Bumpy Last Day at Rikers

06 Nov

Today was the last day of the Fall session of Fordham Law Scool’s Rikers Youth Education Program. This morning I woke up excited about seeing the guys do the guys shine during their mock trials. By this this morning, they would have gotten familiar with the facts of the case, developed their testimonies for their time on the witness stand, and developed strong argument against the opposing side.  There would be several mock trials happening at once since we had such a large group. The roles the guys took in the mock trials were defendant, plaintiff, defense attorneys, prosecutors, witnesses, and jury members. We had outside attorneys come in to act as the judges.

But things didn’t go as smoothly as we’d hoped this morning. When we got to Rikers going through security and waiting for an escort took much longer than expected and unfortunately it really cut the time for the mock trials short.  The mock trials were supposed to be held in the gymnasium, but because the religious services were being held there at the same time that wasn’t possible. The religious services are normally held in a separate chapel area, but because it’s under construction services must be held in the gym on Sunday mornings. That’s alright but there was a lack of communication sucked. So we had to have the mock trials take place in their living areas, where we have been conducting the sessions all semester.  Today we brought 8 dozen boxes of donuts for the guys as a treat but we had issues getting that through since the Captain on shift this weekend would not allow it. He protested because apparently the donuts are considered contraband and he wouldn’t allow them to pass through since he was not aware of any clearance for them. Although we had clearance through the “higher-ups,” this seemed not to have been communicated to the appropriate people. So at first they confiscated the donuts which was so frustrating BUT we ended up getting them back. Only problem was, 2 dozen of the 8 dozen were not given back to us (ridiculous but unsurprising). And on top of that, the certificates for the guys were not printed out as they should have been (another lack of/miscommunication I guess). They’ll have to receive them another time. Long sigh.

As we walked through the hall to get to their living area, I saw something I hadn’t seen in the weeks we’d been going to Rikers.  There were lines of some of the young men posted up on the walls in a frisk position, hands up high on the walls with their backs facing us as we walked by.  Correctional officers standing right by them. And honestly, this sight brought instant tears. When I say instant, I really do mean instant. It’s not like I haven’t seen people in frisk positions before, but just seeing all these youth lined up like that just hit me hard. Real hard. I tried to keep the tears from falling and it worked pretty well except the tear or two that betrayed me and fought hard to be free from my eyes. I tried to sort of turn my face so no one else in my group could see the pain on my face. But I met eyes with someone in my group and for a moment I wondered if she could read my thoughts. I wondered if anyone else in my group was as bothered as I was as the sight of seeing these young men posted up on the walls like this.

But moving back to the mock trials… they all went pretty well. We coached them a bit before they the trial began to ensure that they had a good idea of what they wanted to say. In brief, the trial was about a 6’5″ tall 16 year old male who was stopped and arrested by police officers after the robbery of a bodega in the “high crime” area where he was found passing through. The 16 year old allegedly stole $50 and a pack of Marlboro reds from the store with the owner at gunpoint. The defendant had two defense attorneys and his witness was his friend who initially refused to testify but ended up being subpoenaed so he had to come and sit on the stand. On the opposing side the store owner testified as well as one of the police officers who stopped and arrested the 16 year old. In the different mock trial groups, some juries found him guilty while the others found him not guilty. Overall, it was pretty fun and the guys seem to enjoy themselves. At the end of the session, they all ate the donuts we got back (we had to split them in halves since we were short boxes) and thanked us for the experience.

Although today went a little less smoothly than other days, I was happy to see the mock trials go so well and happy to have had this opportunity to volunteer with some of the youth at Rikers. Looking forward to doing this again next semester….

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Posted by on November 6, 2011 in Prisons, Volunteering


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