Richard Rosario: "This is the week, the month, the year. And it's been like that for 18 years."

Courtesy Rosario Family
Richard Rosario has trouble sleeping the night before his family visits. He usually wakes up at 5 or 6 a.m. Then he sobs. He pictures the end of the visit. He think about the months he'll have to go without seeing them. The closer it gets to their visit, the closer it gets to their departure. He cries until he is ready to get out of bed at around 8.

Photograph by Celeste Sloman

See also this week's feature story about Rosario's daughter: The Prisoner's Daughter: What if your dad had been doing time for murder for as long as you'd known him?

When they visit, he loses himself in their company. The guards and the walls fade away. It is only them, only family. Then a bell rings or a guard shouts and it is over and he goes back to the reality of his daily life.

For him the rough reality of incarceration began even before he was convicted of murder 18 years ago. Two weeks before his trial, he was slashed in the face with a razor in a holding cell in the Bronx Supreme Court building. He didn't know the guy who did it, he says. Gang initiation, he figured.

Then came the prison time, a 25-years-to-life sentence. He was stabbed in the torso one day. Another time, he spent 14 months in solitary confinement after guards accused him of participating in a prison riot. He has been transferred through nine facilities--because the guards think he is a rabble-rouser, he suspects. He says he has filed more than 100 complaints about guard treatment of inmates, and he often preaches about inmates' rights. When he was at Auburn, he applied to join and was accepted into the Actual Innocence group, a committee of inmates who discuss legal strategies for their cases.

"Richard's case made the group easy," says Derrick Hamilton, a member of the group who has since been released on parole after serving 20 years for a murder he claims he did not commit.

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