'You Just Get Written Off': One Inmate On Life On Rikers During The Pandemic

Apr 18, 2020
Originally published on April 22, 2020 4:20 pm

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, prisons and jails remain some of the most vulnerable places for its transmission.

New York City jails are dealing with an outbreak of their own: The Department of Corrections told NPR it's dealing with 364 confirmed cases among inmates and already has two deaths as of April 16.

Rikers Island Jail is the city's most infamous facility. Prisoner Daryl Campbell is currently under quarantine after another inmate came down with a high fever.

"We're already the forgotten culture, the people that are in jail. It's like you just get written off," he says.

Campbell, also known as Taxstone, hosted the popular hip-hop podcast Tax Season before he was arrested in 2017 in connection with a shooting. He's still on Rikers awaiting trial on murder charges and he says inmates are not being given basic protective gear.

"The governor actually says 'Yo, we're going to be making a hand sanitizer and stuff like that,' " Campbell says. "And I said, 'That's cool.' You know, the prison is making hand sanitizers and helping keep everything clean and saving people. But I said, 'Wait up, when are we going to get hand sanitizer? When are we going to get extra sanitation things to clean things? When are we going to get protective gear?' We didn't receive this and that's when I realized that we really didn't exist in this world."

The New York Department of Corrections told NPR that inmates have access to hand soap and water and they are distributing masks to all inmates and staff. The city also said that it has reduced the jail population by more than 1,000 people.

Daryl Campbell, who also goes by Taxstone, hosted the popular hip-hop podcast Tax Season before his 2017 arrest. He's still awaiting trial.
Courtesy of the artist

But Campbell disputes the amount of help inmates are receiving.

"We got one face mask and after that, we never got one again," he says. "We asked [Governor Andrew Cuomo], 'Hey, what's up with the face mask?' We're watching the news: They say these face masks only last four hours. It's like a lost cause. Right now I'm just walking around with a towel around my face."

While healthy inmates have limited access to protective gear, Campbell also says that those who get sick are not receiving the medical attention they need.

"I watched cancer patients with level four cancer catch it, and they [did] not release them from jail, talking about the charge that they might have — 'Oh, he has a robbery,' " he says. "Everybody's deemed innocent until proven guilty. But even if these people are guilty, who are you to say that it's alright for them to die, to not get proper treatment? Who are you to tell them to just sit in the cell and just figure it out? Who are you to just say it's alright for us to die? We have families."

"Being in jail is like literally being dead and watching everyone else live their life from a grave," he finishes.

Campbell was brash and outspoken on his podcast, and that hasn't changed: A few weeks ago he posted on Twitter about some of the conditions on Rikers.

"I'm not afraid of any consequences that might happen for me doing this interview or from any letters that I've written," he says. "I don't care. There's nothing you could do with me at this point. When they sit here and act like we're not human or we don't exist though, we don't have families or people that love us or our opinion doesn't count — that's when I get angry and I have to make these cries from the grave and let people know like, 'Yo, we're still alive. We don't have tombstones yet.' "

Campbell says that he feels compelled to use that platform he has through his podcast to speak up about the conditions he sees.

"I'm from East New York, Brooklyn; we never got a chance out there," he says. "And for me to be able to have a voice, to even speak to people that can't speak for themselves, I'll have to use my voice till they take it from me."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, we're going to turn our attention to places that are particularly vulnerable - prisons and jails. New York City jails are dealing with an outbreak of their own. As of yesterday, the department says they're dealing with 364 confirmed cases among inmates, and they've already had two deaths. Rikers Island Jail is the city's most infamous facility. Prisoner Daryl Campbell is currently under quarantine after another inmate came down with a high fever.

DARYL CAMPBELL: We're already the forgotten culture, the people that are in jail. It's like you just get written off.

MARTIN: Campbell, also known as Taxstone, hosted a popular hip-hop podcast called "Tax Season" before he was arrested in 2017 in connection with a shooting. He is still awaiting trial on murder charges. He says inmates are not being given basic protective gear.

CAMPBELL: The governor actually said, yo, we're going to be making hand sanitizer and stuff like that. And I said, well, that's cool, you know. The prison is making a hand sanitizers and helping keep everything clean and saving people. But I said, wait up. When are we going to get hand sanitizer? When are we going to get extra sanitation things to clean things? When are we gonna get protective gear? We didn't receive this. And that's when I realized that we really didn't exist in this world.

We got one face mask. And after that, we never got one, again. We asked them. Hey, what's up with the face masks? We're watching the news. They saying these face masks only last four hours. Where's the next ones? They said, oh, y'all only get one. And we only got one. It's like a lost cause. Right now, I'm just walking around wearing a towel around my face.

I watched cancer patients with level 4 cancer catch it, and they not release them from jail, talking about the charge that they might have. Oh, he has a robbery. And it just was like, yo, everybody's deemed innocent till proven guilty. But even if these people are guilty, who are you to say it's all right for them to die, to not get proper treatment? Who are you to tell them to just sit in a cell and just figure it out? Who are you to just say it's all right for us to die? We have families. Being in jail is, like, literally, like, being dead and watching everyone else live their life from a grave.

MARTIN: Campbell was brash and outspoken on his podcast, and that has not changed. A few weeks ago, he posted on Twitter about what he says he's seeing, and it went viral.

CAMPBELL: I'm not afraid of any consequences that might happen from me doing this interview or any letters that I've written. I don't care. There's nothing you could do to me at this point. When they sit there and act like we're not human or we don't exist or we don't have families or people that love us or prison doesn't count, that's when I get angry. And I'm like, yo, like, listen, I have to take these cries from the grave and let people know that, like, yo, we're still alive. We don't have tombstones yet.

I'm from East New York, Brooklyn. Like, we never got a chance out there. And for me to be able to have a voice to even speak for people that can't speak for themselves, I have to use my voice till they take it from me.

MARTIN: The New York Department of Corrections told NPR that inmates have access to hand soap and water. And they say they are distributing masks to all inmates and staff. The city also said that it has reduced the jail population by more than 1,000 people. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.