Photos: Former Drug Convict Breaks Back Into Prison for One Night
An award winning photojournalist revisits the prison where he spent 13 years for murdering his drug dealer. He captures the experience with haunting photos.
Nick Brooks, a pseudonym for a former convict and award-winning photojournalist, spent 13 years of his life in prison for murdering a drug dealer. A decade later, he decided to break in to that same prison, for just one night—in a quest for closure. He has detailed the experience with a collection of stunning photos (below) and an essay published in Narratively.
Brooks was born in the Bronx, where he spent most of his life in the midst of drugs and violence. “When I was seven I came home from school and found my mother passed out on the living room floor, syringe sticking out of her arm. They saved her body but they couldn’t save her life, and I went to live with my grandmother in Yonkers,” says Brooks.
Later, he experimented with drugs as a teenager and quit only when they nearly killed him: “Drugs ruined everything in my life, including my mother and many of my closest friends.”
He says it was a deep-rooted “hatred” for drugs that drove him to murder a neighborhood drug dealer by shooting him three times in the back the Winter of 1990. He spent the next 13 years in prison on charges of manslaughter before being released in 2003.
Once released, determined to turn things around, he went to NYU for creative writing, worked as a paralegal investigating claims of prisoner innocence, and found an apartment in the village. But his past continued to plague him:
“Despite graduating NYU with the highest honors, no one would give me a job. They never said it, but it was always my criminal record. Deprived of a legitimate way to earn a living, I lost my apartment. Slowly I lost many of my friends. Lovers disappeared. Then, instead of a gun, I picked up a camera and shot my way onto the pages of the New York Post, becoming a freelance news and documentary photographer. Life didn’t suck. In fact, it was pretty good.”
A decade later, he broke his way into prison, for just one night. He hauntingly describes the experience of reliving his past incarceration:
“Staring out the window of a Hell’s Kitchen tenement on a gray fall day, like a prisoner gazing through the tiny window of his cell, I remembered a bit of news I’d heard some time before. The prison I was released from a decade earlier, the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility, had closed and now lay empty. I remembered the days I spent there and became oddly yet amusingly sentimental.”
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