NEW YORK — A nearly blind inmate who spent more than 850 days in a Rikers Island jail facility after stealing NyQuil cold medication was transferred Tuesday morning to a state prison, his lawyer said.
Reggie Randolph’s documented mental health issues and a decades-long drug addiction have led to a complicated life, spent in and out of courtrooms and jail.
“I never thought this would be a chapter in my life,” Randolph, 58, told PIX11 News on a phone call from Rikers. “This place treats you like you’re an animal.”
A photo from 2016 is one of the most recent images available of Randolph. In it, he posed with his daughter during one of his brief stretches of freedom in between recurring stints at Rikers.
Over the course of his life, his time, energy and relationships with loved ones have been whittled away by the effects of drug addiction, mental illness and a myriad of medical issues, including pulmonary disease, asthma and failing eyesight.
Randolph feels his case has been mishandled by the criminal justice system when he should have been treated in a health care setting as an addict and mental health patient with medical issues.
“My health situation is not good,” he said. “I’m permanently blind in my right eye and I’m going blind in my left eye.
Randolph was sentenced to two to four years in state prison back in August after he stole NyQuil from two Manhattan Duane Reade pharmacy locations.
His lengthy sentence comes down to laws baked into New York’s legal system. Those laws do not take into account Randolph’s medical, mental and substance abuse issues.
Judge Cori Weston, a former Legal Aid attorney, seemingly acknowledged even her hands were tied when she addressed Randolph during his August sentencing.
“And I know that you have done a substantial amount of time, so I hope that while you are still in there, you can get some help for your drug problem…This is never a happy day for me, when I have to sentence someone,” Weston said.
Randolph said it was petit larceny, but under outgoing Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office, the charges were upgraded to burglary in the third degree.
“I feel like I’m being over-prosecuted for the crime,” he said. “I understand I am held accountable for my actions, I understand.”
Prosecutors chose to upgrade his case to include felony charges due to Randolph’s past criminal history, which includes five felony convictions between the mid-1980s and 2005.
The rest of Randolph’s criminal record consisted of more than 53 misdemeanor convictions for non-violent theft and drug possession charges.
He does not deny his past, but said the decades-long criminal history is directly tied to a decades-long drug addiction.
Randolph is represented by Legal Aid Society attorney Jeffrey Berman.
“This system has become totally desensitized to people’s pain and suffering,” Berman said. “And Reggie Randolph was arrested for stealing NyQuil. I would say the same thing for many or most of my clients. Our clients, as public defenders — there are health reasons that bring our clients into the criminal legal system.”
Many of those behind bars who’ve struggled with drugs and mental health issues now struggle to manage their recovery behind bars.
PIX11 News dove into the city’s recent Correctional Health Services reports, which do not offer a straightforward way to identify just how many incarcerated persons with non-violent criminal records also have extensive drug addiction and/or mental health histories: in other words, people like Randolph.
But we know from the Board of Correction’s weekly COVID-19 update reports for July, August and September of this year that the city averaged about 5,800 people in custody.
Numbers from the city’s recent monthly Health Correctional reports are staggering. Those health reports show a total 22,734 “mental health” service visits to inmates in custody, and a total of 2,740 “substance use” service visits made to inmates in custody: that’s for the three-month period of July to September of this year.
Incoming, newly-elected Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg has already stated his office will avoid the practice of felony upcharging non-violent misdemeanor crimes.
Presumably that includes cases like Randolph’s.
Randolph is receiving the medical and social services made available to inmates on Rikers Island, and said he’s been clean for almost a year now.
However, members of his support system on the outside said continued incarceration will not provide him with the best path to recovery.
That includes his former partner and mother of his two daughters, Tunisa McClan.
“We just had a spark and a connection. I seen in his eyes that he was a gentle, loving, giving man. I always hope for the best for him. He’s my children’s father. I want him to succeed in life, you know? Because he has a kind, loving heart, and he’s giving,” McClan said. “And this is what kept our connection, even though we’re not in a family unit. But he’s still my family. And he deserves the opportunity to show his children that he’s capable of so much more than what the state has labeled him has.”
Once out, Randolph’s already approved for placement in supportive housing.
There’s a room waiting for him at The Redemption Center, a 14-year-old Queens-based nonprofit where Mark Graham, who was formerly incarcerated, is the executive director.
“In Reginald’s situation, what he needs right now is treatment. And he needs to be connected to services. If we really want to say that we want to save our society, we want our streets to be safer, then that means we have to deal with this mental health issues that a lot of these people who are committing crimes have,” Graham said. “Because to send them in prison, and don’t deal with the issue, and then bring them back out – what we’re doing is we’re creating our own revolving door for people to go in and out of prison.”
The Manhattan DA’s office now supports an effort filed by the Legal Aid Society for New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to commute Randolph’s two- to four-year prison sentence for stealing Nyquil.
“I never thought as a kid this would be a chapter of my life,” Randolph said. “I’m not proud of the things I’ve done. I feel very, very bad for the fact that I deprived my kids of the father, you know, dealing with my drug addiction and my mental health issues. I feel very depressed and sad about that.”
PIX11 News reached out to Hochul’s office about Randolph’s petition to the Executive Clemency Bureau, which assists the governor in making clemency applications.
“While we cannot comment on pending clemency applications as the process is confidential, Governor Hochul is committed to improving justice, fairness, and safety in the criminal justice system, and we are reviewing applications in that context,” a spokesperson said.
PIX11 News will follow up.
It’s unclear when Gov. Hochul would make a final decision on Randolph’s clemency petition to allow for his transfer to supportive housing..
Randolph had hoped to hear back from Hochul before he was transferred from Rikers to state prison.
“I’m not giving up on myself,” he said. “I still believe in myself and I think I have a better life still ahead of me.”
Shortly before this story went to air, Randolph’s attorney informed PIX11 News his client was indeed transferred on Tuesday from Rikers Island to state prison.
A spokesperson for the Manhattan DA’s Office sent PIX11 this statement in regard to Reggie Randolph’s case:
“The Judge ruled that this was not a simple shoplifting case because Mr. Randolph removed more than 40 boxes from multiple stores in order to resell them. Regardless, our office supported Mr. Randolph throughout several stages of this case, from agreeing to handle his case in a specialized drug treatment court, to supporting his participation in multiple residential drug treatment programs in lieu of incarceration, to the clemency petition process currently underway.”