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Party Boy in a Cage

Alig in the visitor's room at the Emira Correctional Facility.  

For nine years, Alig moved around the New York State prison system. After leaving Rikers, he was sent to a reception facility where he and Freeze were in cells right next to each other. I ask if they ever talked about the night they killed Angel. “What do you think we talked about? Face cream?” Alig laughs. “We both had the same question, and the question was, how could two such intelligent, basically good people, with good intentions, allow their lives to spin so far out of control that something like this could happen? And the answer is obvious: It’s from our insecurities. Do I have to elaborate? I don’t think I do. This is going to sound so pathetic if you write this.” He slips into a mock-whiny, touchy-feely voice: “Michael needs to work on himself.

Eventually, Alig was sent to a protective-custody unit at another prison. “That’s where they put police officers who have been arrested, people who have been used as eyewitnesses, and a lot of drag queens, people on hormones. Almost half the guys there are gay.” Alig had been there for two years when he had his first relapse on heroin and, in 2000, was sent to a notorious place called Southport, where he was put in solitary confinement. He had no access to radio or television. He did not, for example, know that the 9/11 attacks had happened till a full week later.

“I was so inconsolably depressed and feeling so worthless there,” says Alig. “You are in your cell 24 hours a day. The only way you know what time of day it is, is when the food comes. Breakfast is at 6; lunch is 11 a.m.; dinner is at 4. The only person I saw all day was the porter. And get this: He was a heroin dealer! His mom was smuggling in a bundle a week, which is ten bags. And he saw how depressed I was, and he would come to my cell and say, ‘You really need a little of this and you’re not going to care anymore.’ There was no way I could say no.”

Alig was eventually busted after a dirty urine test, and his stay in solitary was extended from eight months to two and a half years. “It was the scariest place I have ever been in my life,” says Alig. “What Southport is famous for is the shit and the piss throwing. Because the inmates have no access to each other, what they do is fill cups up with shit and piss and throw it at each other. You get caught doing it once, they keep your hands handcuffed behind your back so you can’t throw anything. So if you really still want to get your neighbor with shit, guess what you do? You put it in your mouth and when you get to the yard, you spit it on someone.”

His body starts to tremble, and his voice cracks. “I really thought I was going to go crazy.” He begins to sob uncontrollably. “I just couldn’t believe it. I thought, What is wrong with me? Am I so bad that I have to be in a place like this? I kept telling myself, I am not a bad person. I have a drug problem and I need treatment.

He can barely get the words out, he is crying so hard. The façade, the breezy tone, the exclamation points have all fallen away. St. James, whose book Disco Bloodbath is brutal in its final judgment, had told me that he believes Alig is a sociopath. “He’s a mirror, and he will give to you whatever it is that he thinks you’re looking for. That’s why, when he’s talking to me and we’re doing the ‘Phone Call From a Felon,’ it is just lightness and fun and fabulous and sick, and then he’ll turn around to you or his mother and start crying.” It’s impossible for me to know for sure if this is an act, whether Alig is just mirroring my horror at what he is telling me. But it doesn’t feel like it. In this moment, he appears to be the embodiment of abject misery, bent in half, snot running out of his nose as he cries in violent spasms.

Alig moved to Elmira in 2004 and this year began, for the first time, drug counseling and psychotherapy. “I just finished today,” he says. “My therapy is going to continue, but the actual drug part of it is finished.” In honor of this graduation of sorts, Alig received what he calls a “touching” letter from one of his only friends in prison, a skinhead who lives in his cell block. “His other skinhead buddies don’t want him talking to me because I’m gay,” says Alig. “What irks them is that he, as he told me, is a bit more secure about his sexuality and is even willing to admit that under the right circumstances, if he and I were double bunked, things would happen.”