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Pen Pals

The People You Meet on Rikers

I sat face to face with a heartless murderer and realized we had some things in common.

by Bert Burykill
Mar 9 2012, 10:30pm

On rare occasions during my six or so years of incarceration, I felt something approaching mild terror. When I first got locked up in ’04 I was kinda scared—I wandered into Clinton Max in Dannemora, just seeing that monstrous wall, and everyone, including the COs, looked so sick… almost blue. I think it was the lighting—or lack thereof—or the hazy smoke that drifted through the poorly ventilated tiers.

If I really sat down and thought about it, it’s the COs who scared me the most. The majority of them are harmless and just doing their job (it’s an easy job), but some of them are so stupid and cruel and possess a dangerous potential to abuse power. There was one CO who tried to molest me, and another who beat the shit out of me, both threatening to max me out on my 3-9 year sentence. The amount of power those backward-ass rednecks wield is undeniably scary.

COs are generally too stupid to even be regular cops. I’ve seen them add years and years on to too many inmates’ sentences for utter nonsense. Upstate, closer to the border, the amount of racist COs increases greatly, so I’ve seen a lot of black guys go down for nothing other than a CO hated the way they looked and acted. I witnessed an evil lady cop (who would try to be buddy-buddy with the white inmates and call minorities [actually the majority in prison] “niggers” and “spics” behind their backs) claim a borderline retarded black kid from Brownsville had his dick out and was beating off to her. We were all in the dorm and knew this didn’t happen, but also knew we couldn’t stop this kid from having the shit stomped out of him in the box for six months and gettin’ a new sex charge with the added punishment of going through the SOP (Sexual Offender Program) ordeal.

Not too long ago I was subjected to one of these mildly terrorizing situations at the bullpen at Rikers, also known as “cell therapy,” where they make you sit in holding cells for days with no beds or anywhere comfortable to sit and everyone is crazy and everything is filthy-dirty-nasty and you only want to kill someone or yourself and get the fuck out of there. Usually, we’re waiting for transportation or to go to court or something, but it literally takes days to get a ride out. People will do anything to get out of there, including copping to crimes they didn’t commit.

I wasn’t having any serious problems ‘cause I was accustomed to sub-human treatment by then so I was staring at the wall thinking about how I’ve ruined my life, idly listening to Spanish guys talk about how much crack they had in the buttpocket to trade for some methadone. I saw a white guy so we started to converse a little, bullshiting for a couple hours. He had some real straight edge-looking tattoos and I took him for a “white power” type of inmate. He looked a little like Shrek—clean-shaven with an embarrassing bowl haircut, and had been on the island for a couple years so his upper body was ripped in comparison to his tiny lower body.

The guy was weirdly emotional and told me he was facing 25 to life for something he didn’t do, and I believed him enough to feel kinda bad for him. He kept talking about proving his innocence to his wife and kids and how they’ve been visiting him every week for years now. Typically, when seemingly well-bred white guys talk at a place like Rikers, we focus on acting disgusted with our surroundings, and he was convincingly repulsed with everything he had seen, although there was a certain calm to him, like he was resigned to his fate. Anyone who spends extended time on The Rock will have permanent damage. We were sitting next to the Portuguese male model who castrated and killed an older gay journalist in a hotel, and my new friend explained how the male model tongue kisses his mother on the visit room floor. The male model was visibly shaking and talking to himself. Clearly, he was on medication or needed to be. He didn’t look much like a model anymore. A year or so in Riker’s can ruin someone, especially a young kid from Portugal, who was probably already suffering from some psychological problems considering he chopped an old dude’s maracas off.

We talked about how we used to sell drugs and how he got caught with weight in Florida and did time there, and also about how no jail was as shitty as Rikers. Apparently, he was confident he would get off on this crime and sue New York State for putting him through hell all these years. He told me I had dilated pupils and I looked high even though I hadn’t touched anything in quite some time. He suggested I had permanent damage from drug use. I kinda stopped talking to him at this point.

The cops called my new buddy off to court and I learned his name was Joseph Pabon. I later found out the crime he was charged with—hunting down a cleaning lady, then stuffing her bloody body in an air duct—and it still haunts me that I conversed with him like a normal guy. I was reminded of him last week when I read that his trial is starting almost three years after the crime. Sitting on Riker’s for almost three years is pretty vicious torture when he’s presumed innocent until proven guilty, but the crime he is charged with is one of the most disgusting imaginable, so he never even had a chance to make bail. I remember looking into his eyes as he was explaining how he couldn’t wait to get a chance to prove his innocence and re-earn the respect of his wife and kids. He almost had me sold, but when you look at the facts of his case, I’ll be shocked if he isn’t going to prison for life. He’ll probably live inside Clinton’s walls before the month is over.

After meeting this guy, the experience stuck with me. I don’t want to be around people like this anymore. I used to work with an older white guy at Riverview Correctional doing garbage pick-up, recycling, compost, and maintenance. His name was Vinnie and he got respect. Then one day a counselor blew his cover to another inmate and told him the guy raped his own daughter. I have countless stories like this, when I’d be hanging out with a guy thinking they were swell, and then BOOM! I learn that they perpetrated some truly reprehensible shit.

Sitting face to face with a heartless murderer, having a decent conversation, realizing I have things in common with him, and later learning he killed an innocent women in a brutal way… I don’t want this reality anymore. I need to take a bunch of necessary steps to avoid it, but I’m supposed to follow a gaggle of shitty rules like 9 PM curfew and no drinking or drugs. I still can't believe that this is my life, but I need to remember that staring Pabon in the eye and having a seemingly normal interaction with a monster was very cocksucking real, and that the threat of returning to prison should produce a feeling of more than just mild terror.


Previously – They Gave Him Five for One