Conversation surrounding criminal justice reform is gaining traction as world leaders like President Barack Obama and business moguls like Jay-Z call out widespread racial disparities in the prison system. Obama took a ton of important steps toward change, including being the first president to (very publicly) visit a prison and spend time with convicts, banning juvenile solitary confinement, and commuting a total of 1,175 sentences (330 in a single day).
Jay-Z brought to light the devastating story of Kalief Browder, a young man from the Bronx who spent three terrible years in jail even though he was never convicted of a crime. After all he’d been through, Browder tragically committed suicide. And of course we can’t forget about Meek Mill getting politically active, as he calls out the injustices he, himself, has faced at the hands of the justice system. Meek’s stories give those who can’t relate to being locked up an insider’s look at how young black men are targeted and kept behind bars for extended periods of time. The movement is beginning to mobilize and more and more people are beginning to do their part to create the change we’d all like to see.
Cue a young man from Harlem who’s sharing an incredible story of resistance this week. His name is Isiah, he’d been locked up on Rikers Island in 2016 when the warden broke a promise she’d made regarding game 7 in the NBA Finals and all hell broke loose. How he handled the escalating dispute and what he has to say about it today will give you chills.
Isiah told Humans Of NY, “Every month in prison they had something called Inmate Council, where you get to meet with the prison administration and make suggestions. I volunteered to be the representative for my housing unit. And toward the end of the meeting, the warden asked if anyone had questions or concerns.”
At the time, the Cleveland Cavaliers were going against the Golden State Warriors and the fellas just wanted to be able to tune in.
“The NBA finals were going on at the time. So I raised my hand and asked: ‘If the Cavs force a game seven, can we keep the TV on past lock-up time?’ And she agreed. She agreed in front of everyone,” Isiah explained. But things didn’t go as planned.
“So when game seven came around, all of us were excited. We gathered around the TV in the dayroom to watch the game. But right as the second quarter was starting, the television clicked off. The CO came down and tried to kick everybody out. I told her the warden gave us permission, but she said it didn’t matter. And that’s when things began to go downhill. We refused to leave. The CO went behind a protected gate and pulled the silent alarm. We grabbed all the tables and chairs and stacked them up against the door. We covered the floor in shampoo and water. The security team came back with riot gear and huge cans of pepper spray, but we kept the door closed for over two hours. When they finally got inside, they were slipping all over the place. We just laid down on the floor and put our hands behind our back. I was given thirty days in solitary confinement. But I had to do the right thing,” he told Humans Of NY.
Reflecting on his decision at the time, he added, “Women are allowed to vote because some woman wanted to vote. The Civil Rights Movement started because Rosa Parks didn’t want to get out of her seat. And next time there’s a game seven of the NBA Finals, I bet they’re going to leave the TV on in Building Six at Rikers Island.”
When Global Grind reached out for more details about that scary day, Isiah said since he was removed from the housing area he isn’t sure what the warden had to say for herself after the fact. However, he told us that at his Disciplinary Action meeting it’d been pretty obvious the guards turned off all the cameras at the time of the inmates’ sit-in.
“When I asked them to show the cameras, they said they were ‘off’ and not working because they are new. But I know they weren’t telling the truth because they’d recently installed a camera they could control remotely. One night the camera was facing the front, the next morning the camera was facing the back of the housing area—and Rikers cameras are recording constantly to prevent inmate-on-inmate violence.”
Isiah mentioned, “This is what they do when they want to get away with assaulting you.”
Today, the Game Design major has one semester left at Hostos Community College before he graduates. He tells Global Grind, “All I want to do is show my peers that it’s never too late to turn your life around and get on the right path.”