HARI SREENIVASAN: Next to another in our Brief But Spectacular series, where we hear from interesting people about their passions.
Tonight, Vaughn Brown and Ivan Mayo, who were both incarcerated as teenagers at Rikers Island. Now in their early 20s, they’re part of the Getting Out and Staying Out reentry program based in East Harlem.
VAUGHN BROWN, Formerly Incarcerated: Every day you wake up while you’re incarcerated, you think about that one day that you got locked up. If I would have done things differently 40 minutes, if I would have decided that, you know what, stay home, how much different my life could be and would be now.
IVAN MAYO, Formerly Incarcerated: Once you start doing grown man time, it’s grown man business. There’s a lot of things you got to do to keep yourself safe, occupied and just get home in one piece.
VAUGHN BROWN: I got involved with the wrong crowd. And that’s not an excuse for the bad decisions that I made. March 3, 2011, I got arrested for attempt robbery in the second-degree.
IVAN MAYO: When I was 13, I was incarcerated. I never really took things serious. I always thought things was a joke until reality really hit me.
VAUGHN BROWN: My first day in Rikers Island, it was kind of like, I’m actually locked up. I can’t believe that I’m actually locked up. You just wanted to like wake up and it would all be a dream.
IVAN MAYO: I felt like my life was over. I felt like there was no coming back.
QUESTION: You spent 13 to 20 in the system?
IVAN MAYO: Yes. Yes, that bothers me a lot, too, because I never really had a childhood. And then I say, and the way I act now is how I would have act when I was younger.
VAUGHN BROWN: I got into a few fights. And it was — a lot of it was back to back.
If someone seen that this person did something to you and you did nothing about it, then you open the door for everyone. And, eventually, they sent me to the box for about four months.
QUESTION: What is the box?
VAUGHN BROWN: Oh, it’s solitary confinement, basically. You’re surrounded by your thoughts, everything you did, everything you wanted to do, what you could have did better. After that, that I decided that, whenever I get out of jail, I’m never coming back.
IVAN MAYO: I always tell myself I’m not going back. And I’m going to always stick to that. I will never go back to prison.
It’s not a place for anybody. It’s not a — I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I don’t think it corrects you. I think it makes you kind of wiser, but it gets you a little angry at the same time.
VAUGHN BROWN: Fortunately, for me, when I came out of the box, I went back to school. This year, I read about 70-plus books, social psychology, psychology, the foundation of social work practice, just to name a few.
QUESTION: And you like cooking; is that right?
IVAN MAYO: Oh, yes, of course. I’m a chef, Mr. Chef.
QUESTION: What do you make?
IVAN MAYO: On occasional times, I probably make salad. Everybody asks me. They wake me up out of my sleep if I’m sleeping on the table, yo, make some salad. I’m like I can do that.
VAUGHN BROWN: With being branded a felon, you’re denied employment, housing, and education in a lot of ways.
And for a lot of people, the reason why they turn back to crime is because, if I’m being denied all this, people now feel like they have limited options. At that point, it’s now easy for a person to say, you know what, I’m going to stick with what I’m already comfortable with anyway.
IVAN MAYO: It do bother me when people realize that I have been in jail, and they’re like, oh, you missed this, you missed this type of event, you missed this event. Like — and it bothers me. I always wanted to be a part of stuff.
How they say — what is the saying? You trip and fall, you got to get back up or whatever? I guess I tripped for a long time man and had to get back up on my feet.
My name is Ivan Mayo.
VAUGHN BROWN: My name is Vaughn Brown.
IVAN MAYO: This is my Brief But Spectacular take…
VAUGHN BROWN: … on getting out and staying out of jail.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can watch additional Brief But Spectacular series on our Web site, pbs.org/newshour.