Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Jail Interview Steven Morales Gave to Columbia Grads

An Update to A Short Life Ends on Rikers Island, in a Place Where Suicide Isn't Supposed to Happen Below.

This update is thanks to the comment left by Mr.Angry.

In November, two Columbia graduate journalism students, Molly Messick and Sarah Morgan, interviewed Steven Morales for a story on his experience in foster care. Morales killed himself at Rikers five months later. (See Graham Rayman's "A Short Life Ends on Rikers Island, in a Place Where Suicide Isn't Supposed to Happen," also in this week's Voice .) The Voice asked Messick and Morgan for a write-up of their conversation.

On a day a few weeks after his 18th birthday, Steven Morales sat in a pew in the Rikers Island chapel. Next to him was Javier Solano, the court-appointed defense attorney who would try to prove that Morales was innocent of second-degree murder.

Morales was there because his infant daughter died of suffocation one October night while in his care. The police report described bruises and fingerprints on her scalp, as if she'd been pressed against her mattress.

We were there to talk to Morales about the life he'd had before, the path that had landed him in jail—by his own description, abandoned and alone. It was the day before Thanksgiving. In the six weeks that Morales had been at Rikers, Solano and his co-counsel had been his only visitors.

"Everybody abandoned me, you know?" Morales told us in his only interview following his arrest. "Now I know who is there for me—and it is nobody."

Morales was a slim young man, not tall, swimming in his gray Department of Corrections jumpsuit and shuffling in his standard-issue orange slip-on shoes. His hair was freshly cut. Solano teased him about how short it was, and Morales rubbed his head, bashful.

Then he began telling us his version of his life story, without hesitation or strong emotion. It was a story of neglect and abuse, of a life that moved him from place to place but ultimately gave him few options.

"So, I guess it started out when I was born," Morales said. He described his mother as a crack-addicted prostitute he remembered meeting only once, when he was about 10. He was raised in the Bronx by his father, a Vietnam veteran who owned his own business repairing commercial kitchen appliances. In Morales's words, his father "had a very strong disciplining system."

"He taught me hard lessons," Morales said, "such as not to play with fire." Morales said that once, his father had thrown a burning plastic shower curtain on him, leaving him with third-degree burns. Morales thought he was about four or five when that happened.

"My father, he was never really comprehensive on how to take care of children," Morales said. The city's Administration for Children's Services took Morales away from his father when he was in the first grade, after he arrived at school crying because he'd been beaten.

Much More ---

No comments: