“The Rikers Island Bar,” by Robert Knightly
I’m driving over the Francis R. Buono Memorial Bridge for the nine hundredth time (figuring once a week, four times a month, times twelve months, times eighteen years). The bridge connects the Queens mainland to Rikers Island, which is floating in the East River and a mere hundred yards off the runways of LaGuardia Airport. Rikers Island is the main New York City jail, housing 12,000 or more inmates at any given time, depending on how tough on crime the NYPD chooses to be. Rikers Island is America’s largest penal colony, a city of rolling razor wire far as the eye can see. I’m en route there because I’m a lawyer assigned by the Criminal Courts to defend a fellow who claims to be “indigent” (no dough to hire a lawyer), so he gets me, whom the inmates call “an 18-B” (short for the section of the County Law), as distinguished from “a real, paid lawyer,” whom they’d hire if they could. I pay no mind; I’ve heard it all before . . .