Image: presentation on the Vernon C. Bain Center on Friday, November 4th, 2022.
The Vernon C. Bain Center (VCBC) is an 800-bed, 191-meter floating detention facility moored in the East River within the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx. It functions as an auxiliary of the Rikers Island jail complex and is the primary facility for the criminal court intake in the Bronx. In recent history, the South Bronx has been subjected to some of the most severe impacts of structural racism in New York City throughout periods of planned shrinkage, economic collapse, redlining, and revanchist schemes of urban planning that continue to sabotage public health. I argue that the placement of VCBC in the South Bronx and its continued existence in the same place are deliberate attempts by the City of New York to obscure a node of its violent carceral network.
In 2021, I collaborated on a series of films titled Edgelands, including Edgelands: VCBC, with the filmmaker Laura Poitras in collaboration with the grassroots organization Take Back The Bronx (TBBX). Through the film, we investigated a public health crisis aboard the vessel during the COVID-19 pandemic by intercepting radio transmissions from prison staff. In 2022, we organized community-centered events with TBBX that combined screenings and panel discussions with prison abolitionists and medical professionals to generate tactics for organizing against VCBC. While Poitras and I have concluded our investigation into the conditions aboard VCBC, I am engaged in new research into the facility's history.
I have recently discovered materials related to the construction of VCBC in the archives of Avondale; the now-defunct Louisiana-based shipbuilder contracted to create the facility. The archives include never-before-seen documentation of the facility’s interior, financial and budgeting records, and correspondences within the company. Additionally, I have been locating documentation from individuals who either worked for or overlapped with the shipbuilders. These materials give form to the undefined nature of the facility and create unprecedented accountability for its existence. However, they have never been assembled together nor made available to the wider public.
I am working with Disruption Network Lab in 2022-2023 to present the history of this structure through a commissioned video installation. My work with Disruption Network Lab will also support my ongoing legal inquiries about the current infrastructure implemented, and whether or not the facility uses smart technology. The findings could be used for activist goals.
Upon conclusion of my work with Disruption Network Lab, my long-term goal is to create an archive housed within a public educational institution in New York City. The purpose of the archive would be to provide activists and whistleblowers with full context on the facility's history and infrastructure and to provide an opportunity for people working outside of academic or arts-based environments to examine one of the most inaccessible carceral structures in the city.