5 Years and Waiting: Rikers Inmate Says, 'I Just Want My Day in Court'

Greg Ferguson sees evolution at Rikers.

May 19, 2016, 12:36 PM

— -- At 50, Greg Ferguson is one of the old-timers at Rikers Island, residing at the New York City jail complex since 2011.

Felony cases in the Bronx can take years before they go to trial. In May 2011, Ferguson was arrested for attempted murder, and after four years at Rikers, he was convicted in April 2015. He has spent the past year awaiting sentencing.

Ferguson was representing himself until recently. He said he still has a motion pending on his case and that since his incarceration, he has encountered nine judges and 23 assistant district attorneys on his case.

"Every time I go to court, I get a court date for three months, four months down the road and then come back, and nothing happens," he told ABC News. "I just want my day in court. That's it."

Watch the full episode of “Hidden America: Inside Rikers Island,” a Diane Sawyer Special Edition of "Nightline," HERE and now on all ABC News devices, including Apple TV, Roku and Xbox One.

Rikers is a place where the wheels of justice can seem stuck in place and time can stand still.

"I've been in this building from the good, the bad, the ugly," he said.

But over five years, Ferguson says, he has seen significant changes at Rikers. It is hard to believe that it's the same jail, he said.

Last September, some of the inmates moved into newly renovated units. There are now approximately 400 inmates in 12 restarted housing units in the George R. Vierno Center. Ferguson noticed improvements immediately.

"[Since] we've been here since last year," he said. "No fights, no cuttings, no slashings, no stabbings."

The units have a fresh coat of paint, doors with the inmates' names on them, washers, dryers and a surprisingly effective innovation: Inmates can now watch television through headsets, which brings the noise level down, along with the possibility of conflict from viewers able to hear their shows.

They have programs too — certificate courses, job training and lessons on computer skills. There is a higher staff-to-inmate ratio: one staffer per 18 inmates. In the old units, the average is one to 35.

In his cell, vestiges of Ferguson's life on the outside are on display. It's his statement of pride, self-worth and humanity.

"These are my books," he says. "I do a lot of studying, I'm learning Italian. This is my mental intuition book. This is my Anthony Bourdain book. I love cooking. I'm like a chef."

Ferguson welcomes the solitude. "I stay to myself, basically," he says. "Nobody else does yoga. Nobody else meditates. Nobody listen to classical music. To them, they think it's weird. To me, it just keeps my sanity."

And peppered among the cookbooks and the rented sound equipment, there are folders filled with trial transcripts and law books piled on the floor. "These, I just recently received them. These are my trial transcripts," he said. "The wheels of justice turn very slow in the Bronx, so my motion still hasn't been decided, and the longer that I'm here, it's like more issues, you know, come about."

Ferguson's next court date is on June 25. Meanwhile, court officials and the Bronx District Attorney's Office have announced plans to speed up criminal court proceedings in the borough.

Watch the full episode of “Hidden America: Inside Rikers Island,” a Diane Sawyer Special Edition of "Nightline," HERE and now on all ABC News devices, including Apple TV, Roku and Xbox One.

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