Bail Criminalizes Poverty

Greetings, everyone! 50330698_1597088779644168_r.jpeg
Our goal is to raise at least 5,000 to help pay bail for a youth member who I work with that is currently incarcerated at Rikers Island.

He has been detained for over a year now, held on bail that his family and friends (despite their efforts) cannot afford to pay. 

It goes without saying that if most of us were 18 and detained at Rikers Island, one of our family members would find a way to obtain $5,000 to bail us out. 

Bail criminalizes poverty.

Here is a story about a youth member who I was able to get bailed out a few weeks ago. My hope is that it will outline for y’all the reasons why bail can often be a matter of life and death. Additionally, if you don’t know Kalief Browder’s story, I recommend researching him as well. 

On a Thursday in July, a bail fund set up to assist with emergencies helped me bail out a youth member who had been experiencing seizures before detainment and while in jail at Rikers Island. Although this young person had a seizure at Rikers, serious enough to lose consciousness and hit his head on a table in the day room, DOC did not bring him to the hospital and chose instead to handle it internally with their own medical staff. 

Layleen Polanco died at Rikers due to an epileptic seizure in solitary confinement on June 7, 2019.  Almost exactly one year later, my youth member experienced a similar seizure, which led to a head injury, and an unconscious episode that lasted at least 15 minutes.
A year after Ms. Polanco’s death and it seems as though DOC staff is still not taking seizures seriously.

My youth member was returned to his housing area after regaining consciousness, he said that medical staff did not check his vitals, give him a Covid-19 test, or offer to call his emergency contact. A week later, the same youth member was standing in the doorway of his cell, when the officer at the control station accidentally shut his cell door instead of another door on his hall. The youth member’s finger was caught in the fray and his middle distal phalanx was severed. Once again, DOC chose to handle this internally, causing the youth member to lose a large portion of his finger. 

After the seizure, I referred this youth member to the aforementioned bail fund, since they are prioritizing people with health conditions and those in the LGBTQUIA+ community. In about two weeks, his bail was paid and the youth member returned to his mother’s home. Together we documented the incident with his finger and tried our best to outfit a plan of action for his next seizure.

Exactly a week after returning home, my youth member had another violent seizure. Thankfully he was sitting on the couch and although he lost consciousness he was not injured. 

There are no soft surfaces at Rikers. Aside from the small mat and pillow that lay on top of the metal grates that serve as bed frames, every surface is unyielding. For seizures this can be disastrous… but generally speaking, concrete, metal, and stone are simply oppressive surfaces. At Rikers, these surfaces are coated with years of paint on top of dirt and grime built up from overuse and negligence. These layers alone illustrate the intense way that Rikers functions only to detain and hold, but never to nurture. 

All of us have wounds that cause sadness, anger,  aggression, and resentment towards the world and others; at Rikers, those wounds cannot heal, but are instead reopened to the soundtrack of alarms, slamming cells, and jingling keys.

Jail is always dangerous. This is ONE illustration of where health issues collide with an already ominous situation.

So now, I ask for any amount that you can give to make it possible to assist in the payment of another youth member’s bail. Bear in mind, freedom for justice-involved youth is complex, once bail is paid, there are many obstacles in the path to freedom, true and total. Court cases do not go away, and youth still have to attend court proceedings and might eventually have to return to prison. But they, just like every person more privileged, deserve to fight their alleged case from the outside, away from the dangerous environment that is Rikers Island. They deserve a meal with family, a breath of fresh air, a good night’s sleep with adequate air conditioning, and real medical assistance in case of an emergency. Please help us in any way that you are able, and at the very least, please share this.  

We’ve created this t-shirt in order to help inspire the use of proper rhetoric regarding bail. We hope you like it.  If you donate $35 or more and would like a t-shirt, please email us your receipt, your t-shirt size (adults: S, M, L, XL), and the address where you'd like the t-shirt sent at [email redacted].


Thank you.

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T-shirt requires a donation of at least $35 and follow up via the email provided.

Front of t-shirt:
50330698_1597089165907888_r.jpegBack of t-shirt:50330698_1597089196879204_r.jpeg
T-shirt description:
(Trying to be more cognizant of those who are visually impaired by including visual descriptions)
Pale blue t-shirt. The front depicts a big flower whose stem is in between handcuffs, the bottom cuff is open to symbolize freedom, the flower grows outward and a butterfly hovers near its petals. The front of the shirt reads: "Close Rikers Build Communities" slogan by: @closerikersnow -- campaign to close Rikers Island, pioneered my inspiring folks with a vision to decarcerate NYC. The back of the t-shirt reads: "Bail criminalizes poverty" across the shoulders.


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Juliana Novello 
Brooklyn, NY
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