Former Bay Ridge District Leader Ralph Perfetto was convicted of impersonating a lawyer on May 26 and sentenced to 70 hours of community service. He was assigned to swab out prisoner holding pens in the Supreme Court building on Jay Street. Here, in his own words, are his experiences:
To the editor,
New York’s Boldest: That’s the nickname of Department of Correction personnel. While it implies their strength, it also gives a connotation of insensitivity. I found out that this is not so, when I reported to perform my court-mandated community service.
I was convicted of practicing law without a license, and was given a sentence of completing 10 days of community service. For a man who spent a lifetime of volunteered community service, 51 of those years documented by different forms of the media, I was looking forward to this challenge.
I was to report to the Supreme Court Building at 320 Jay St. under the jurisdiction of the Department of Correction. Our team of community service detainees — which numbered not more than 11 or less than six on different nights (except on the last night) — was to clean some four dozen holding pens of inmates who had to appear in court on their respective hearing dates. We were to wait until the prisoners were transported back to Rikers Island before cleaning the cells under Department of Correction supervision. I had until Sept. 19 to complete my 10 days, but I did it on the initial 10 days assigned to me.
Each day I would show up promptly and ready to work. My fellow detainees ranged in age from 21 to 33 years in age.
On my first night there, a strong young African-American named “Jay” quietly said to me, “Don’t worry Pop, we’ll cover for you.” I winked at him facetiously and said, “Thanks Jay, but I’ve been practicing all of my life for this. You just watch Pop work.” And that is the way it was throughout my 10 days there.
Among my fellow detainees I saw some who will only exist from incident to incident as long as they remain under the yoke of drug addiction. Conversely, I saw young people who began life with two strikes against them, but if they only had been more favored in life, could go on to a good and productive life.
However, my best experiences were with Department of Correction personnel, who up to this time were faceless, nameless people in uniform. Contrary to their nickname, I found that they were only bold when prisoners challenged their authority. I found them to be humane in their approach to doing their job. They observe and treat everyone as an individual. In my 10 days there, I interfaced with a score of the men and women of the Department of Correction, and was treated fairly by every one of them.
There were two officers in particular: the officer in charge, A. Ward, who would quickly get to know each detainee and explained to each of us how to do our assigned task in the easiest way possible. And then there was Officer Clarence Lewis, who is truly one of the finest uniformed officers in the city.
On the nights Lewis supervised us, he would check us out by size and age to give us our assignments. His first night with us he wanted to give me a lighter assignment and was surprised when I picked up a large push broom.
My two young Hispanic buddies, Georgie and Mike, said to him, “You haven’t seen Pop work.” I said to him, “How old do you think I am?” and he answered, “You have to be 62 or 63.” I said, “How about 77?” He said, “I don’t believe you.” I had to show him my driver’s license with my age on it. I then said, “I’ve been working since I was 13 years old,” whereby he replied, “I guess you began working as a young boy and never looked back.”
On my last night there, my earlier teammates had finished their community service, and I was left with two new fellows. There were only three of us to clean all the cells. I suggested to Mr. Lewis if I could use the garbage pails with the bags in them, instead of bagging the garbage in loose bags, it would save someone from having to hold them.
As we were finishing up I began to roll the dumpster stacked with tied garbage bags to the compactor room.
Mr. Lewis said, “I’ll get these young guys to dump the bags.” I said, “How about getting James to put all the equipment away, and Kevin to mop his way out, while I dump the bags?” He said, “OK, I’ll get some work gloves to help you dump the bags.” When he came back I was flipping the last bag over the seven foot high compactor wall. He shook his head and said, “77?”
As he was signing us out he extended his hand and said, “You gained the respect of everyone here.” I thanked him while extending my hand to him in respect and said, “This assignment gave me an opportunity to see first-hand the work of the Correction officers, and you can add ‘Humane’ to the ‘Boldest.’ ”