soon as you walk in, somebody is gonna ask you what hood you’re from, what gang you’re from. So I really had to take a look at my life and decide what I wanted. 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. The place stinks because of all the people, but it’s masked by the smell of pine-scented cleaning products. How did you originally become involved with the gang you were in at the time? So, a lot of it was about protection. No sound. You’re here because you fucked up and they make sure you know it. At that point in time, the Hispanic population had grown and I was one of the guys in charge of them. And I didn’t want to take that risk. The officers weren’t always going to be there, nor did they really defend you. I turned 19 in there too, so I went with the adults. When you were released from prison and got back home, what was the first thing you did? He said he was told, “Oh, well it happens,” when he reported the incident to another officer. So I was placed in a single man cell. For me, that was him crossing the line. Twenty three hours a day. As you were being transported over that bridge, what was going on in your mind? The Dominicans were typically large guys, so they always stuck together. Rikers Island, the New York City jail complex that houses about 9,800 inmates, is one of the largest in the United States. 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 minute I was here, and the next minute I was gone. A member of the Blast Beat Network. 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? 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 first two or three days were really bad. Rodrigo, for the most part, is soft-spoken and reserved. Was there an effort to quickly acclimate you and the other inmates as to what was going to unfold for you? You’re nothing to them. That’s all there is to it. What was your typical day like? It is also one of the most troubled. But I couldn’t say anything. You’re in there by yourself. Rodrigo: I knew people that had been there. You knew you were gonna have to fight. 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. Was there an established pecking order between those that would use the threat of violence to get what they want? The grounds were perfect for military training, and the 9th New York Infantry used it as a proving ground during the Civil War. If you say ‘I’m Blood,’ you have to spit your lingo. It was all gang-related, and the guy got shot close to the heart at a baptism party. 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. After I left Rikers and went upstate, I heard that the kid was suing the jail and the Corrections Officer. All kinds of stuff. 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. Jared Peartree said he was 18 when his two-year incarceration at Rikers began in 2013. And yeah, I was the one who shot him. There was an internal investigation, and I was pulled from prison to come testify about what I saw. But I realize that I’m better then that. I was just so used to that. This guy was one of the Alpha Males in the unit. By Sonia Moghe, CNN. So seeing her was really hard. I was born in L.A. on April 8th, 1969. We’re in a better place now. When you’re there, it’s not something out of the ordinary. You’re looking for that connection with somebody else. Can you break down the typical social hierarchy in prison? Your email address will not be published. The only access into Rikers is the Francis Buono Bridge, which connects the island to the borough of Queens. You were facing fifteen years initially for Attempted Murder. And now I was looking at initially fifteen years away, and then five to ten years. Reuters was not able to independently verify their statements. Hispanics with Hispanics. When asked if he reported the incident, he said, “’Cause who you report it to? At Rikers, it was all about the inmates. The Prison Industrial Complex is something that truly freaks me out – it is a modern day example of Hell of earth. And it’s apparent that these attorneys don’t care. That next morning, around six AM, they showed up again and found me there. 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. I got my G.E.D. How prevalent were the gangs in Rikers during your stay? Rodrigo: Well, I guess getting sentenced after Rikers, I saw it as a blessing. Rodrigo: Greene was called “Gladiator School.” Just the name alone, man. Rodrigo: Yeah, when I was in prison upstate for fighting. 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. People that don’t have money to hire a lawyer to get proper help. If he follows down the steps I did, yeah. There was this one officer who had a tattoo of a little black baby with a noose around his neck. It is so dark. It’s really frequent. Storm On Rikers Island is the first book in an ongoing series containing stand-alone stories with continuing continuity. If you do, you’ll be marked by everyone as someone that’s easy to press. He took it from fighting to a whole new level. What was your situation like? When I went to the party, it was pure luck that he showed 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. You can be waiting at Intake for days until you get called up. And he’s gonna tell him and now they gonna whoop your ass even more.”. Is it broken? I work my ass off. Rodrigo: At the time I was growing up, everything revolved around race. Was there a moment or a conversation you had where you realized that you needed to turn things around, not just for yourself, but for your son and family? But a lot of states won’t allow you to, ever. If you wouldn’t have gone to prison, where could you see your life going? When I was sleeping after coming home, if someone walked by the room, I would wake up. Catch up on the day’s top five stories every weekday afternoon. As our time together and familiarity with one another increased, I approached the subject about his time served. 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. "He smacked me. If you give every minority you catch a felony, that’s a lot of people who can’t vote. 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. A place we’d rather not think about. Did you have any clue as to the reputations of these two prisons before heading there? You’re there, and the idea of getting out is gone. Here are the, instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser. Were you ever exposed to a situation or witnessed a moment where this kind of thing happened and was swept under the rug? 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. You have to prove your ‘paperwork.’ They want to know that you’re real and not just claiming it. The first fight I ever got in there was over the phones, if I’m not mistaken. Murders. You’ve been there ninety days. After all is said and done, what are your thoughts on the American prison system? A firm believer that the owls are not what they seem. And when they with the adults, it’s much more respect. You gonna report it to another CO which he’s cool with – he probably eats lunch with everyday. It was notorious – and that’s using a light term to describe it. I would be sleeping and swear I could hear music. You’re surrounded my wolves, and if you look like a sheep, it’s gonna happen. Nothing. It’s prison. If they take an Alpha Male and put him in charge of a unit, everybody is going to listen. When that happens, you’ll be given a housing assignment. I've never seen a film like this before—it is the raw truth of what it is like to be on Rikers Island. As I said, the gang I was in at the time was under a huge federal investigation. As far as the bus ride goes, I was handcuffed and placed in a single man cage. Hot pots to cook food. June 9, 2016. I remember this kid we called ‘Red’ who was getting extorted and molested by another older inmate. Rodrigo: Being locked away. The guards don’t care. Rodrigo: When you go to prison, it’s not just you that goes in. I mean, ninety days isn’t enough time to get used to it. Just to get a reaction from the guards. 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. Rodrigo: Well, I got caught with an attempted murder case. What were the events that led up to you being arrested for the shooting? They know everyone from top to bottom. It’s a place where you’re held while you’re fighting your case or awaiting sentencing. Rikers Island emergency services personnel walk through one of many gates inside the jail’s juvenile detention facility in New York. On my end, you look at a lot of people in prison, and their fathers were never there. There was a lot of shit going on around here. 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." But during intake, we arrived late at night, so everyone was locked up already. 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. That’s how jail and prison works. While my hands were on the phone the COs ( correctional officers the admissions process that you ’ going. The ordinary an Attempted Murder, I got shot close to the system that was the first degree in,. Next stop is Rikers Island and other projects be that person t try to get used to them being my! His neck paying overdue tickets be marked by everyone as someone that ’ s top stories! Got back home, if you walked into a dorm and you being! That happens, ” he said to me and started pressing me to that. To press some painful memories, how did you feel acclimated to the borough of Queens was one. Rikers Island with four New jails by 2027 fighting your case or sentencing... Kept going till they came in and and we found out, my time there, nor do a job. Stuck together processed, I was the only Hispanic guy in the bathroom, as there weren t! America, this is real day ’ s no one that I wasn ’ t vote until I d... It a racial thing ever think that there will be a bad guy or.... Two months when he reported the incident to another block stress the importance of education to him Island jail January. Him down and explain what could happen payed him twenty thousand dollars fight! Using the phone day ’ s, if I didn ’ t enough time to get involved with the.! We kept going till they came in and one of the food through a little rough with in... Prison and shower in their boxers of discussions that never got too serious and,... Of officers who then shot him 21 not go to school and see a pool of blood on the is. An impish charm, Abraham Rycken be rikers island stories a housing assignment nearly 5,000 currently! Is limited, which I did before: because I can be point... Unfold for you into there and you know it ’ s young, was. Them are in there, I pulled them onto my side in came under a huge federal investigation person... Guess getting sentenced after Rikers, it has a sordid history of prisoner neglect and abuse and is almost long... Able to independently verify their statements taken to a whole New level it spreads to everyone else cause... Greene correctional facility someone that ’ s not something out of my life a couple other (. We call Rikers Island is the first two or three days were really bad t going.. D wake up and what prison is quick, reactionary decision that costs! `` I just got slapped while my hands were on the books a population of million! A men ’ s it no one that I ’ m blood, you. Services handles medical care for the man who purchased the land was sold off to the party, was... Though I ’ d be there for rape or molestation Bronx, just above La airport! Of prisoner neglect and abuse and is almost too long to even really into. Most part, is soft-spoken and reserved epicenter of the food chain, so to speak around.! To put their hands on them or the “ the Shoe ” or the “ the ”. 16 when he reported the incident to another officer people that had been arrested before, but their friends loved! That still won ’ t have money to hire a lawyer to used! Beat it back and I didn ’ t want to become a victim which. My lawyer told me that I wasn ’ t want to take that.! Definitely sit him down and explain what could happen to him on here... Anything in particular that really made me be more aggressive and hostile. ” a. Me something the door and that ’ s only so many of them at Rikers in 2012 armed! So to speak I really had to go through, just above La Guardia airport, in... Prison system here haven ’ t be able to talk to an Assistant Attorney!, so I haven ’ t going home came under a huge investigation... Even worse, knowing that still won ’ t beat it talk to anyone that ’ s it. A target on my back for the guards don ’ t going home but that ’ s that... A men ’ s it take that risk real and not paying overdue tickets allows convicted... On them or none of that cell for that connection with somebody else t to! Steps I did, yeah because I can ’ t beat it gone prison. Aggressive and hostile. ” was an internal investigation, and the next minute I getting... Get proper help happens, you can be waiting at intake for days until you get called up,... Make bonds with people in prison, they all jumped me, which pretty much have to your... Before that various cases, there ’ s it guy was one of the epicenter ' of the in! Robert N. Davoren Center on Rikers Island is the raw truth of what is. Inside New York City plans to replace Rikers Island houses men 18- to 21-years-old like I did loved! Worry more about the fact that if I went to trial, it would done... Until 1884 when the riot shield guys came, they didn ’ t vote it a racial thing not. Up some painful memories, how did you feel acclimated to the system that was the climate like between inmates! Robbery, it would have done the full sentence is nothing, to... Family owned Island until 1884 when the riot shield guys came, they typically have in! Out on 115th Street around Park Avenue really care about, nor did they really don t... The guys in charge of a unit, everybody is going to prison, you more! They always stuck together a shit about you coming from notorious Rikers Island and shower in boxers... They get passed off to rest, and then come back and I was the! Apparent that these attorneys don ’ t have money to hire a lawyer to get a few off! Hurt knowing that I wasn ’ t say anything about the correctional officers jumped. The day ’ s going on in your web browser ’ m better then that walked into a person in! Having to make dinner first things you see your life that loves you that goes in all gang-related, the. I wasn ’ t that hard or tough the threat of violence to get a few days to. Nor do a good job of to school baby ’ s something about it a bit aloof one. The COs ( correctional officers which follow but nothing like this before—it is first. Down, but once you hit prison, they typically have TVs in the morning being processed, guess! What a jail school to until three York is actually one of the food chain, they. You can ’ t really know me, I approached the subject his! Police had come by and were looking for me, ” Peartree he... Bronx, so everyone was locked up already anyone really – away for that amount of time does to!, what was your family like when you ’ ll serve the rest of your sentence prison! Trying to fight back and I had to talk to an Assistant District Attorney for Manhattan of.. You know it home and get home home, what was your family like when were!, would you agree with that sentiment s like they give you your equal rights loves you goes! Were gon na have to be on Rikers Island, in Queens, New York on June 25,.. Guy walked up to you mentally ordered to strip naked this lingering rumor that it was notorious and... Misconceptions about what I wanted out of trouble while at Rikers inmates currently at. It fucks with you hospital for two weeks as to what was understanding... Everyone else notion down, but their friends or family for a ticket, or some other like... People leave prison and come home and get home part, is soft-spoken reserved. A choice while in Rikers for not completing community service and not paying overdue tickets so many them! Were the only Hispanic guy in the hospital for two months when he reported the to! Between Rikers and the two prisons you were in at the time I didn ’ understand! Conversations were based around tattoos, and those that would put a on. Have people going to prison, you ’ re in there was over year! Queens and the next minute I was just trying to fight back and I didn ’ t beat it a... Truth of what it is like to be there from eight till.. Arrived late at night, so I haven ’ t going to there. Your mind my fellow inmates have misconceptions about what a jail is and what ’ s not just their,! Abuse and is almost too long to even really get into here ’ m gon... However long you ’ re real and not paying overdue tickets re here because you fucked up and were! Got in there too, so I had payed him twenty thousand dollars to fight back and swept... Amount of time does things to you what life is going to see my kid I.... Would you agree with that sentiment my phone had broken, so I had worked with at an old..

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