Shadow of Jail Violence Darkens Bus Ride to Rikers

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The rising violence at Rikers Island has raised urgent concern from inside the jail walls to City Hall and beyond. But it also weighs heavily on the mothers, aunts, girlfriends and others who travel to the island regularly to check up on their loved ones. As many as 6,800 people visit Rikers each week, but sometimes they can't get in.

Marlene Alam boarded the Q100 to see her 42-year-old nephew, who was arrested and brought to Rikers the day before. She's heard about the violence in the city's largest jail system and was headed there to check on him.

"Of course, anybody with any compassion in their heart would be worried," she said.

Mary Gresham was hoping to see her 19-year-old son at the George Motchen Detention Center on Rikers Island. She says he's spent time in solitary confinement and been beaten up by both guards and other inmates.

Unfortunately, when she arrived the jail was on lockdown and she was turned away. The Department of Correction says lockdowns are a common security measure that occur for reasons that range from the need to monitor tension among inmates to actual fights or assaults on staff.

"It hurts me as a parent," she said. "Because I haven't seen my son in awhile and I want to see my son."

David Hymen, a Legal Aid attorney, was headed to Rikers to see a client accused of assaulting a guard. He was skeptical about the validity of the charge and said in many cases, inmates are defending themselves against abusive correction officers who feel they've been disrespected.

"Really, what's happening is the officer is brutalizing the inmate and then that person is the one getting charged with it," he said.

Thomas Jordan drives the Q100 bus to Rikers Island each day. It's the only public transportation allowed at the jail. He says people begin gathering early in the morning — 7:30 a.m. is the busiest time.

"It's a very, very, sad situation to be put through that, to have a loved one be incarcerated," he said. "Every day, you can see the pain on people's faces."