This time I would be going to jail for real. At sixteen I'd really be tested now. Rikers Island was one of the fiercest jails in the country and the largest jail complex in the world. It sat on an actual island near Laguardia airport in the borough of Queens, New York. The surrounding waters had fierce currents that have claimed many lives of would be escapees, much like the famed Alcatrez prison in California.
It didn't matter if you were in for only a week or two years, you were put together with mass murderers who were in forever. You had to be tough or get that way fast.
My first jail fight was something completely out of a comedy movie. I was doing sixty days for burglary. I was sixteen and it was my first time on Rikers. At the time it was two men to a cell. I had a cellmate who'd come in at the same time as I but this wasn't his first time. He was a few years older than me and knew the ropes and was getting cookies, cigarettes and other goodies on the juggle (which meant paying back double, even triple of what he borrowed). He'd offer to share his stuff with me and I turned him down. I'd heard stories from the older guys in my 'hood warning about accepting gifts in jail and avoiding being pressured to pay back more than you accepted. Basically a dude would befriend an unsuspecting cat, giving him cigarettes, food, or whatever. The poor sap thinks the dude is just looking out for him. But, when the time is ripe the dude pounces, asking, "So when you gonna pay me, man?" The victim is like, "Huh? But I thought..." And the dude says, "You thought what? That I'm some kind of sucker?", and pulls out a shank asking, "What you trying to pull? You gonna pay me one way or the other!" The victim realizes too late that he is in big debt, paying back triple or more and sometimes, and if he is a weak man, he might literally pay with his behind -literally.
- Published in Short Story