Must I Suffer More? by Dr. Al-Fatah Stewart

Image shows Dr. Al-Fatah speaking at a podium, it was published in the San Fransisco Bayview.

This piece was written April 6, 2021 in the Rikers Island Penal Colony

[CONTENT WARNINGS: anxiety, sexual assault, suicide attempt]

From March 26, 2019 up until this very day I’ve been in jail suffering.

First, I was placed in the Tombs, also known as [Manhattan Detention Complex] M.D.C., 125 White Street, a detention center infested with rats that look like they lift weights and water bugs that will crawl up to you as if you are supposed to move out of the way.

I thought we were given equal rights so women could have the same rights as men and Blacks could have the same rights as whites, but applying this framework to the prison-industrial complex, it was used so that Blacks and Latinos could get jobs on the inside and help us on the inside, but our own people, Blacks and Latinos get these correctional officer jobs and treat us worse than turn-of-the-century slave owners.

In the Tombs, I was placed on the highest floor, the tenth, which is also the closely monitored case house, where only people with the most serious cases were put. I was placed in this most violent and hostile environment because I have an alleged escape charge in 1999.

From the beginning, when I entered the Tombs, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. The housing area had windows in every cell that did not open. The cells had doors, not bars, and even now, every time I have to go lock inside a cell, I have an anxiety attack, I have to calm down and adjust my breathing.

We had three searches a week minimum and I cried after every search, because, first, the regular search team would come with three officers lined up in front of every cell and they’d make you strip naked. “Open your mouth, show behind your ears, wiggle your toes, lift your testicles, turn your penis to the left, turn it to the right.” Finally, and illegally, they’d tell you to turn around and bend over at the waist, reach back with both hands and spread your butt cheeks so they could look inside your anal cavity and the language they used during this search was what we called rape language.

“Open your mouth,

Drop your draws,

Show me your money,

Smile for me.”

It was degrading, dehumanizing, and illegal, but when you did refuse, they’d spray you with oleoresin capsaicin, an agent used as bear repellant, beat your ass, drag you to intake, and strip you down there. This was just the regular search team.

The special search team would come a day or two later and pack all of your property, spread it out on a table and take what they felt you couldn’t have, like your legal work to fight your case because they felt you had too much paperwork or your food, regardless that you paid for it and have the receipt from commissary. This is all after they strip you and humiliate you.

A few days later, the emergency service unit will come, the lowest, foulest people on the planet with steel toe boots, dirt bike gloves, knee pads, elbow pads, bullet-proof vests, a K-9 unit, and they came just to fight or at least hoping for one, after they degrade you with the strip search, two of them would hold each side of you while one of them tore your cell up, and I mean destroyed your cell rather than do a search, they’d pour out your shampoo on your legal work, red Kool-Aid on your underwear to make them pink, throw your photos of loved ones in the toilet, anything to provoke you so they could have a reason to whip your ass!

I went through this madness three times a week, and every time I went to court which was at least once a month and the court I went to was attached to the Tombs, so even though it was just an elevator ride away, I was put through this illegal cavity search going to court and returning from court.

On November 8th, 2019, I got tired of these insane searches, told them I wanted to speak with a captain because according to the law, a visual cavity search is illegal on pre-trial detainees and as a reward for my knowledge, they sprayed me with the bear repellant and broke my jaw.

I didn’t know my right mandible was broken until two weeks later when I had an x-ray at the dentist because I kept complaining about a tooth hurting. I thought it was a toothache, but it turned out my jaw was broken and I was rushed out to Bellevue Hospital, placed on an IV where they gave me antibiotics for seven days and said they couldn’t give me surgery because my jaw already began to heal.

The break disturbed my impacted wisdom teeth and they couldn’t pull the teeth until the jaw healed, where the doctors said I’d be on a liquid diet for a year at least and I’ll be given a lot of pain meds.

I got back to the Tombs about three weeks later and was placed in 9 South, the fully restraint house, where lockdowns were frequent. I couldn’t take it no more. That night I hung myself with my sheets, I’d reached my breaking point. Officers rushed in the cell, cut me down, maced me again and beat my ass again. Then, they sent me to C-71 for mental observation.

This was a dorm area connected to the C-95 building and I finally had a chance to call my wife, Kendra, who cursed me out for such a selfish act and told me to get my shit together and hurry up and come home to her. That night in C-71, officers beat me bad because it was rumored that I was locked up for shooting a cop just because I had come from a housing area where everyone there was there for that kind of crime and I was dragged to the bullpen in a place called Hearts Island in C-71 without being given no medical attention or anything.

I woke up the next day with lumps everywhere and bloodshot eyes and was sent back to the Tombs five days later. Around this time, I started having blackouts and I was weak from the liquid diet. I passed out and woke up in Bellevue and doctors said I had a concussion and kept me for a week. When I was sent back to the Tombs, the Tombs officers packed me up and sent me to the Box (Beacon C.F.) or Rikers (GAVC) for 30 days for assaulting an officer and I don’t remember ever assaulting anyone or even having a hearing or receiving an infraction of this nature.

Now, I’m sitting in the box on Rikers where it’s fires all day, feces everywhere, and people hanging themselves on a regular basis because mental health staff don’t write down nothing you tell them or act on what you tell them.

I did not receive my liquid diet for the whole 30 days there. I dunked hard bread in water and survived off of this. I was denied any outside recreation and when I had a visit, they made Kendra wait four hours before they called and brought me to the visiting area to get a well-needed hug from my wife, who drove all the way from Massachusetts to see me and give me strength.

For the first time in a long time, just seeing her gave me hope.

The box is noisy, foul, inhumane, and people hang themselves and die on a regular basis or folks would burn themselves up in their cells because the guards just won’t come check on you.

For my first week I had toilet water and feces all over my cell floor because my toilet didn’t work and when they fixed the toilet, the sink gave out and by the time they fixed the sink, I was leaving the box and couldn’t wait to take a shower because I only had three showers in the whole 30 days I spent in the box.

Once, after telling the warden when she walked by, after telling a social worker named Ms. Outlaw and after Kendra breaking a fool after our visit because of how I looked and smelled, I was sent to North Infirmary Command building on Rikers Island, a building just for people who were housed in the unit I was on in the Tombs and covid-19 hit the building hard.

March 2020, everyone from guards to the detainees were coughing up blood, had fevers, I filed over 50 grievances and consistently called 311, because we had no masks, the sick guards served our food, we had no sanitizer, no disinfectant, and it was impossible to social distance.

I kept my face covered with a wet towel, drank green tea like it was life support, and took vitamin C and D3 everyday while I constantly received news of a loved one in my family dying, at least once a month for the first six months of the pandemic.

My Aunt Debbie, my cousin Stephanie, Uncle John, Aunt Hellen. Then it really got scary, my wife Kendra caught covid-19, but survived by using elderberry syrup, vitamin C, vitamin D-3, zinc, and crazy green tea. Then, my daughter caught covid-19 and I prayed more than a Muslim during the month of Ramadan and my daughter made it by using the same remedy Kendra did, and finally my mom caught one of the variants and had to be hospitalized but made it home after getting a blood transfusion.

I’ve been having consistent nosebleeds from stress; I still suffer anxiety attacks every time my cell closes. I wear transitional lenses because these bright lights messed up my eyes. I’m still on a liquid diet and just had two of my impacted wisdom teeth removed, the other two will be removed in a month or two by doctors at Bellevue.

When detainees caught covid-19, they told us to stay in our cells and tough it out. More people died than was reported—just like all those ass whippings I took were not reported and I filed 311 calls on mental health staff here because they are responsible for all of the suicides on Rikers Island because they don’t write down or report what we tell them and I found this out by ordering my medical records and I told all mental health staff how I lost six family members to covid-19, how my wife, daughter, and mother were sick, how I’m facing 200 years, where I have four counts of robbery and four counts of burglary for allegedly robbing known drug dealers for a cellular phone and none of this was recorded in my mental health file where at any time I could have snapped or simply killed myself because they gave me no help.

My help came from God, my prayers, my wife’s loving words with every phone call, knowing that she believes in me and would help me get home to her and even times where she became weak and cracked, broke down and cried because we were used to sleeping together and now sleeping alone is killing us both. We both prayed together every morning on my first phone call of the day to start our day off.

Now I ask anyone and everyone to pray for me, help me in any way you can, reach out to others who will help as well, and help me get free, help me get my life back, help me get home to my family.

God allowed me to make it this far, now I ask you all to ask God to help me a little further, so I will no more.

In Prayer,

Dr. Al-Fatah Stewart 

Folks are encouraged to write to Dr. Stewart and participate in his struggle for freedom. Here is his address:

Dr. Al- Fatah Stewart #3491907931

Anna M. Kross Center

18-18 Hazen Street

East Elmhurst, NY 11370

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