It was as if the card were a passport to the place where he so desperately wanted to live. “I went to a store in Manhattan with him one time,” says Monet. “He was like, ‘We gonna go to Prada, then we gonna go to Fendi.’ He said he had his grandmother’s credit card and he’s gotta get some Pradas. He was like, ‘Come on, I’ll get you a pair.’ And when we got to the Prada store, he just walked in like he was P. Diddy. He saw these gold Pradas with straps, and he was like, ‘Oh, I have to have those.’ He was like, ‘Miss, do you have these in a size 38?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, you want to try them on?’ He was like, ‘No need to try them on. Just put ’em in a bag, ring ’em up.’ He had this attitude like he owned the world.” But now Kevahn would spend Christmas on Rikers.
On a raw, rainy winter day, a crowded bus carrying visitors trundles across the bridge to Rikers. The inmates wear jail-issue gray jumpsuits and socks and flip-flops to the communal visiting room but otherwise are allowed to wear their own civilian clothes—anything except gang colors or “contraband” items like, say, rhinestone-encrusted Christian Dior glasses worn without a prescription. Other teenagers who have been to the Island have told me that if a skinny kid was dressed in designer sweaters and sneakers in there, his things would be stolen. Sitting across a plastic table from Kevahn, in the din of families visiting on either side of us, I ask if people take his clothes. “No,” he says, with a small smile. “They can’t fit into it.”
I ask him what the worst thing is about being locked up. “There’s no respect,” he says. “I’m used to walking into any luxury store and being greeted at the door.” He quotes the refrain from the song “Glamorous” by Fergie and Ludacris: “If you don’t have no money, take your broke ass home,” and adds, “I say the opposite: If you can pay … ” Then you can stay. Even if you only appear to have paid. Right here in the middle of Rikers, Kevahn is animatedly critiquing his favorite designers, stores, and shopping bags. He’s a big fan of Hedi Slimane, the former designer at Dior Homme—he’s even mentioned that he’d like to be a Dior model—and eagerly quizzes me on how to pronounce his name correctly.
“I was the first person with patent-leather Pradas. Now everybody in Queensbridge got patent-leather Pradas.”
Even though he was charged with criminal trespass at Saks when he was recognized there after he’d previously been arrested for stealing, he says he’d go back. The same goes for Barneys. It’s as if the stores are religious shrines for him. I ask if he knows about Winona Ryder shoplifting at Saks and Barneys and that she was dressed by Marc Jacobs for her own felony trial. “Can she go back into Barneys?” he asks. I say I’m not sure, but I bet she can. “Why?” he asks.
If there is any hope that an extended stay in jail can scare a kid straight, that doesn’t seem to be happening. Instead, Kevahn is learning that he can survive here. While he was there, a 17-year-old committed suicide on Rikers. Kevahn says he saw it happen. “I was cleaning up late at night, sweeping, to keep it sanitary. I do it every day.” He heard one corrections officer shout to another, “Somebody hung up!” He heard more shouting—“Hung up, hung up!”—and everyone went running to see. He saw them take this kid down.
I tell him I’ll give his family a message if he’s got one. He does. He wants me to tell his mom that he doesn’t have anything in his commissary account. If she’ll put some money in, he can buy himself some Chips Ahoy cookies.
He’s going to have to get it together if he expects to not spend the rest of his life locked up,” says Nancy Ginsburg, the director of the adolescent team at Legal Aid. “I mean, this kid is like a one-man crime wave!” She laughs in disbelief.
On his 17th birthday, Kevahn is brought to court from Rikers to face his new charges. His mother has taken the day off from work to come to court and see him. Over a fast-food lunch, she recalls an afternoon when she’d just returned home from her job as an aide to developmentally disabled adults. A salesclerk from the Hugo Boss store called her cell phone to say that Kevahn had put some things on hold for her to come in and buy, and when would she be in to pay for them? He’d told the clerk that he was out shopping with his mom, and that she’d be there in a minute, wearing a brown cashmere coat. His mother breaks out in laughter, in spite of her worry and disapproval, remembering that detail. She told the clerk that if they saw him in the store again, they needed to make him leave or call the police.