Closing the Last Prison Ship | God's World News

Closing the Last Prison Ship

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    The Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center is docked in the Bronx borough of New York City on October 16, 2023. (AP/Seth Wenig)
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    The Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center was meant to be a temporary facility to ease overcrowding on Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex for detainees awaiting trial. (AP/Seth Wenig)
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    A sign marks the entrance of the Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center. (AP/Seth Wenig)
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    The Rikers Island jail complex in New York (AP/Seth Wenig)
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Kenneth Williams has lived in Brooklyn his whole life. But it wasn’t until 2018 that he learned about New York City’s floating jail—when he walked a narrow plank in shackles. Now after three decades, the 800-bed lockup—the last operating prison ship in the United States and a grim reminder of New York’s mass incarceration problem—has closed.

Docked offshore of the South Bronx, the Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center is a five-story jail barge. As long as two football fields, it resembles a cargo-stacked container ship. It’s the last of an entire floating jail fleet used by New York City in the 1980s to 1990s.

When the Bain barge arrived in the Big Apple in 1992, officials intended it to be temporary. It would ease overcrowding on Rikers Island, NYC’s infamous main jail complex.

But the barge kept floating along. Mostly.

Williams, now 62, says, “Every once in a while you could feel the boat dropping into the muck.” He called it “a stark reminder that this place wasn’t meant for human confinement.”

Officials say the ship’s closure is part of restructuring the city’s long-troubled correctional system. Even Rikers is scheduled to close in 2027.

On board, detainees lived in stifling dormitories, with cots inches apart. “If you faced the person in the bed next to you, your knees would touch,” says Williams. “If they snored, you could smell their breath.”

People say the aging barge rocked in the river’s current and leaked in the rain. Sometimes the electrical system short-circuited.

Suffering and punishment have been part of the human story since the days of Adam and Eve. As a result of their sin, they experienced hardship and passed that misery on. Thankfully, Jesus prepares a home—one without decay, incarceration, or death—for all who believe in Him.

Stephan Khadu transferred to the Bain Center in 2020. He was awaiting trial on gang-related charges.

Family members say 24-year-old Khadu talked about the boat’s oppressive heat, moldy quarters, and plentiful rats. Before his trial, he died due to a rodent-borne disease. Properly treated, it’s not usually fatal.

Lezandre Khadu, Stephen’s grieving mother, blames the boat’s conditions for her son’s illness. She planned a trip to the place where her son spent the final year of his life. “I want to see for myself that there will never be another soul on that boat.”

Marvin Mayfield is another former Bain resident. He says, “Closing the boat should have happened decades ago.”

I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. — John 14:3

Why? Note Lezandre Khadu’s use of the word soul. If we saw others—even the incarcerated—as souls, would it change how we treat them?

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