Our “Rikers Fight Club” coverage has prompted additional people to report their own nasty experiences at the teen jail where 18-year-old Christopher Robinson was beaten to death by inmates allegedly working as enforcers for two wayward correction officers.
Cesar Ferrer, now a 29-year-old restaurant manager living outside of New York, called to talk about the six months he served in 1998 when the teen facility was know (almost laughably) as the Adolescent Reception and Detention Center. It has since been renamed the Robert N. Davoren Center, after a retired longtime chief.
The officers who were indicted following the Robinson murder dubbed their operation “The Program.” Their inmate enforcers would say, “Are you with The Program?” Or, in shorthand, “Are you with it?”
In Ferrer’s day, he says, the same method of intimidation was called “The Rush.” “They’d say things like ‘Either you roll with the rush, or you get crushed,'” Ferrer says.
Back then, as now, he says, Blood members made up the “house gang.”
They inflicted beatings on other inmates. They cleaned up just before
lights out, and stayed outside their cells later than the other
inmates. They charged “rent,” a pack of cigarettes or commissary money,
Ferrer says. They controlled the phones. They called their unit, known
as 2 Main, the “House of Pain.”
“The guards condoned it because it was less work for them,” Ferrer
says. “They just sat in the bubble [security room] and gossiped and ate
lunch. And you couldn’t complain because the guards would just tell the
house gang anyway.”
Ferrer subsequently served a stint in state prison. He was released in
2003, and finally turned his life around. He now has a decent job, a
wife, and he owns a house.
“I’m living the suburban life,” he says. “I didn’t want to be one of
these guys 40 or 50 years old still going to prison. It was just about
following the rules.”
Looking back, Ferrer says his experience in the teen jail stuck with
him for years, but he didn’t talk about it. In fact, he says, he
discussed his ordeal with his wife for the first time just two weeks
ago. “For a long time, I didn’t trust people with badges,” he says. “On
top of that, you look at everybody differently, you look at everyone as
a potential threat to you.”
He strongly feels that the Robinson murder could have been prevented.
“It’s not like getting hit by a car,” he says. “If the guards had done
their job, it could have been avoided. I just hope now something will
be done about it.”