Lucas Foglia's Rikers Island is a Garden of Eden

Rikers Island is New York City's main jail complex. When I visited it in 2014, news stories were circulating about prisoners being beaten, killed, or left in solitary confinement. The week before, four officers pummeled a man with mental illness until he was unconscious. The New York Times had recently reported cases of prisoners being violently punished for attempting suicide. One man I photographed was a twenty-four-year-old named Jairo who had been waiting for trial since he was eighteen.

Rikers has three organic gardens run by the Horticultural Society of New York, where prisoners are guided by a German lady they call Miss Hilde and a guard they call Miss Martinez. Together, they tend flowers and vegetables. At dawn, the air smells of tomato vines and salt from the water nearby. Guinea hens look for bugs in the bushes. Birds sing from the top of the chain-link fence that rises twenty feet in the air, looped with barbed wire.

I was granted access for a week. Riots and lockdowns were happening in the buildings around us. But the biggest drama in the garden was a jailbreak by a handful of baby chicks who had waddled through the fence.

Originally published in Issue Two of Us of America.

Words and photography: Lucas Foglia