United States: inmates at freezing federal jail in brooklyn pounded out a message
The Metropolitan Detention Center had been largely without power and heat for more than a week. Inmates have been banging on the windows of their cells to call attention to the conditions, and protesters have been rallying outside the jail calling for improvements.
From the depths of a federal jail on the Brooklyn waterfront, the sound reverberated: a polyrhythmic pounding like a hailstorm on the roof of a shed.
It was the sound of hundreds of men in freezing cells at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, a jail that was virtually without electricity and largely without heat for over a week. With the jail on partial lockdown, inmates were unable to use phones to call their loved ones, but their percussive banging could be clearly heard to those outside, and to the world beyond.
The inmates banged anything they could — shoes, their fists — against any surface they met: the walls and windows and bars of the jail that holds them.
Sunday morning, when protesters unfurled a long paper banner across the street from the jail that said “You are heard you are loved,” the inmates banged their approval.
When Catana Yehudah, whose brother Jason Smith is serving a gun possession sentence at the jail, led a chant through a megaphone — “No heat, that’s torture” — the inmates banged louder.
Ms. Yehudah, 50, called for quiet. “Stop banging for one second!” she yelled. The barrage subsided.
“If there is no heat,” she shouted, “bang on the windows!”
The inmates, nearly invisible behind the windows, pounded louder and louder, the fusillade filling the wide empty street.
Around 6:30 Sunday night, electricity was restored. But it was not clear if problems with the heating system, which are unrelated to the electrical failure, had been fully resolved. On Sunday afternoon, some of the jail had heat but many cells did not.
Prisoners banging out complaints is nothing new, of course. Every old prison movie has a scene where the inmates drag their tin cups along the bars to make a ruckus.
At the Metropolitan Detention Center itself, there is a long tradition of loved ones down on the street shining flashlights up at the prisoners in greeting, and prisoners responding by making noise or waving their own reading lights.
Vincent McCrudden, a former inmate at the jail, recalled how excited prisoners got to see people down below.
“They’re freezing in there,” said Mr. McCrudden, 57. “They’re stuck with their cellies. So it’s nice — it’s incredible — for them to know people are out there.”
But the pounding has taken on a new resonance since Friday, when The Times revealed that most of the 1,600 inmates at the jail had been kept on lockdown in cells without electricity since a Jan. 27 electrical fire. When temperatures outside plummeted to 2 degrees, many cells were virtually without heat.
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Source — Les echos, New York Times