Concept: Elijah Kuan-Wong & Sidd Joag Drawings: Jacob Cohen
Jacob Cohen is a Brooklyn-based experimental cellist, visual artist, and educator. Since 2014, he has been working with adolescents and young adults incarcerated on Rikers Island. He brings his cello directly to the housing units, often playing for those that have received infractions for violent behavior while on Rikers. After about a year he started to draw portraits of them and their surroundings. At first they were very basic, but over time complexity and nuance began to develop and the drawings began to capture something deeply personal about the subjects, and revealing of the system in which they are ensnared. There are no photos taken of the inmates during their incarceration other than their mugshot. No cameras are allowed onto the island. These images are of youth, ages 16-21, currently incarcerated and awaiting sentencing.
One of the kids drew a picture of his scalpel.
"The officers say I have the face of a criminal."
“I’m never getting cut again.”
He took 15 years and went Upstate.
Preparing a meal: 2 ramen packages, seasoning, mackerel, tuna steak, and mustard mixed with sugar and water (aka honey mustard).
Playing cards, a common activity on the units.
Crema locked in
Locked into his cell. He told me he wants this drawing so he can hang it on his wall when he gets home.
He made a hat out of the sleeve of a thermal.
The scar on his arm is from getting cut with a machete by a rival gang.
He turned down his plea deals and is taking his case to trial.
The Department of Corrections lets the girls keep their piercings but not the boys. The boys will use anything to make a weapon. The girls don’t cut each other as much.
She got indicted and has been waiting for over 15 months on the Island to see what is going to happen with her sentencing. She recently met a boy on the court bus as they were being transported to the courthouse. They have been talking to each other on conference calls with a mutual friend and writing letters back and forth.
He got blindsided by another kid while he was on the phone. The kid that attacked him was going upstate the same day and probably wanted to make a statement.
Mac Balla Brims
Some of the young adults I work with.
This kid is constantly fighting.
He took out his scalpel during one of my sessions and held it high in the air to show the officer. The officer told him to put it away before he called for a search.
I learned how to draw hands by drawing gang signs. I also learned that they have an extensive and highly developed sign language. This means that he has beef with the 4’s in the Bronx.
The small marks on his arm are cuts. He said he wanted to test out his blade.