I spent a combined 8 months in Rykers Island jail and Los Angeles county jail. The penal system in this country is violent, corrupt, and destroying lives. I need to tell my story. Ask me anything.
Hey everyone, my name is Dan.
I am a 26-year-old man who spent the better part of a year in two of the USA's most notoriously violent and corrupt jails in 2013.
I come from a relatively well-off family, but have long suffered from anxiety, depression and (until recently) undiagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder. My mental health issues led me into addiction and violence, which led me into this country's horrifically corrupt legal system. I was on probation for nearly a decade starting at 16 years old, and ending just over a year ago.
These days, I am living in NYC, working as an entrepreneur/marketing professional -- I've had a variety of business ventures with my best friend, business partner and sister, Morgan. These include: selling Christmas trees online and on the streets of New York City, a boutique heart-rate based high intensity training fitness studio that uses heart-rate monitors to inform your workout, and a bubble tea cart.
I am off probation and am staying out of trouble. That said, part of why I'm doing what I am today for work is that I can't get a job (that won't use the fact that I was incarcerated to pay me far less than I'm worth).
The legal and penal systems in this country is f&*ked from the moment you enter to the moment you're released.
Throughout the proces I witnessed police brutality, institutional racism & classism, unsafe living conditions (sewage backing up into our sinks, over-crowding in Los Angeles, dangerously high heat and no AC or fans in New York during the summer, exposed electrical wires sitting in a pool of water in my holding cell, etc).
I joined a gang in Los Angeles out of the need to survive and witnessed, participated in and was the victim of a lot of violence in the system. I was fighting in some form or another at least every other week through my entire stay in jail. I picked up martial arts (Muay Thai, MMA, Jiu Jitsu) about 5 years before I got locked up and without that, and without those skills I strongly believe I would not have survived the ordeal.
I met many good people, with amazing stories in there. Most of them weren't bad guys, and were suffering from addiction and mental illness, which led them into crime.
I was able to get out of the system because my family could afford to buy me a good attorney. But unfortunately, it's not really what you know (he knew a lot), it's actually who you know. By hiring the right attorney with the right connections in my court, I was able to secure my release to a mental health treatment facility.
It breaks my heart to know that there are still men in those facilities who should really be in treatment. And that the only reason they aren't where I am today (off probation and out of the system) is that they don't have the enough money or the right connections. It's wrong and we need change, now.
I would ask anyone who feels for this cause or knows anyone suffering from mental illness and/or addiction to donate to the American Civil Liberties Union. They don't know I am doing this AMA, but throughout my time in Los Angeles, they were consistently working with prisoners to expose corruption and help those in our society who are without a voice.
I won't incriminate myself or anyone else, but otherwise I am an open book. Looking forward to speaking with you guys.
PS a few of the issues I want to talk about, if anyone is interested...
1) How money can buy influence, and influence can buy freedom. Those without money are not given the same opportunities.
2) Unsafe & unsanitary conditions -- I once got a throat infection and fever from getting bile splashed into my mouth (from our clogged sinks). I was mocked by deputies and denied medical treatment when I got sick.
3) How gangs control the jail system. Bloods in New York City, and Mexican Mafia in Los Angeles.
4) The institutional racism in Los Angeles that segregates inmates based on their ethnicity.
5) The horrific process of "booking" where you are processed into jail.
6) Drug use in jails
7) Being denied access to adequate mental health services in jail
8) The monopoly that Global Tel Link and the companies that provide "canteen" have on the inmate population. They charge families and friends who want to call or buy food for inamtes INSANE rates and are taking advantage of the "captive market" (sorry, had to).
9) Multiple experiences being profiled and harassed by police in Los Angeles for being on probation. See example here.
10) How I am treating my Borderline Personality Disorder, addiction, anxiety and depression using Dialectical Behavioral Therapy & mindfulness (let's talk good stuff too, right?)
11) Anything else, lay it on me
Many people are asking about the timeline, so to clarify, here it is:
*Various behavioral modification schools & work camps throughout pre-puberty years
*Arrested in 2006 as teen for aggravated assault
*Sentenced to sober living homes, AA and rehabs
*Arrested in 2008 for aggravated assault
*Received a 7 year suspended sentence and probation
*Sentenced to rehab centers *Started doing really well, managed to get accepted into a good University in Los Angeles and was getting good grades and staying sober. Worked at a couple small PR & marketing firms.
*Started a business manufacturing and selling boxing equipment
*Got in really bad motorcycle accident and wrecked my knee and had me immobilized on a pic line (rubber tube into your heart) for 6 weeks.
*Violated my probation
*Absconded to New York City (ran away from probation)
*Arrested in Upstate New York for posession charges. My warrants in California hadn't reached the NY system yet.
*Started going to AA, doing well again.
*Decided to turn myself in and face the consequences back in California. Had bought a plane ticket and everything.
*Two days before I was to return I was picked up in Coney Island for hopping a turnstyle
*I went to the Coney Island precinct, then to Brooklyn City Jail, then to Riker's Island
*Stayed at Rikers for about two months, then was extradited by plane to Los Angeles County Jail
*Did about 6 months in Los Angeles County. Most of the time I was in the Twin Towers, but did a few weeks in Wayside and in Old County
A note on taking responsibility
I regret hurting the people I have hurt in the past. I've made amends with the victims. A lot of people are saying I'm blaming my mental illness or the courts or anyone else. Please let this be clear, I am NOT. I take responsibilty for my own actions. Mental illness is not an excuse, but it is an explanation for someone's behavior.
I believe everyone can change, and if they're willing to, they deserve a chance.
I'm having trouble finding proof of my incarceration at Riker's Island. When I was extradited, I was not allowed to take anything with me, except court docs and 1 book. Will keep looking.