Streams

Shadow of Jail Violence Darkens Bus Ride to Rikers

Friday, August 29, 2014

(Jennifer Hsu/WNYC)

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."

Editors:

David L. Lewis and Jennifer Vanasco

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Comments [3]

Rose Hill

Too often I review comments made by others regarding prisoners and their families with comments like like Kathy from NYC. Please would you be so kind and step off your tired soap box where you pretend to know the solutions to all that ills a family with an incarcerated family member. Your comment is ignorant and not worth reading. It lacks compassion which you are obviously incapable of feeling. Please spare these families they don't deserve to read comments like yours no one does and hopefully not someone in you own family who my think you know what your talking about. Just being law abiding does not make you a decent person. Self examination is something you could certainly benefit from. My advise indulge in it regularly and maybe you could learn the meaning of compassion.

Aug. 29 2014 01:22 PM
Barbara Fisher from Stapleton Staten Island

Getting into and out of Rikers has been bizarre for everyone. For more than 15 years we were an arts in education program bringing poets and other artists to the high schools on the Island. Yes, there were frequent lockdowns. Sometimes visiting educators and artists were blocked at what seemed to be discretionary whim of an individual. Yet in one instance one of our poets who had forgotten his ID was admitted (and then allowed to leave after his workshop) because an official recognized him from a Brooklyn poetry reading. More often poets and educators were turned away at the gate for reasons that were not always clear or consistent. This is another reason why adolescents should not be in Rikers.

Aug. 29 2014 09:19 AM
Kathy from NYC

Why are these family members reaching out to them now, what if they reached out and spent more time with their family members who are in prison now.

Aug. 29 2014 08:30 AM

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