I heard noises, my head immediately sprang up from the pillow. Quickly checking my watch I saw that it was 3:30 a.m., Friday the 13th. Right then and there I should have known the day was not going to bode well. I saw a flashlight coming towards me, the night officer standing over my cot. "Time to go Byrne, get dressed." This is it; I was leaving Rikers, for good! I jumped into the shower, thinking I will not miss this mildew-infested excuse for a shower room. From there, given I am not allowed to bring anything Upstate except the clothes on my back, I put on my khakis and blue button down shirt, which have served me so well, the ones I was wearing when sentenced. Everything else I had accumulated (thanks to Eileen) would have to be left behind, not for the vultures, but for Mike, who I have become very close with. We hugged goodbye, this guy I had eaten all my meals with, read books side by side with, and slept next to for 3 solid weeks. I knew deep down I would never see him again.
It's about 4:00 when I walk into the holding cell, awaiting the trip up North. There is only one other inmate in there at the time and I remember thinking to myself, "Hmmm, this isn't so bad, just the two of us, I can handle this." Little did I know that number would eventually grow to 16, in a cell that fits maybe 8. Here I would sit (stand is more like it) for the next 6 1/2 hours! During this time I come to learn I am in this cell with guys whose sentences range from 2 years to life. There was 'Ray Ray,' already 14 years under his belt with 15 remaining. I looked at him in amazement, thinking, how could anyone do that much time? And then there was 'Speedy,' serving 15 to life. There was only one other white guy besides me, I did my best to remain in his space. What a sight; the two of us, looking like two lost sheep. His name was Sean, serving 1 1/2 to 3 for stealing a car high on drugs.
Right out of the movie "The Fugitive" with Harrison Ford, when a prisoner is moved from one facility to another, you must be shackled at the wrists and ankles. Your ankle is then cuffed to another inmate. Joined at the hip you could call it. I was chained up with Sean, the only other white guy. Can't be a coincidence I thought, the guard did that for a reason. So we hip-hopped our way down the hall, and eventually, quite gingerly, climbed onto the bus. Sean got the window seat.
I was on my way to Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill, NY. Exit 11 off of Route 84 West. I couldn't help but think of the last time I traveled on this road; my sons were in the backseat, my ex-wife upfront, and we were on our way to Maine for a summer vacation. I was a successful Wall Street broker, proud father, loving husband, and the future was boundless. Look at me now.
There is no talking aloud on the bus, two guards in the front seats, one in the back. I stare straight ahead, my wrists are killing me. Don't even think about going to the bathroom or asking for something, it's not going to happen. Eventually lunch is 'served.' Brown bags are passed out, each one containing a cheese sandwich, plastic container of grape juice, and 2 stale cookies. Have you ever tried to eat while handcuffed? No? Well let me tell you, it's not easy, I slobbered all over myself. The ride takes 3 hours.
Our bus sits for 30 minutes outside the barbed wire gates of Downstate. Just another delay in a day already filled with them. Eventually we head in and are ordered off the bus. Sean and I gingerly manage to get out, my muscles ache from sitting so long, my ankles & wrists are killing me. All of us (there are about 35 prisoners on the bus) make our way into another holding cell where we are verbally abused by a collection of CO's. One of the C.O.'s tries to pick a fight with the entire lot of us, "I'll bring full-force down on all of you, c'mon! Full-force!" He screams. We sit and wait some more. Eventually it's time to be strip searched, then thrown in cold showers to clean up. Guards watching and grinning the entire time. From there it's into the barber's chair, where your hair will be 99% shaved off. Any ounce of dignity I had been able to cling to is now gone. I was feeling so very low, and scared. My spirit was being broken, I could feel it. Don't let up I kept saying to myself, you must stay strong for the boys and your family. There is no other option. I have to go through this, to get through this, was all I could think of.