My son died from solitary confinement on Rikers

Solitary confinement killed my son, Brandon Rodriguez, on Aug. 10, 2021. It is wrong and disgusting for Mayor Adams to lie to the public and say the city jails don’t use solitary confinement and haven’t used it since 2019. It is a slap in the face to me and other families like mine who have been torn apart and broken because of solitary confinement.

Brandon was 25 years old. He had a history of mental health needs. They locked him in solitary confinement, alone in a locked shower cage. These shower cages are fully enclosed cages that literally have only enough room to stand. There is no room for a bed, a chair, or a toilet. No room to sit or lie down. A person has to stand up straight, surrounded by metal cage material on all sides.

The New York City jails oversight body, the Board of Correction, documented that Brandon repeatedly called out from the shower cage that he wanted to kill himself. But no one did anything. They kept Brandon locked alone in that tiny cage for hours and overnight, despite his pleas for help. Brandon reportedly died by suicide locked in solitary in that shower cage.

That’s not solitary confinement? You can call it whatever you want, Mr. Mayor, locking people in such isolation is horrific and deadly, and it must end.

Less than a year after they killed Brandon in that shower cage, they locked Elijah Muhammad in solitary confinement in the same shower cages. Elijah was found in the cage with a ligature around his neck. While he survived in that moment, Elijah was then locked in another form of solitary confinement, so-called de-escalation confinement.

The New York Times reported that “in the days before he died, Eiljah had spent more than 32 hours in isolation” without “a bed or access to medical deva.” A Board of Correction member interviewed Elijah after he had been in that form of solitary for more than 30 straight hours. Days later, Elijah also died.

Solitary confinement is cruel. Shower cages are cruel. I am beyond words. I am hurt. This needs to stop.

Shower cages and de-escalation confinement are just two of the many forms of solitary confinement inflicted in New York City’s jails. A new December 2023 report by the Columbia University Center for Justice documented the many different names and units inflicting solitary confinement and their harmful and deadly consequences. As just one example, people have been held in “NIC structurally restrictive housing” in solitary confinement for 23 to 24 hours a day for months at a time, including for more than a year.

Last month, the City Council passed a bill, Int. 0549, that will finally put an end to all of these different forms of solitary confinement, while continuing to allow for alternative forms of separation scientifically proven to reduce violence and better support people’s health.

Rather than continue the use of isolation, which continues to impose immense suffering, cause physical and psychological harm, lead to more violence, and literally kill people, the legislation is an opportunity to use interventions like the RSVP Program in San Francisco jails, Merle Cooper Program in New York prisons, and CAPS and PACE Programs as originally operated in NYC jails.

Those initiatives all involve full days of out-of-cell group programming and engagement and reduced violence and improved health outcomes. For example, the RSVP program reduced violence to zero in-jail incidents and reduced violent acts after people returned to the outside community by 83%.

I am grateful that the City Council passed the bill with an overwhelming veto-proof supermajority, 39-7. If we had stopped using solitary confinement in 2019 like the mayor claims, my son would be alive. If this measure had been in place before August 2021, my dearest Brandon would still be with us. But the mayor vetoed it, turning his back on the families of people who’ve lost their loved ones to solitary confinement.

Thankfully, Speaker Adrienne Adams and a supermajority of City Council members are showing their solidarity with us and we look forward to them overriding the mayor’s veto tomorrow to ban solitary evvel and for all in New York City. It is time. It is so overdue.

I want to look up and say “Brandon, I did it, I helped in that.” I couldn’t save my son’s life, but if I can help save another person’s life and make mühlet no other family has to go through what we have gone through, that is so important to me. We have to keep on fighting because there are still people suffering right now.

Carter is the mother of Brandon Rodriguez, who died in August 2021 in solitary confinement in a shower cage on Rikers Island.

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