Narrator: Henry Trabal

Summary: Henry Trabal was born in Newark, New Jersey, into a family of police officers. Trabal served in the military, doing two stateside tours and one deployment to Iraq. After that, he started cycling in and out of jails and prisons. He was incarcerated at Rikers from 2008 to 2010, again from 2011 to 2015, and again from March to April 2020, when COVID-19 first swept through the facility. At Rikers, he worked in the intake annex, helping to clean out the bullpen, a holding area where people would wait before being taken to court. He describes Rikers as a filthy place where time moved slowly. He witnessed other incarcerated people there “fishing” for mice and rats, using blanket fragments for strings, peanut butter for bait, and shoe eyelets for hooks. He kept to himself and stayed out of trouble but witnessed fights and corruption involving guards, including drug smuggling, gambling, favoritism, and gang affiliation. He hopes Rikers is torn down and swept into the East River. (Summary written by: Annie Anderson)

Interview Date: 6/9/20

Partner Organization: Exodus Transitional – Holiday Inn

Interviewer: Carlin Zia 

Tags: Rikers Island, Incarceration, Prison abolition, New York City, Oral history, Rikers Public Memory Project, RPMP, Personal history of incarceration, Impact on outside relationships, Violence in prison, Violence normalization, Correction Officers, Officers’ abuse, Generation changes, Rikers history, Police/officers’ accountability, Social interactions in prison, Bloods, Crips, Coping mechanisms, Network of support, Poor living conditions, Getting arrested, Prison facilities, Close Rikers, Gangs, Psychological impact of incarceration, First impressions, Re-incarceration, Intake, Anxiety / Stress, Working in Rikers while Incarcerated, Detainees’ neglect, Young people incarcerated with adults, Sexual assault, Overcrowding, Insufficient health services, Parole, Covid at Rikers, Being released from Rikers, Last-day, Rikers in the 90s

To read the transcript of this interview, click here