Legal Aid Society

In Honor: Lives Lost in City Jail

Nineteen people have died while in the custody of the NYC Department of Correction in 2022 so far, making it one of the most deadly years in a decade. Jails are intended for short term confinement while one awaits a criminal trial, yet for too many, it ends up being the end of their life. The following multimedia project, In Honor: Lives Lost in City Jail, pays tribute to those lost this year in city custody, centered on four of the people and their families.

Erick, Robert, Dashawn, Michael

These are four of the nineteen who died this year in City custody. Each of the families seek justice in their own way. But despite differing views on how to solve the problem of a jail system that failed to provide adequate care, one thing unites them — the belief that their loved ones did not deserve to die at Rikers.

City jails house over 5,000 people on any given day

Rikers Island, the notorious island jail complex in the East River, is made up of menacing concrete buildings, high metal fences, a single bridge for access, and a faint view of the city’s skyline. The eastern tip of the island is less than 400 ft from LaGuardia airport. Incarcerated people are confronted day and night with the sound of airplanes– a perpetual reminder of and contrast to their captivity.

For decades, the jail complex has been mired in chaos and dysfunction, staff brutality and insubordination, decrepit housing conditions, and the lack of medical care. But, perhaps more jarring, has been the rise in the number of deaths on the island. 

We hear numbers, read names, see photos from the jail in the news, on social media, and at press conferences. Rarely do we learn about individual people behind the walls. 

Erick, Michael, Dashawn, and Robert each were students, community members, sons, and friends. They each had lives before jail and undoubtedly envisioned a life beyond. Their families and friends are left with just their memories. They grapple with how to come to terms with deaths they know were unjust.

In the following tribute pages, family and friends of Erick, Michael, Dashawn, and Robert give us a glimpse of their loved one. They share photos, intimate memories, and objects. Sharing of themselves so publicly is not easy and we greatly appreciate their generosity.

In Honor: Lives Lost in City Jail was created for The Legal Aid Society by Phoebe Jones.

Erick Tavira

Erick was 28 years old when he died in DOC custody. View his tribute.

Robert Pondexter

Robert was 59 years old when he died in DOC custody View his tribute.

Dashawn Carter

Dashawn was 25 years old when he died in DOC custody. View his tribute.

Michael Lopez

Michael was 34 years old when he died in DOC custody. View his tribute.

We remember all those who died this year

From the words of Marta Tavira, an aunt to Erick Tavira, “Justice for Erick. Justice for everyone that died in Rikers. May they all rest in peace.”

Gregory Acevedo
Antonio Bradley
Kevin Bryan
Anibal Carrasquillo
Dashawn Carter
Ricardo Cruciani
Herman Diaz

Albert Drye
Gilberto Garcia
Michael Lopez
Edgardo Mejias
Elijah Muhammad
Michael Nieves
George Pagan

Robert Pondexter
Emanuel Sullivan
Erick Tavira
Mary Yehudah
Tarz Youngblood