evening not so long ago, Oliver Siandre was sitting at a wooden desk in a windowless room when he started to doodle.
In Siandre’s drawing, the hero, a graffiti writer, is fleeing an NYPD patrol car after having just finished spraying his “tag” on a brick wall: “Kiko.” There’s another “Kiko” on the second floor of the building where two smitten-looking women watch
from separate windows exhorting “Kiko” on. One is yelling, “Go! Go!” The other: “You can do it!” At the bottom of the picture is a third “Kiko” tag with “Busted 10/4/05” written next to it.
Siandre scratched it out killing time between rounds of questioning by detectives inside Astoria’s 114th Precinct. Upon seeing the doodle, the cops laughed so hard they nearly cried. They’d witnessed plenty of written and spoken confessions but had never seen a suspect produce an incriminating drawing.
They photocopied the picture and added it to the large pile of evidence already collected against Siandre. Then they called headquarters with the news that “Kiko,” the city’s “most notorious graffiti vandal,” had been caught.
No one will ever nominate Oliver Siandre for a Rhodes scholarship—and not because Siandre is stupid. He’s actually pretty bright. It’s just his particular personality mix sometimes includes a total loss of common sense (usually after a forty or two of Heineken). This has led Siandre to make more than his fair share of dopey decisions, like the time he dropped out of 10th grade in part to concentrate on being a professional skateboarder.
But none of his ill-fated choices have proved more disastrous than choosing, at age 27, after a decade of forsaking a teenage passion for graffiti, to start “getting ‘Kiko’ up” again.
If he tried, Siandre couldn’t have picked a worse time or place to revive his night-crawling, spray-painting alter ego. Not only did he target one of the most active anti-graffiti communities in New York, but he also invaded the home turf of an ambitious politician who’s also the city’s leading graffiti opponent. Though a small fish in the graffiti world then, overnight Siandre was identified to the city as the notorious “graffiti punk” by City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., whose anti-graffiti crusade was then desperately in need of new life after several setbacks.
That designation earned Siandre more street fame then he ever could have dreamed of. But, as far as the criminal justice system was concerned, Kiko was now a marked man.
Over the past two years, the graffiti battle in New York City has been joined.
The NYPD now treats graffiti more seriously than ever before. It operates an 80-member anti-graffiti task force, has anti-graffiti coordinators at each precinct, and operates a database that allows the cops to start tracking the writers by their tags before they even know their names. A zero-tolerance arrest policy now comes with more stringent prosecution.
The reasoning is simple: Spray painting or using a marker or etching acid to deface property is a crime, and a costly one at that. The city ponied up about $12 million to remove about 10 million square feet of graffiti this past year, and the MTA and private owners spent millions more.
For the victims of graffiti, it’s a royal pain in the ass.
“It’s just a blob; I don’t know how else to describe it, a green blob,” says a frustrated Mary Fente, 78, who can’t afford to have the “Kiko” removed from the roof of her Elmhurst home.
More than anything, however, the graffiti battle is one of control. For the middle-aged bureaucrats who run the police department and City Hall, graffiti gives the perception of disorder and loss of control. It’s a harbinger of bad times ahead.
But the odd thing, as both sides seem to agree, is that the more the city does to combat graffiti, the more of it goes up.
Oliver Siandre unabashedly loves graffiti. But when it comes to explaining why, he can’t.
Hand Lettering by Diego 127
He has vivid recollections as a kid of five or six of watching the spectacular graffiti-covered No. 7 trains roll by overhead in Woodside. His early life was typically middle-class: sports, hip-hop, skateboarding, and by the age of 14, graffiti. Some of his friends started tagging, so he began fooling around with it too, mostly using markers. Originally, he chose “Tek” simply because a friend was “Lek.” But there were a lot of Teks, so he came up with “Kiko.”
It’s short, he says, for Kid Knock Out. Soft-spoken and almost timid, Siandre, who stands maybe five foot eight and, at most, weighs 145 pounds, makes the difficult-to-believe claim that the moniker came to being “because when I used to fight, I used to knock people out.”
At 16, he hit a subway with his first substantial spray-paint tag, providing a rush he’d never felt before. However, a few months after that first big one, he got busted tagging an F train in Forest Hills. Because he was still a juvenile, he got off with only two weeks of community service. The arrest kept him away from the aerosols for the next seven months, but peer pressure drew him back. He got pinched on one of his very first times out tagging again—a blue “Kiko” on a wall and another on a subway laid up in the Van Wyck and Queens Boulevard station, according to a police report.
By then, most aspects of Siandre’s life were imploding. The family’s good times—summer camping trips, the big vacation in Hawaii, regular visits to Disney World—had gradually been replaced by scenes of alcoholism, domestic strife, and violence.
A psychotherapist who interviewed Siandre at his defense lawyer’s insistence following his arrest noted that he recalled his father as “a heavy drinker and a strict disciplinarian that [sic] beat both him and his mother.” Siandre told her that though scared, he’d often throw his skinny body between his battling parents trying to protect his mother.
At the end of 1994, Oliver’s mother, then six months pregnant with his sister Ashley, found out her husband had impregnated another woman. “I packed his bags and put him out of the house,” the mother told the psychotherapist, and after that, 16-year-old Oliver became “the man of the house.”
Siandre’s father, who’s from Uruguay, had refused to allow his pretty Peruvian wife to work, demanding she stay home and take care of the kids. Once her husband and his paychecks were gone, Wanda Siandre’s lack of workplace skills and the fact that she was too proud to collect welfare led to economic hardship—including having to rent out her son’s room to a border, which forced him to live in the unfurnished basement.
Siandre’s parents’ breakup wasn’t the main reason he dropped out of Forest Hills High School. Crappy grades, too much weed, and the dream of being a professional skateboarder had more to do with it. But the split forced Siandre, who had become a proficient jewelry maker just by experimenting with his jeweler father’s molds, into the adult work world when most of his friends were still trying to get their learner’s permits.
For his second graffiti arrest, the judge slapped Siandre with another 14 days of community service but warned: Next time counts.
Graffiti experts say that typically the threat of an adult criminal record forces most taggers into retirement. And so it was for Siandre. By all accounts, he quit graffiti cold at that point, shelving his spray paints and the urge to “get up.”
As Siandre tried to shoulder the responsibilities of the adult world—working fulltime to support his family and being a surrogate father to his little sister—the mental release he once got from a spray can came more and more from alcohol and drugs.
Eventually, Siandre was drinking at least a six-pack and smoking as many as eight joints a day. By the fall of 2004, Siandre hit proverbial rock bottom: He lost his car in an accident, his girlfriend left him, and he was fired from his $25-an-hour job because, as he acknowledges now, “I had a shitty attitude.”
Having previously found a low-income apartment on the 22nd floor of a West 92nd Street high-rise, Siandre loved the thrill of dangling his legs off the balcony late at night. When everything went wrong that fall, there was a time he contemplated letting his slight body slip over the side. But ultimately, he says, sounding not entirely convincing, he decided that “I love myself, my life, too much to commit suicide.”
To say graffiti saved his life may be going too far. But with no car, girl, or job, it at least gave Siandre something to look forward to each day. Sounding much like a relapsing junkie, Siandre described his tagging return after a decade of abstinence. Using his unemployment money, he’d been partying all night and sleeping all day. Two days before he resuscitated Kiko, Siandre bought a couple of cans of spray paint “because I knew I was going to go bombing soon . . . I had the itchy finger.”
The first day, he kept the cans in his bag. The second day, after downing more than his share of Heinekens in Astoria’s Athens Square Park, the cans came out. That night Kiko started on Ditmars Avenue and worked his way down to Queensborough Plaza bombing until his cans hissed dry.
Using a “skinny cap” nozzle for the outlines and a “fat cap” that sprays a four-inch-diameter blast for filling in, Kiko could throw up a huge tag in a minute or two.
Traveling between Manhattan and his old stomping grounds in Astoria, he did the same thing the next night and the night after that. Soon all the nights of partying and tagging blurred together. Shimmying up drainpipes like Spider-Man, scaling fences, cutting himself on barbed wire, dangling off fire escapes, fighting with rival crews, he kept tagging until the neighborhood became awash in “Kiko” tags of all shapes, sizes, and colors.
For Siandre the reason to tag again was simple. To see his tag in a place others couldn’t reach, receive the adulation of the kid wannabes(the toys), or overhear people bitching about “Kiko,” made him feel like a somebody. It made him feel good.
The jailhouse doodles of Oliver “Kiko” Siandre
It had the opposite effect on Peter Vallone Jr.
Vallone, 44, has been Astoria’s city councilman since 2002. His grandfather was a judge and his father the speaker of the City Council.
Like his father, who made unsuccessful runs for governor and mayor, Junior aspires for higher office. In fact, Vallone, who will be forced out of his job by term limits in three years, already has a campaign contribution account set up for an “undeclared office” for 2009. It’s no secret one of the jobs he covets most is Queens District Attorney. And it’s no surprise that Vallone, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, has a platform almost exclusively devoted to law enforcement issues. What is surprising is that graffiti tops that agenda.
His City Council website biography lists his achievements as introducing legislation “to keep illegal guns off the streets and out of the hands of domestic violence offenders, to abolish the statute of limitations on child abuse offenders and rapists, and to double the penalties for graffiti.”
Gun runners, wife beaters, pedophiles, rapists, and . . . graffiti van
“Graffiti anywhere is a crime against New York City residents everywhere,” Vallone explains. “Whether done with spray paint, marker, or etching acid, our neighborhoods wear these tags like scars, not only making them unsightly, but also opening them to the infection of more dangerous crime.”
Vallone has been waging his one-man war since at least February 2005, when he proposed an ultimately unsuccessful bill to ban the sale of spray paint in the city. It was then that Vallone first hurled what would become his go-to pejorative. “We can no longer let these spray-painting
punks use our city as their unmarked canvas,” he said.
Four months later, he invoked the P-word again, publicly chiding Time magazine for paying $20,000 to “Cope2,” who had several prior graffiti arrests, to paint a Soho billboard. ”
Time magazine should have spent its money rewarding legitimate artists,” Vallone argued, “not some punk who has been defacing our city.”
The next month, he proposed a boycott against Atari for producing the tagging-themed video game Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure. “We don’t want them [Atari] supporting criminals and punks and if they do, we don’t support them,” Vallone vowed.
Another anti-graffiti attempt a month later backfired when Vallone led the charge to pull the permit for a Manhattan block party sponsored by Getting Up creator Marc Ecko, a graffiti writer turned fashion designer turned video-game maker.
Vallone likened the block party’s plan to tag replica subway cars to “having a demonstration of a thug pickpocketing a wallet or stealing a purse.” Ecko sued and won the right to stage the block party.
“I’d like to see him [Vallone] this aggressive on gun trafficking or our failing school system,” Ecko told the Voice.
After this embarrassing defeat, Vallone’s anti-graffiti crusade needed a victory. Enter Kiko.
As a shiny black SUV with license plate number 114CIVOP pulled out of an underground garage in Astoria, a white Plymouth Voyager minivan, license plate number CIVOP1, pulled in behind it, followed by a third car.
Three days before Thanksgiving, the 114th Civilian Observation patrol was on the move. The 114th Civ-Op’s mission was to clean up a graffiti-marked wall of a Twin Donuts/Blimpie’s franchise.
The all-volunteer, unpaid crew goes out twice a week, usually for two hours. On this night, rolling aluminum paint over a gate and Richmond Bisque gloss on the wall, they slapped on two new coats in about 35 minutes. When they finished, a neighborhood woman complimented, “It looks like a new wall,” before adding, “Now, is there any way you can get someone to go up and take down that big turquoise ‘Kiko’ across from the White Castles?”
The 114th Civ-Op knows all about Kiko.
“His tag was everywhere,” says Pollock, a stout, jovial man who swears he doesn’t own a pair of paints that aren’t paint-splattered. Though Kiko hasn’t tagged in well over a year, Pollock says, “We haven’t even cleaned up half his stuff yet because it’s up high, on roofs, on walls. We’re trying to get one of those trucks, a bucket truck, so we can get at some of it.”
At one point, Pollock says, they counted more than 600 “Kiko” tags in their neighborhood.
That volume of indiscriminate spraying was bound to lead to trouble, and it did.
Siandre put “Kiko” on the garage of the Powhatan Regular Democratic Club, which has close ties to the Vallone family and other Queens pols. He spraypainted a wall of the St. Demetrios Greek American School two months after Vallone was the keynote speaker at their graduation. He hit the home of an NYPD sergeant.
But there was one “Kiko” that really led to Kiko’s demise.
Years ago a community group, at a cost of $300,000, installed three imported Greek granite columns in Athens Square Park in Astoria. It was Community Board 1 District Manger George Delis’s pet project.
One night, Siandre says, he blacked out after drinking too much. The next day he returned to the park and saw “Kiko” sprayed on the columns, violating the first rule of tagging—don’t shit where you eat. “I was really drunk or else I would have never blown up my spot,” Siandre recalled. “After that, I knew I was fucked.”
Pollock agreed. “Before that point we really didn’t pay attention to his tag per se,” he said. “But once he hit those columns, we were on him. They [community members] put a lot of pressure on City Councilman Peter Vallone and he put a lot of pressure on the precinct and that’s basically how it came about.”
When Delis spotted the tags on his beloved columns, he went ballistic.
“I was outraged,” Delis recalls. “I couldn’t believe what they did. I went to these skateboarders who hang out in the park, and I said, ‘I don’t know if one of you is Kiko, but Kiko’s going to jail.’ It became very personal.”
By then the 114th Precinct, which leads the city in graffiti arrests, had started to close in on Kiko. Three weeks prior to the columns getting tagged, a neighborhood woman had confronted Siandre while he tagged a wall.
“Oh my God, so you’re Kiko?” she said.
Siandre weakly denied it and scurried away.
The woman filed a report with the 114th Precinct and the police made a composite drawing of Kiko.
Three weeks later, another neighborhood woman reported a suspicious person after spotting Siandre—then sporting a modified mohawk haircut and multiple piercings—hanging out near her home. A patrol officer questioned Siandre, took down his information, and let him go when a warrants check came back clean.
The information was relayed to a detective who, while doing a routine check, discovered Siandre had had a previous graffiti arrest a decade ago. His tag back then: “Kiko.”
That same night, “Kiko” was sprayed on the prized columns. Soon police fit all the pieces together.
On October 4, 2005, while arresting Siandre, police found huge “Kiko” tags sprayed all over the walls of his Manhattan apartment along with several notebooks filled with “Kiko” sketches. Caught in the act, Siandre tried spin control.
“I just want to start off by saying I’m really sorry for writing KIKO around private property,” Siandre’s confession began. He said he was drunk when he painted the pillars and claimed, falsely, he was living a drug- and graffiti-free life now. “I’m 27 years old. I realize what I’ve done is delinquent and irresponsible,” he acknowledged, but pleaded, “I’ll clean up the mess or any other graffitti [sic] me and the others left behind. Please don’t put me in jail.
In retrospect, the confession sounds like Siandre knew how much trouble he faced. But he was just bullshitting. The worst he thought he’d get was community service. That’s why he doodled away his innocence.
When a newspaper photographer started snapping his picture as he left the Queens courthouse following his arraignment, Siandre realized this wasn’t your average graffiti bust.
By then, Vallone had already gone to the media, doing his best Dirty Harry impression.
“I want this punk and I want him bad,” Vallone said, before admitting: “Catching this guy has been a personal vendetta of mine.” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown also released a statement claiming Kiko caused over $100,000 in damage (the indictment lists only $5,750 worth) and calling him “one of New York City’s most notorious graffiti taggers.”
But the fact remained that when it came to taggers, Kiko was no big deal.
Steve Mona, a retired lieutenant, spent 19 of his 21 years in the NYPD fighting graffiti, including the last decade as head of the Vandals Task Force. He was so hated by “graffiti vandals,” as he insists on calling them (a name, by the way, they love), that one sprayed “Police Officer Mona has AIDS” on the Manhattan Bridge. He took it as a compliment.
During his time on the force, which covered Kiko’s most active period, Mona knew every significant graffiti vandal in the city. Asked about Kiko, Mona says: “Never heard of him.”
Author-artist Hugo Martinez founded what he described as a “hardcore writers’ collective” called the United Graffiti Artists in 1972, and at 55, he essentially has lived the history of what he claims is the only genuine “American painting form.” He traces the origins of graffiti “tagging”, then called “hitting,” to 1967 and a tagger dubbed “Julio204.” From Washington Heights to the Bronx to Brooklyn, from subways to delivery trucks, pioneers like “Taki183” and “Joe182,” through infestations of “pretenders” like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, all the way up to today’s most active taggers (the ACC crew out of Brooklyn), Martinez knows the city’s graffiti scene.
But until Siandre’s arrest, he had never heard of Kiko.
“I only heard of him through Vallone,” says Martinez, whose recently released book Graffiti NYC promotes the work of what he claims is every significant practitioner in the city over the past five years. “Vallone made him famous. Kiko wasn’t on the map before that.”
Another indicator of Kiko’s lack of status is that he wasn’t on the NYPD’s annual “Worst of the Worst Graffiti Vandals List,” according to a copy of the confidential document obtained by the
But because of Vallone, Kiko became the most famous graffiti writer in the city overnight—and the most infamous.
Though many graffiti writers brag about going to jail, very few serve time, at least not for practicing their craft. Mona recalls only one other graffiti vandal getting a substantial sentence—”DESA,” a/k/a Robert Morrissey. Dubbed in a 1994 Daily News story the most destructive graffiti vandal in the city’s history, Morrissey, who had also threatened to blow up the office of a local anti-graffiti group, served four months in jail and eight months in a halfway house. A month after being paroled, Morrissey, who claimed he was “addicted” to graffiti, was jailed for another year after getting caught tagging an FDNY station house.
But most taggers get community service that requires them to clean up graffiti and pay fines and restitution.
Because of the publicity surrounding his case, those options were not offered to Kiko.
In an attempt to uncover mitigating circumstances, attorney Frank Rothman sent Siandre to two psychotherapists. One, Michelle Kennedy, found Siandre’s need to tag to be “almost like an impulse-control issue, but it appears to be something he can control when his mind is occupied on something artistic,” like making jewelry. She said Kiko was a by-product of the emotional and physical abuse Siandre suffered growing up. Tagging at his age may seem immature to many, but Kennedy sees it as a defense mechanism.
“Oliver is this meek, hurt person and Kiko is this strong, ‘look at me,’ powerful person that everyone looks up to. I think he needs to be that person sometimes,” said Kennedy. She recommended Siandre receive alcohol rehab and community service doing something like “teaching art in schools.”
Assistant Queens district attorney Michael Bovner wasn’t moved. When Rothman asked about a deal, Bovner told him one to three years in state prison—the kind of time for clubbing someone over the head with a pipe.
Meanwhile, Vallone continued to apply political pressure.
“After he was arrested, I spoke with District Attorney Brown,” he said. “We kept on top of this case to make sure this one didn’t slip through the cracks.”
Vallone was hoping Siandre’s case would serve as a warning for other “graffiti punks.” But 17-year-old Ralph Bay Lan, who tags as “RUF,” said Siandre’s arrest just energized the “toys.”
“That only encouraged more little kids like ‘SOJO,’ ” he said, pointing to the tags of a 13-year-old that cover a building near Athens Square Park. “When Kiko hit the (newspaper) covers everybody started to get hyped up about writing.”
For a year the case bounced from judge to judge until, on October 19, it came before Queens Supreme Court Judge Barry Kron, who, given the circumstances, gave Siandre what amounted to a break. Instead of state prison, the judge offered six months in Rikers Island jail, five years probation, and $25,000 in restitution. Given two months to get his shit together, Siandre worked, partied, hung out with his girlfriend, saw the Borat movie, and generally tried not to think about what lay ahead.
Siandre also sprayed one final “Kiko,” white and orange with the word “free” running down the first “K.” The tag was done at 5Ptz, a five-story factory turned artist loft near Queensborough Plaza, where writers are encouraged to display their work. Pieces at 5Ptz usually only last a couple of weeks before getting painted over. Perhaps as a salute, “Free Kiko” is still up.
“I just want to leave my mark,” says Siandre, whose eyeglasses have tiny flecks of white paint on them. “So one day when I’m old, I’ll pass by some place and see ‘Kiko’ up there.”
On December 7, Peter Vallone Jr. arrived at Judge Kron’s courtroom 45 minutes ahead of Siandre, who was late for his own sentencing. The councilman asked to give a victim impact statement on behalf of the 170,000 residents in his district. Over Rothman’s objection, Vallone read his statement, ending with the request that after completing his jail sentence, Siandre be forced into community service cleaning up because “the community members that will have to clean his tag cannot reach some of the places he painted it.”
The plea agreement having long been worked out, Kron ignored Vallone’s request. The judge, uncharacteristically, addressed members of the 114th Civ-Op in the audience, assuring them Siandre’s punishment was “substantial.”
“He doesn’t leave this courtroom today as a graffiti artist, he leaves the courtroom today as a convicted felon. And that speaks for itself.”
Kron added that if Siandre violates probation, he’ll serve another two and a third to seven years in state prison.
Speaking to the Voice after the sentencing, Vallone insisted he never sought the spotlight on this issue. He was self-deprecating about his title as “The Man Who Hates Graffiti,” as a fluffy New York Times piece dubbed him last fall. Instead, his role as anti-graffiti crusader was thrust upon him, he claimed, after he stood up to the vandals and the corporations looking to profit by glorifying tagging. (Hours after telling me this, Vallone issued a City Council press release, extensively quoting himself, titled “Kiko Heads to Rikers.”)
With relish, Vallone listed the personal attacks over the past two years: His address was released on a graffiti website with the suggestion to “redecorate” his home, “Fuck Vallone” was painted on a billboard, someone tacked up subway service interruption posters that included a line calling him a “punk,” and so on.
“If you make criminals angry, you’re doing something right,” Vallone said.
Because subways, once the prime target but now comparatively graffiti-free, were such visible targets, it’s generally thought that graffiti’s heyday has passed. But many, including Vallone, believe there’s more graffiti now than ever. For him the reasons are simple. With about 3,000 fewer cops than a few years back and added anti-terrorism duties, the NYPD is not able to address quality-of-life crimes as it once did. At the same time, he said, “graffiti is being glorified by irresponsible corporate organizations,” drawing more kids to it. To him, graffiti is the beginning of the slippery reversion to to the bad old days.
“New York City has come a long way in the past 15 years,” Vallone said. “We cannot allow ourselves to slip back into complacency, even on crimes such as graffiti, because give criminals an inch and they will take a mile.”
Martinez agrees with Vallone on one thing: There’s more graffiti than ever. But that’s it.
The majority of the graffiti writers are working-class, mostly Hispanic or white kids, most under 18. For them New York City isn’t profitable at all, literally or figuratively. From health care to education to jobs, the city makes a mockery of the gap between the haves and have-nots. And the have-nots are registering their displeasure by marking up apart- ment buildings, bridges, walls, billboards, and store gratings.
“What has been done for the working class in this city lately?” Martinez asks. “Repression leads to aggression. Ask Freud why.”
He goes on: “They can try stopping graf but the real problem is alienation. Alienation has increased and people need something, they need an identity. They’re saying, ‘Fuck the way I feel. I don’t want to feel like that anymore. I want to be somebody.’ ”
Martinez says if guys like Vallone don’t understand that, fuck ’em. “Great art was never legal,” he says. “Every art movement has always been met by opposition.”
But never in the 40-year history of popularized graffiti has there been such a concerted opposition.
In January 2005, Mayor Bloomberg announced the creation of a new command structure in the NYPD to address graffiti. Since then, graffiti arrests have skyrocketed. That first year, arrests spiked 79 percent. Through December 17, 2006, the NYPD arrested 2,865 taggers, more than eight a day, for another 15 percent increase.
And Siandre’s case sets a precedent— graffiti vandals can now get jail.
Before his incarceration, Siandre was relieved to know he was avoiding state prison, where he only half-joked, “I’d be somebody’s bitch.” But Rikers houses, among other miscreants, murderers, rapists, and gang members awaiting trial. Asked if he was concerned about locking a skinny, young graffiti vandal up alongside such hard cases, Vallone shrugged. “Everyone’s responsible for their own actions,” he said.
Last Saturday, Siandre turned 29. In addition to that birthday, he’s “celebrated” Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day at Rikers’ Otis Bantum Correctional Center.
Some days he rises at 4 a.m., breakfast time, and scarfs down some cereal. Usually, however, he sleeps in until 8, 9, or even 10 on an uncomfortably thin mattress in a room with about 50 other inmates. Hispanics stay on one side, blacks on the other. Siandre is sandwiched in the middle.
Siandre draws, reads, lifts weights, does push-ups, and plays handball. Lunch at 11, dinner at 5. The prisoners get only minutes to eat the typically disgusting food. Lights out at 11. His girlfriend visits a couple times a week and he gets to make two phone calls a day.
The showers have individual stalls and he has no fear of being raped or otherwise brutalized. In fact, he immediately ingratiated himself by drawing graffiti-style Christmas cards for his cellmates in exchange for cigarettes. And recently jail officials tapped him to paint a mural, a No. 7 train, in a room where visitors are checked in.
Jails “sucks,” he says, but mostly because it’s boring and loud. A group of guys in the unit yell “Yoooooo” back and forth all day.
Once released, Siandre hopes to parlay the publicity from his case into a legitimate graffiti career, doing contract pieces for businesses and trying to sell his work in art galleries. By then, according to the city’s prisoner-cost estimates, the taxpayers will have laid out just over $33,000 for Siandre’s six months at Rikers.
“I could’ve been out cleaning up ‘Kikos,’ but I’m just sitting here doing nothing,” he says. “It was their call.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 20, 2007