Joshua's Story:

Beaten and Locked Away in the Torture Prison of Rikers Island

by Li Onesto | September 29, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


It's completely intolerable and no one should numb themselves to these facts: Some 2.2 million people are locked up in hellhole prisons all across the USA, the majority Black or Latino; thousands swept up in decades of a war on drugs designed to criminalize and lock up whole generations of youth; all this a critical element of a program of slow genocide that can easily become fast genocide.

Rikers Island in New York City is one of the largest prisons in the U.S. It concentrates this horror of mass incarceration. Recently all kinds of horror stories have come to light. One prisoner there who had been diagnosed with a mental health problem was deliberately placed in a cell where the temperature soared above 100 degrees and was left there until he literally baked to death! The New York Times revealed a secret report that detailed 129 cases of people who suffered "serious injuries" in altercations with guards at the Rikers Island in 11 months in 2013. And in most of these cases, the inmates were beaten while they were handcuffed! Seventy-seven percent of the people beaten had been diagnosed with mental health problems. None of the guards involved in these incidents have yet faced criminal—or even administrative—charges.

Recently I got a chance to go to Rikers and talk to one young Black man who has been subjected to the horrors of mass incarceration. Here is his story.


Joshua Richardson

Joshua Richardson

Terry Hubbard, who is active in building the October Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration, Police Terror, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation, has been fighting to prevent her 23-year-old son, Joshua Richardson, who has been diagnosed with mental illness, from being brutalized in prison. In early September Joshua was beaten up by the staff where he was being incarcerated, at the Central New York Psychiatric Center in Marcy, New York.

Terry only found out about this weeks later, when her son called her. Then he seemed to be "disappeared"—Terry and her lawyer couldn't find out where Joshua was. Then they learned he had been transferred back to Rikers Island.

On September 24, I went to Rikers with Terry to visit Joshua, who wanted me, as a reporter, to come hear his story. We wait hours before we finally get in to the visiting room to see Joshua. He comes in, walking with a cane, clearly in pain. When Terry introduces me, he greets me with a hug and then gives his mother a big, long embrace. We all sit down and Joshua tells me what happened:

This story starts on Wednesday, September 3, 21 days before this interview.

Joshua is in the dining room eating dinner. He's really hungry and sees that another inmate has a piece of chicken he isn't going to eat. Joshua asks if he can have it. The guy says yes so Joshua goes over to get it. But one of the Treatment Assistants [TAs, who essentially act as guards] steps to him and intervenes, saying he can't do this. Joshua questions this, asking why not? This is too much for the TA—you're not allowed to question anything they say. More TAs come over and when Joshua continues to talk back they all jump him. They quickly put him down, hitting him. They get a nurse to shoot him with an injection. When he doesn’t fall asleep, the nurse moves to inject him again and Joshua says, “Why are you injecting me again, I’m not resisting?” But she puts the needle in him again anyway. The TAs rip off his clothes until he is naked. They strap him to a restraint bed, take him to a side room, throw him in, and leave him there.

The next day several TAs come into the room, and when Joshua stands up, they rush him and push him up against the wall and beat him. He can't remember everything that happened next because he’s still woozy from the sedation. But what he does remember is that they were hitting him over and over again with their closed fists, they stomped on his hands and feet, they kicked him on his knees, shins, feet and head. Joshua remembers one TA saying to him, "We run things here, you don't run things." Another said, "Take his black ass out of my ward and put him on a bus and send him to where the hell he came from." Another said, laughing, "That should soften him up."

This was Wednesday and after this beating, they leave Joshua in this side room until Monday, September 8. Then they take him to a room, basically putting him in solitary confinement until September 19, when a TA comes in and says "Get up, you're being transferred." They put him on a bus—they didn't even let him get any of his personal belongings. Joshua says they stole his letters, legal papers, money order receipts, and release papers from parole. His mother had just given him $20 for the commissary when she visited him, and they steal this too.

AND for all this time—from the time of the beating on September 4 to when he gets to Rikers—Joshua does NOT receive ANY medical attention. Then, at Rikers all he gets is some x-rays.

Joshua shows me his injuries that are still hurting him badly after 20 days. He shows me his baby finger which they stomped on. It's still very swollen and crooked. He shows me several bruises and bumps on his head. He says his ribs are very, very sore and that on one side he has "an indentation" where his stomach is. His knee and ankle are hurting so much he has a hard time walking.

Joshua has been through this before—just six months ago he was beaten up by guards here at Rikers. I ask him to tell me about that.

He says on that day he was in the bathroom by himself when the "turtles" came in—guards all suited up in their ninja riot outfits. They accused him of being involved in a fight and ordered him to put his hands behind his back. Joshua says the bathrooms are one of the places in the prison where there are no cameras—so he tried to walk out of the bathroom so that whatever they did to him would be captured on the cameras. This is when six of these "turtles" started attacking him mercilessly. When he tried to defend himself they maced him in the face and straight into his mouth. Joshua remembers one of them saying, "Kill that motherfucker." They beat him up, then took him down to the intake area in handcuffs, threw him into the shower, and left him there.

Very soon our visiting time is up—they only give families and friends one hour. There's another round of hugs and there are tears in Terry's eyes when we leave—she's so worried, she thinks they might kill her son in Rikers.

Two days later Terry visits Joshua again. He tells her he’s still hurting real bad but still not getting any medical care. He says he saw a counselor who said he is now suffering from PTSD—he’s waking up 4-5 times a night, screaming and sweating with nightmares of the beatings.


Joshua's story is NOT an aberration. This kind of brutality is happening to hundreds of prisoners at Rikers and to tens of thousands of others in the prison hellholes all across America. There is the special cruelty of what happens to prisoners with mental illness. Like many other prisoners who have mental illness, Joshua has been DENIED medical help in prison. He was supposedly transferred from Rikers to the Central New York Psychiatric Center to be evaluated. But as he told me, "The conditions there are hardly any different than being in prison," and for the whole time he was there they refused to give him his medication!

On top of all this, there's the torture of long-term solitary confinement, where some 80,000 people are held in cramped, concrete, windowless cells in near total isolation for 22-24 hours a day, with no human contact.

The brutality being inflicted on those behind bars says something about what this whole U.S. prison system is about and concentrates the injustice of mass incarceration in the U.S.

The October Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration, Police Terror, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation must be like a giant STOP sign stuck right in the face of American society, day after day, so that it can't be covered up, whited out, ignored, neutralized, or suppressed.

As the Pledge of Resistance for the Month of Resistance says at the end:

* Mass incarceration: WE SAY NO MORE!

* Police murder: WE SAY NO MORE!

* Torture in the prisons: WE SAY NO MORE!

* Criminalization of generations: WE SAY NO MORE!

* Attacks on immigrants: WE SAY NO MORE!

We will NOT be silent.

We WILL resist!

Until these shameful horrors really are... NO MORE!

Volunteers Needed... for and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.