As New York City lawmakers prepare to cast a critical vote to invest billions of dollars in new jails as part of an effort to close the Rikers Island jail complex, Shadowproof exchanged letters with incarcerated people who are part of the abolitionist No New Jails NYC campaign.
These incarcerated people worked alongside outside activists to craft a plan, titled “We Keep Us Safe,” for closing Rikers Island without building new jails.
Criminal justice reformers and nonprofits backing Mayor de Blasio’s multi-billion dollar jails plan have responded to No New Jails’ plan, and the legitimate critiques and analysis it included, by taking to major media platforms to characterize abolitionists as unserious, uncaring, not-in-my-backyard critics.
These prison letters undermine the contention that those opposing jails in favor of investments in housing, health care, education, and non-carceral approaches to harm and accountability, are ignorant of the wishes and experiences of actual incarcerated people.
Below is one letter we received from a prisoner named Jesus “ChinoBlast” Morales, who has experience with multiple New York City jails. He wrote to us from Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus, New York.
Read more letters from incarcerated activists here.
Note: The letter was edited for publication. None of the content in the letter was changed.
Shadowproof: Why did you choose to participate in the development of this plan? Why is it important to you?
Jesus “ChinoBlast” Morales: I chose to participate in the development of this plan because as someone who has been incarcerated for the majority of my life (I’m 48, have been in and out of the prison system since I was 19 not even counting my time incarcerated as a juvenile from 12-18 years old). I know what a person goes through day-to-day in this ugly system. It is important to me because there has to be a major change for the better. Because not enough people know about what goes on in these jails and prisons and not enough people care. Without knowledge of what this money being spent on new jails can do for our communities, we cannot get too far in this fight. It’s important that we get the word out. Get more people to support this positive cause and get to work.
Shadowproof: Can you share some of your experiences with New York City jails?
Jesus “ChinoBlast” Morales: I have been in city jails a few times. The last being from 2012-2013 (13 months). And simply put, it’s pure hell. The living conditions are worse than most men’s shelters in the city of New York. And those are bad. The whole process of getting arrested, going to central booking, being left in filthy bullpens waiting for your first court appearance, can itself cause a lot of stress and even depression. You can easily spend a minimum of 8 hours and even up to a couple of days in these bullpens waiting to see a judge with a bunch of men who are bored, biased, and sometimes very violent toward quiet inmates and worse for LGBTQ inmates. The floors are incredibly filthy. The toilets rarely get cleaned and there’s little-to-no privacy when you use the bathrooms.
This extends to the actual jails. Once you’ve been sent to Rikers Island or Brooklyn House of Detention, or any other city jails. It actually gets worse. You’re placed in small overcrowded bullpens until a bed or cell/dorm is assigned to you. This could take up to 24 hours. You wait and wait to see medical staff and wait some more to see mental health staff. Your fed bologna and cheese stale sandwiches and cold watered down coffee “once” throughout this process. Once you’re in a housing unit thats when the BS really starts. Especially if you’re an LGBTQ inmate.
The officers do very little to protect you and some are even the cause of the problems that weaker inmates go through. For all the money spent on new jails or prisons, it seems as if very little of it goes to a better diet for inmates. Better living conditions. And most of the protection of inmates in general. It’s a system, city and state prisons, that are no better than a zoo that rarely gets cleaned unless top Albany officials are visiting the jails.
Shadowproof: What do you think of New York City’s plan to invest billions in new jails over community services and life necessities like housing, health care, etc.?
Jesus “ChinoBlast” Morales: I think the city’s plan to invest in new jails instead of investing in our communities is simply ridiculous. It’s utterly insane. It’s pretty obvious that if our communities were better that alone would reduce crime. But communities have always been in need because of politics and lies we continue to suffer in one way or another.
Shadowproof: Has the city given incarcerated people such as yourself an opportunity to weigh in on this plan?
Jesus “ChinoBlast” Morales: The city has done absolutely nothing for me and prisoners, in general, to weigh in on this plan. At least that I know of. And it just isn’t fair. We have a voice, all we need are ears of those in power to hear our cries. We need people in power who care. We need help. And what bothers me the most, that help is not difficult to give.
Shadowproof: For you specifically, what are some of the services and ideas outlined in the plan that would have made a difference in your situation?
Jesus “ChinoBlast” Morales: If there were better programs and shelters and institutions that helped incarcerated people who were coming home I could have easily made better decisions. Instead, the lack of all these things the plan offers or proposes is what forced me into a criminal lifestyle. No help from the city or little help. No guidance from parole officers, corrupt cops. All these things play a part in my way of thinking. Do for yourself, your survival, anything necessary.
Shadowproof: What does safety mean/look like to you? What does justice mean to you? What does freedom look like to you?
Jesus “ChinoBlast” Morales: Safety means, to me, better training for officers, COs, POs, etc. Safety means better protection from correction officers and staff. Safety means to me better security in these jails such as more staff in housing units (some housing units have 1 officer for over 50 prisoners). Cameras, weapons check, etc. Justice to me is a reward or a penalty for one’s ways, actions, or deeds. Freedom to me looks like the beach, open wide, no boundaries. It looks like my choices are my own and easily expressed without fear of being judged or even hurt by someone who does not agree or care for my view or choices. Freedom to me looks like a beautiful warm and cloudless sky.
Shadowproof: Is there anything else you want to say to the public about this moment in the fight, this plan, or about anything else?
Jesus “ChinoBlast” Morales: I would like to say to the public that all inmates are not bad people. We are human. I would like to say to the public that this plan can and will affect millions of people. All it takes is a little time, an open mind, and people who truly care about their communities. If you really want change, then help make that change happen. Together in numbers we can stand up be strong and make a change and make our voices heard.