Collateral Damage is a series of portraits and stories about how incarceration affects the friends and families of those who are locked up.
Much of the public debate over our criminal justice system has been focused on policing and what it’s like to be in prison. We chose to focus on the people – primarily women and children – who bear a large part of the financial and emotional burden that comes along with incarceration.
Using the Q100 bus as an access point, we connected with people on their way to visit loved ones detained at Rikers Island. We interviewed and photographed passengers on the Q100 and at various stops along the route to better understand their experiences.
Our goal is to show that the impact of the United States’ debilitating penal system extends beyond the walls of jails and prisons – and beyond the individuals confined within them.
Note: Over a million people ride the Q100 every year. Above are photographs of just a few of them who we met in December 2015, with corresponding captions below.
Yvette Ramirez is an artist and part-time student at Borough of Manhattan Community College. She has three kids (from left: Isaac, 6; Delilah, 7 and Deja, 11). Ramirez’s boyfriend was sent to Rikers Island for a parole violation. He’d been incarcerated before, so the criminal justice system wasn’t new to the family. But Ramirez wishes he could have been around more: “He missed his son’s birthday. He’s going to miss his daughter’s birthday. He’s going to miss Christmas,” she said. He was set to be released after nine months, but it wasn’t guaranteed. “Hopefully he doesn’t have to do it again,” said Ramirez.
Keyaira Millinger is a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College studying early childhood education. Her boyfriend was arrested for a parole violation. “It’s definitely an emotional roller coaster,” Millinger said, “when you’re so used to sleeping in bed with someone and then they’re gone.” For Millinger, the visiting process was exasperating. Of the calls, she said: “Two times a day, 21 minutes. It drives me crazy. The visits: it’s like an hour. What is an hour going to do for me?”
Clifton Cannady administers a weekly food pantry in Queens and is heavily involved with his neighborhood church. His brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia as an adult and spent over a decade in an upstate New York psychiatric institution. Eventually he was discharged and sent back to New York City. “They couldn’t find a facility for him,” said Cannady, “so they found Rikers Island.” Unlike many visitors to Rikers, Cannady insisted that he wasn’t affected by his brother’s incarceration. “It don’t bother me at all,” he said. “I ain’t in there. I feel for him, but that’s all I can do.”
Tiffany Thompson’s husband was charged with assaulting a pharmacy clerk and sent to Rikers Island. Before the charge, the couple was living in a homeless shelter for families. When Thompson’s husband was sent to Rikers, they lost their eligibility, forcing Thompson onto the street. Thompson’s husband was to remain at Rikers until the case was sorted out, a process that usually takes months.
Sylver Pondolfino has volunteered with homeless advocacy organization Picture the Homeless for almost a decade. He was visiting a friend and colleague from the organization to show support. “To show him that he hasn’t been forgotten – and to discuss with him his options.” Being incarcerated complicated efforts to find stable housing for Pondolfino’s friend, who had been living on the street for years. “He missed an appointment to look at housing because he was in jail,” said Pondolfino. As a result, the arduous housing application process was reset.
Madelyn Rodriguez was born and raised in the Bronx and has two kids, 11 and 13. Her husband was sent to Rikers four months after they got married. “I told him not to mess up,” said Rodriguez. “You know how parole is. Once you mess up you’re in there.” Her husband was facing two options: get accepted into a 90-day parole program or remain at Rikers for a year.
Sabrina Bonaparte is a photography major at Pratt Institute. Her boyfriend was charged with grand larceny and detained at Rikers Island for a month before getting sent to an upstate New York prison. Bonaparte sensed that her mother was uneasy about the situation. “When I go home I gotta spill everything and talk to her about it. And reassure her that it’s going to be fine,” Bonaparte said. “I don’t want to break up with him just because he’s in jail.”