Mistreatment, Abuse and Murder of the Mentally Ill & Others at Rikers Island “Correctional” Facility

Last month, previously unknown details were brought to light regarding the suspicious circumstances surrounding the untimely death of 39 year-old Bradley Ballard, who died an inmate at New York’s notorious Rikers Island “Correctional” Facility. Though Ballard, whom doctors determined was mentally ill, died back in September, 2013, Rikers Island wasn’t exactly forthcoming about the circumstances leading to his death. Unfortunately, what happened to Ballard could almost be described as a regular occurrence at the Rikers Facility, where an astounding 40% of all inmates struggle with mental illness and are frequently exposed to abuse and neglect at the hands of staff members. A mere five months after conditions at Rikers resulted in Ballard’s tragic death, a distraught and homeless United States Army veteran named Jerome Murdough suffocated to death in a cell that was heated at more than 101°.

(left) 16-year old Bradley Ballard in 1990 (right) Ballard after a more recent arrest
(left) 16-year old Bradley Ballard in 1990 (right) Ballard after his 2013 arrest.

Bradley Ballard was a native of Houston, Texas, and like many others who struggle with mental illness, didn’t outwardly exhibit behavior considered out of the ordinary until he reached adulthood. According to his mother and stepfather, who he was close to, Ballard was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia sometime in his 20’s. He was also a diabetic.

Ballard was not content with his life in Texas it appears; so he headed North to the Big Apple. In New York City he was able to secure for himself steady employment, working as a fry cook at a restaurant. Unfortunately things took a dramatic turn for the worse when, in 2004, he was accused of “assaulting a receptionist [working at] a New York law firm.” For this he was locked away in a cage for a total of six years. Even after enduring these six years of harsh and excessive punishment, Ballard still was not free. He was placed on parole and had to basically submit to the jurisdiction of a parole officer. It never appears to have occurred to the court (or it did and they just didn’t care) that the outrageous sentence meted out against him, as well as the continued stigma automatically attached to him because of it, made it all but impossible for Ballard to be able to pay the court costs and fines imposed on him, secure steady employment/ income, or reintegrate into to society in any other meaningful way. The cards were systematically stacked against him. The system set him up to fail, just as it has and continues to do to every other person unfortunate enough to be snatched up in this intricately-spun web known as the criminal “justice” system. Considering the obstacles Ballard was facing, it’s no wonder that he eventually made his way back down to Houston, Texas where at least he was closer near his family.

Then came an incident in June, 2013 in which Ballard was arrested for allegedly “punching and exposing himself to a bus driver.” The cops who arrested him soon discovered that Ballard was still, after all this time, on parole for the incident involving a receptionist back in 2004. The fact that he had returned to Houston was in clear violation of his parole, and so he would be made to suffer for failing to notify his parole officer that he’d left New York.

Rikers Island "Correctional" Facility
Rikers Island “Correctional” Facility

After being extradited back to New York, Bradley Ballard was shuffled through many different units, first through the jail system, then through the psychiatric unit, and finally arriving as a patient in Rikers Island’s “mental observation unit”. It was here where staff members charged with observing the mentally ill decided that they were going to teach Ballard a lesson. After Ballard allegedly “stared for hours at a female officer, rolled up his shirt to look like a penis and thrust it toward her“, it was time to take action. Apparently exposing someone to a fake cloth-made penis is what counts for sexual assault these days, at least as far as Rikers Island employees are concerned (though I’m willing to bet the inmates would beg to differ). Despite no reported injuries, the staff apparently felt so terrorized by this “shirt [rolled up] to look like a penis” that they thought it would be best for Ballard to be locked up alone in his cell for a week while they simultaneously deprived him of his much-needed medication. Given that they were working in the “mental observation unit”, one wonders how the staff workers could not have known that this could potentially result in severe deterioration of the inmate’s mental stability.

After a day of what was basically solitary confinement, Ballard intentionally flooded his room’s combined sink and toilet. In response all water was shut off in his cell. When, five days later, an inmate tasked with delivering food to his cell, he quickly covered his nose and backed away after catching whiff of a horrendous odor. A security camera caught three Rikers officers on video reacting in much the same manner, covering their noses in disgust and quickly running out of the room. On the following day, September 11th – an entire week after being confined to the cell –  medical staffers finally entered into the foul-smelling cell to discover Bradley Ballard lying entirely naked across the floor, covered in his own feces. Tied tightly around his genitals was a rubber band, which had caused his genitals to swell up and become “badly infected.” Hours later, after his unconscious body was rushed to Elm Hurst Hospital, Ballard was pronounced dead at the age of thirty-nine.

Chance McRody, pictured here, was viciously targeted and attacked at Rikers Island - reportedly by other inmates. Officers at Rikers have  in the past been indicted once it was discovered that they'd coordinated these attacks themselves.
Chance McRody, pictured here, was viciously targeted and attacked at Rikers Island – reportedly by other inmates. In the past it has been discovered that Rikers Islands Officers were in fact the ones who were “authorizing and directing” such attacks.

When Bradley’s mother, Beverley Ann Griffin, received the news that her son had died in such egregious conditions, her immediate reaction was one of grief and bewilderment over how people could be so viciously cruel. “He didn’t have to leave the world like that. They could have put him in a mental hospital, got him some treatment… He was a caring young man. He was a good-hearted person, and he didn’t have to die the way he died. How can a human being do to another human being what they did to him?” Sadly, Mrs. Griffin would not be the last mother to lose a loved one to the monster that is Rikers Island, nor are there any signs that the death toll will cease any time soon. It was only a month ago today that an inmate named Rodney Lightner collapsed under unusual circumstances. Meanwhile jail bosses seem be fueling more violence among inmates in a desperate attempt to thwart Mayor Bill De Blazio’s efforts to curb New York’s addiction to solitary confinement. (It wouldn’t be the first time Guards played an active role in encouraging inmates to attack one another.) A representative of the nation’s top union representing jail bosses, Sidney Schwartzbaum, contends that a purported spike in inmate-on-inmate violence can be attributed directly to new policies meant to limit the unrestrained usage of solitary confinement. He fails to note, however, that solitary confinement is most commonly utilized as a tool against prisoners who don’t bend to the every demand, no matter how degrading, of their captors. Rarely is it used to punish inmates who hurt other inmates.

"Correctional" Officers at Rikers Island withheld treatment from Ronald "Knowledge" Spears, who was battling kidney disease. After he making his complaints known, he was murdered in what the autopsy ruled a homicide.
“Correctional” Officers at Rikers Island withheld treatment from Ronald “Knowledge” Spears, who was battling kidney disease. He was beaten to death shortly after complaining about this matter to staff.

As much as jail bosses and staff would like us to all focus on the violence of certain inmates, the truth is that inmates are in a sense only reacting to being under the constant heel of a system that not only allows violence to occur, but in fact sanctions it. Where was the “long arm of justice” when it was needed to protect Rikers inmate Ronald “Knowledge” Spears, whose death in 2012 was ruled a homicide? Officers and medical personnel at Rikers Facility intentionally withheld the necessary treatment Ronald required for his kidney disease. Because he refused to remain silent about this mistreatment, officers responded by attacking him, intending to silence him once and for all. The autopsy listed his cause of death as “hypertensive cardiovascular disease, with blunt-force trauma [to the head, torso and arms] as a contributing factor.” In the end not a single officer was charged for what in any just society would been classified as murder in the first degree. But we don’t live in a just society, and officers of the law could care less about protecting those of us who aren’t in positions of power. You don’t need to take my word for it. Just listen to the words of Norman Seabrook, the president of the Corrections Officers Union, who had this to say regarding the murder of Ronald Spears at the hands of Rikers Island officers:

“Correction officers in this case did everything they were supposed to do.”

There you have it; straight from the horse’s (or should I say pig’s) mouth.

UPDATE: Former Rikers Island guard Brian Coll was convicted in Dec. 2015 for being primarily responsible for the death of Ronald Spears. Thank you to a peeved-off reader in the comment section for pointing this out to me.


25 thoughts

  1. Clearly you lie. Brian Coll HAS been charged and found guilty of 5 counts and faces life in prison. Reckon I can assume guards were charged in each other case.

  2. I’ve known people who were sent to Rikers for this or that and it is described as the worst of the worst of facilities. May these men RIP.

    1. It is just terrible how they can send someone to a torture chamber because they supposedly committed some “injury to society”.. So in response states/cities do the most damaging injuries to society possible by ripping them from their homes to be permanently scarred if they survive the ordeal at all!

      1. I AGREE x 1000%. Completely true. And the ones who are released – after an ordeal like this – are probably on par with an ex vet. PTSD and all, from the combat zone.


        1. I would certainly agree. I would almost argue that the stigma is even worse, since in some instances vets are able to reintegrate into society, although they are haunted by images of war forever. Those who have been imprisoned are never allowed for one moment to forget that they have been labeled as “less than” by the government and society.

          1. That is very true and very unfortunate. It’s also hypocritical, so many people are criminal who never even see the inside of a cell. So the labeling is an empowered bias from before. 😦

      2. By the way – I’d love to have you factor in on my synopsis (for film have to now assemble). If that’s okay, please email me. You can find my email in my “whose is this” section. I just thought of it, shoulda asked before…

  3. The US is the only industrialized country in which the mentally ill are systematically warehoused in prisons and jails instead of being offered treatment in the community or (if necessary) long term hospitalizations in state facilities. As a retired American psychiatrist (who emigrated to New Zealand in 2002), I have been (unsuccessfully) fighting this medieval barbarism most of my adult life.

    Thank you for shining a light on it.

    1. I can only imagine what life is like outside of the heart of the beast as I have never been out of U.S. borders. I can only imagine how differently mental health issues are treated in other nations than they are here. Everything in this country is driven primarily for profit.

  4. Reblogged this on Failure to Listen and commented:
    This is awful and it is genocide. The number of Black people are decreasing in this country….and no one is noticing. We are being slowly murdered by our own but mostly by white people. The laws are crafted to traps blacks esp those who are mentally ill and learning disabled.

    Fantastic article that I will reblog. Thank you. -Angela

  5. This is awful and it is genocide. The number of Black people are decreasing in this country….and no one is noticing. We are being slowly murdered by our own but mostly by white people. The laws are crafted to traps blacks esp those who are mentally ill and learning disabled.

    Fantastic article that I will reblog. Thank you. -Angela

    1. Thank you for taking notice of my writing. And you are so right. Genocide can take many different forms and be carried out by many different methods. The massive incarceration system in this country which is unprecedented in world history can only be explained as an attempt to destroy Black lives by preventing as much stability and/or ascendency from occurring as possible.
      We’ve got to spread awareness so that a resistance movement can emerge.

      1. Caleb you are so right and a very good article…..why can’t others see this? Many black people don’t even appreciate this nuanced genocide targeting people of color.
        TY for spreading awareness….it is not easy when people prefer to bury their heads in the sand…when they look up they make be the next group targeted for nuanced genocide.

        1. So true. And I’ve often heard people say things like “there is no genocide because because Black people are still around”, but if anything this is to Black peoples’ credit that they have survived despite unyielding systematic forms of elimination being imposed on them which no other group has had to deal with to such an extent or for such a long period of time. I’m not religious but I pray that I am alive to see the revolution that will finally obliterate the global system of white supremacy once and for all. Much love as always !

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