When Gilberto Garcia died on Rikers Island at the age of 26 on Monday, becoming the 18th person to die in New York City custody this year alone, Department of Correction Commissioner Louis Molina issued a terse statement: "We send our deepest condolences to Mr. Garcia's loved ones and family at this difficult time."
On Thursday, Garcia's loved ones and family came to Rikers Island to visit Garcia's brother, Gilson, who is also being held there. However deep Molina's condolences may extend, the family say they weren't allowed to see Gilson and were sent away with a 45-day visitation ban.
Gilson Garcia, who was in the adjoining cell from his brother at the Anna M. Kross Center, has not been able to see any family since he watched helplessly on Monday as Gilberto died, his family says.
Yarielis Silverio, Gilberto’s sister-in-law, told Hell Gate that she; the Garcia brothers' younger sister, Yillivet; and a cousin of the Garcias traveled to Rikers yesterday to visit Gilson. Upon arrival, they presented DOC officials with birth certificates for Gilson and Gilberto, establishing that they are brothers, in the hopes that doing so would help persuade officials to allow Gilson leave to attend his brother's memorial service.
As they were being processed for visitation at Rikers's Samuel L. Perry Center, Silverio said, the family asked about how they might retrieve Gilberto's personal effects. The captain, Captain Thomas, he had a whole attitude. He just said, 'I don't give a shit,'" Silverio told Hell Gate. "Those exact words: 'I don't give a shit.' Everyone reacted like, whoa."
The family took offense, Silverio said. "I said, 'You're full of shit.' He got more upset."
Captain Thomas collected the family's names, retreated into an office, then came back out with an announcement, Silverio recounted. "He said, 'I have news for y'all. Your visit is done for today, and you're not going to see him. Then he told us he had filed papers so we were banned from visiting for 45 days."
Mayor Eric Adams pledged to fix New York City's troubled jails, but fatalities on the island have already outstripped the 15 people who died in City jails last year under Bill de Blasio. In June, the Adams administration unveiled an "action plan" to fix the notorious island jail complex, as part of an effort to avoid a court-ordered federal takeover. Judge Laura Taylor Swain agreed in June to give the City more time to implement the plan. Since then, 12 more people have died in custody.
The Garcia family left Rikers Thursday, without having visited with Gilson. They don't know when they will be able to see him, or whether he will be allowed to attend his brother's memorial service. In the meantime, Silverio says, the family is bearing the double burden of grief over the death of Gilberto on Rikers Island and escalating concern about Gilson, who's still there.
"I'm worried for him, I'm scared for him," Silverio said. "He just lost his brother. He's the one who found him deceased. I know he used to suffer from depression before, and now with this, I'm unsure if he's suicidal, I don't know what's capable of happening. I know he wants to see his family, hug someone, not be alone in his cell. He told me on the phone this morning, 'This is crazy, I'm still here, I'm still in the same cell.' Every time he closes his eyes, what do you think he's seeing?"
[UPDATE / 7:30 p.m.] Friday evening, after this story was published, the Department of Correction responded to Hell Gate's questions, saying that Gilson Garcia's family can resume visiting him starting the next day, Saturday.
"We understand the importance of family visitations, and the department makes every effort to ensure that people in custody can see their loved ones while remaining safe," a DOC spokesperson wrote. "Visits are important because they keep people in custody connected to their families and communities, enhancing their emotional well-being and contributing to the safety and security of the jails. We make every effort to accommodate as many visits as can safely occur.”