Now out on bail, Gallagher told Ireland on Sunday of his fears during his time in the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and personally did the voice-over for radio advertisements for the story.
The chef, who earned a Michelin star and cooked for people like President Bill Clinton and U2’s Bono during his heyday, told how he was grabbed and pinned to the ground by seven U.S. marshals outside his New York restaurant, Traffic, when he was arrested on the extradition warrant.
Gallagher, 32, who is facing charges that he stole three paintings in December 2000, was extradited back to Ireland earlier this month.
The paintings are claimed to be the property of the Fitzwilliam Hotel on St Stephen’s Green, where Gallagher ran his former restaurant, Peacock Alley.
Gallagher said that at night the jail echoed to the constant screams of prisoners being raped or beaten up.
Each cell was equipped with ducts for releasing tear gas to quell outbursts of violence and he was one of the few white inmates.
Warders stood by as Hispanic prisoners jostled him and whispered “Culo mio,” which he said meant “your ass is mine.”
Showering in the jail terrified him and on one occasion a prisoner openly masturbated in front of him.
“Sometimes I’d be showering and I’d think: ‘This is it.’ We’d get razors to shave ourselves and I’d be certain that someone was going to slit my throat,” Gallagher said.
A Colombian drug baron serving a life sentence grabbed him by the hair and threatened to kill him.
His overriding memory was constant fear during the five weeks he was in the jail.
“There were lots of screaming and crying,” he said. “Sometimes you’d hear men praying, sometimes having sex. I never cried but sometimes I prayed. I really had the horrors.”
Eventually he was befriended by Mafia prisoners and word went through the prison that he was with the mob and was “not to be messed with.”
He bartered for ingredients and cooked stews for his newfound prison colleagues and swapped recipes with them, he said.
His only desire now was to clear his name at his trial, which is due to start on June 30.