New York City’s Rikers Island Jail is the second most populated jail in the nation, holding roughly 10,000 inmates daily and cycling around 77,000 people yearly, according to the New York Times. Most are African-Americans and Latinos from New York’s low income neighborhoods.Of the men and women that sit there, an estimated 85 percent are partial detainees uncertain of their fate while they wait for their conviction. What do they do in the meantime to keep their heads above water, to stay out of trouble? Friends of Island Academy director of programming Messiah Ramkissoon started "Breaking The Chains" to fill the that void.
“Breaking The Chains is a program we started to connect with young people in a more influential and innovative manner through the creative arts, through hip-hop, poetry, and all forms and genres of creative arts,” Ramkissoon said.
Through monthly in-house showcases, Ramkissoon hopes Breaking The Chains will be not only an escape for Riker’s young population of inmates, but also a way to put their talents to use instead of sitting idle.
The showcase participants are given a theme to write a song about and perform. The showcase also features guest artists from the community to serve as a "beacon of light for young people who are dealing with a lot of stress, trauma, and tension during their time of incarceration.”
With a background in performaning arts, Ramkissoon always knew how to connect with people using his niche but he said his inspiration came from a close friend who was incarcerated.
“He saw what I was doing through the performing arts and said you need to come to these jails. So 10 years ago, I started going to these jails with him through his organization,” Ramkissoon said. “When he would go speak at these jails, I would use poetry and hip-hop to connect with these young people.”
The feedback he received was confirmation that this was calling.
“The ones that were rebellious or were the toughest to work with, I saw them connecting with me the most … I don’t think you can choose this type of work. I think it chooses you. It’s one thing to connect with people in the jail, but it’s another thing when young people come home and they start calling you. They start looking for you. They start following up with you.”
As one of A3C’s Action Summit pitch finalists, Friends of Island Academy will be at A3C Oct. 6 to pitch their idea for a chance to win $10,000. Don’t miss out!