Inside Riker's Island Through the Eyes of the People Who Live and Work There

Riker's Island | Image: Tim Rodenberg

The following article on Riker's Island jail in New York City is a lengthy yet absolutely fascinating read if you want to know the gritty truth about what goes on inside. It consists of many no-holds- barred, first-hand accounts of Riker's given by correction officers, teachers, personnel, inmates and even visitors to the jail, so that one may get the full grim view of the inherent problems within the system. These are problems so complex that even the best case scenario of a devoted, concerned reformer with financial resources likely would be unable to solve them. Here are some examples from different perspectives:

The Mental Health Worker for the Urban Justice Center: 

"People may go ten, 11 months without access to laundry, outside of the sink and a bar of soap. You’ll see people covered in their own filth. Last week, an inmate told me that he is supposed to receive twice-a-day medication sometime between 6:30 and eight in the morning and once in the evening. But the officer steps inside the entrance at the other side of the room and calls his name and says it’s time for meds, but not loudly at all, and doesn’t make an attempt to actually contact this person. The dorm is so loud. And he doesn’t hear his name or that it’s time [for his meds]. And the officers don’t follow up. If they don’t get a response, they walk away.

In that dorm, this happens half the time, based on what I’ve heard. So people on Lithium or Prozacclass="footnoteNumber">6 aren’t getting half that day’s medication, and it can be absolutely disastrous.

That’s not to mention there are often facilitywide lockdowns, when no movement is allowed in the entire facility. If that happens when medications or appointments are scheduled, they often don’t get their [treatment].

Therapy at Rikers often involves only a one-minute talk in which the doctor or social worker may say, “You’re at risk of injuring yourself. Are you okay?” And then they say, “Yeah? Good?” And then they move on."

The Female Corrections Officer:

"We deal with a lot of mental and physical abuse, from your inmates to your superiors... They try to threaten your life, and you have to take the threats very seriously.It’s a lot of stuff we handle as correction officers and we never get the props. Nobody never says, 'Oh, y’all do a wonderful job.' Nobody. We always are downplayed. Because you have some officers, don’t get me wrong, that don’t do what they supposed to do. They are dirty. They bring in stuff. It’s not an easy job.You do sometimes over 100 hours in overtime a month on top of 40 hours a week. As soon as you hear 'Inmate, oh, he get beat up,' nobody don’t understand what happened. What about officers leaving with broken nose, broken arms, spit on, feces thrown on them, urine thrown on them? You’re not dealing with a regular person on the street. Excuse my mouth, you’re dealing with animals. Some of them, some of them not. The majority are not there for being a good person."

The Inmate: 

"In the box, the bed is on the wall, so it’s lower to the floor. You’ve gotta be careful because there’s a lot of roaches and mice running around. You’ll be lying down with your eyes closed, and you’ll hear all of them making noises, going through your bags on the floor, ripping up pages from the books.


They don’t got no air conditioner [in the box]. Sometimes you be in your cell like nude, because it be hot and the windows don’t open up, and you’ll be complaining like, 'I need my window fixed.' And the officers will say, 'We’ll put in a work order.' But it never gets done.

What I’d do, I’d grab paper and I’d make a fan out of it. Sometimes the paper gets worn out, because I’d use it a lot, and sometimes there won’t be no more paper, so I’d fan myself with my shirt.

The box — it’s like you’re locked up twice as much as you’re locked up now. It’s a small room, so you really don’t move around a lot. You wake up, and there’s a toilet right next to your head. You look out the window and you see birds flying, and that only leads your mind into wanting freedom more. And since it’s a small room, it makes you think crazy."

Read many more firsthand accounts and see maps, statistics and more at this NY Magazine article. Contains NSFW Language and graphic descriptions.


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