There's not much inside “the box” at New York City’s Rikers Island jail, says the Center for Investigative Reporting. Cinder block walls rise up and close in. There's a bunk, a sink, a toilet and a metal door with a small mesh window. Food comes through a slot. Sometimes, mice and roaches scamper through. At any given time, about 100 teenagers are housed in solitary confinement there, an abnormally high number compared with estimated rates of solitary confinement across the U.S.
Teenagers kept in the box sometimes hallucinate and throw fits. They splash urine around or smear their blood and shit on the walls. The concrete room gets so hot in the summertime that the floor and walls sweat. Ismael Nazario's longest stretch in the box lasted four months. He paced a lot, talking to himself and choking back tears and rage. He tried to block out the screaming of the teenage boys in other jail cells, but he couldn't. Sometimes, he would stand at the door of his tiny cell and yell. Because of its imposing size and notoriety, many people think Rikers is a prison, but it's not. It's a city jail, where on any given day about 85 percent of inmates await the resolution of their cases, says the New York City Board of Correction. Most of the teenagers there are locked up because they can't afford bail.