Richard Rosario has trouble sleeping the night before his family visits. He usually wakes up at 5 or 6 a.m. Then he sobs. He pictures the end of the visit. He think about the months he’ll have to go without seeing them. The closer it gets to their visit, the closer it gets to their departure. He cries until he is ready to get out of bed at around 8.
See also this week’s feature story about Rosario’s daughter: The Prisoner’s Daughter: What if your dad had been doing time for murder for as long as you’d known him?
When they visit, he loses himself in their company. The guards and the walls fade away. It is only them, only family. Then a bell rings or a guard shouts and it is over and he goes back to the reality of his daily life.
For him the rough reality of incarceration began even before he was convicted of murder 18 years ago. Two weeks before his trial, he was slashed in the face with a razor in a holding cell in the Bronx Supreme Court building. He didn’t know the guy who did it, he says. Gang initiation, he figured.
Then came the prison time, a 25-years-to-life sentence. He was stabbed in the torso one day. Another time, he spent 14 months in solitary confinement after guards accused him of participating in a prison riot. He has been transferred through nine facilities–because the guards think he is a rabble-rouser, he suspects. He says he has filed more than 100 complaints about guard treatment of inmates, and he often preaches about inmates’ rights. When he was at Auburn, he applied to join and was accepted into the Actual Innocence group, a committee of inmates who discuss legal strategies for their cases.
“Richard’s case made the group easy,” says Derrick Hamilton, a member of the group who has since been released on parole after serving 20 years for a murder he claims he did not commit.
In May 2011, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter wrote Rosario a letter urging him to “keep the faith in your own innocence and most of all: dare to dream. Dare to dream that one day you will be free and, my brother, you will.”
It is a dream that can keep a man going, but can also help break a man who can not at the same time deal with the relentless struggle of prison. For an inmate like Rosario, facing a long, possibly lifelong sentence, there is no clear finish line to strive for.
“It is something that haunts me every day, that makes me scared, fearful,” he says. “When is it gonna end? Am I gonna be here till the end? People die in prison.”
There is only the day-to-day grind. He hopes he will get out, hopes a judge believes the six witnesses who have testified that Rosario was in Florida on the day 17-year-old Jorge Collazo was shot dead in the Bronx in 1996. But this is not a thought to dwell on.
During the day Rosario, now 37, avoids thinking about all the things he wants to do with his family on the outside. It hurts too much to think about. He distracts himself. He reads the news. He goes for runs. He does push-ups. He watches a little TV. In the quiet of night, though, there is nowhere to escape to.
“I try to block it out, but I do think about it every single day that I’ve been in prison,” he says. “When I go to that cell and I lay down and close my eyes at night, I think about my family.”
He was an angry man in the months after his arrest. He was angry at the world at all hours and he unleashed the bulk of it on the person who visited him the most, his then-fiancee Minerva Godoy. Looking back, he can’t imagine how he could have gotten through those years without her. She is a strong woman, who understood the importance of family, and she always made a point to tell their two children the good things about their father. They married in 2013.
“She never let them feel like they didn’t have a father in their life,” he says. “There wasn’t a day that passed by that they didn’t know their father loved them. And I take no credit for that.”
Rosario’s ties to his children have allowed him to live a life on the outside through them. In his letters to Amanda he often mentions the biblical figure Job, a righteous man who maintained his faith in God even after experiencing a series of calamities. “Find that peace in yourself, in the love you receive from family and friends,” he wrote. “Though I find myself in a tough situation, missing you, your mom, my son, and freedom everyday, I find peace in knowing that my son and daughter are alive and grown up to be great human beings.”
A few years ago, he told Amanda the story of the day he was arrested. He had spent the afternoon at the park with Amanda and Richard Jr. He cooked them dinner that evening. Then had to go to his mother’s house. Amanda grabbed his leg and begged him not to leave. He knelt down and said, “I’ll be right back.” After a beat he asked, “Who you do you belong to?” “To daddy!” Amanda replied. And then he left.
Send story tips to the author, Albert Samaha