I am 28 years old and have been on this island for 26 months. It began with an awful, nauseating bus ride from the courthouse. You spend about twenty-four hours in intake getting processed. They send you to either a dorm (big room with some metal beds) or a unit with individual cells.

The food is so unhealthy. Nothing but starch and carbs. There is no gym or any real way to stay in shape. They count us like six times a day to make sure we haven’t run away. Commissary sells a bunch of junk food. The healthiest things in there are tuna and tea.

The worst part about jail is the strip-searches and the regular searches. When you first come in you are strip-searched. When you return from anywhere outside (i.e. working, hospital, court) they search your cell. It is so degrading and humiliating.

The best things, which they make hard for you anyway, are visits and getting mail.

I just want to sum up by saying not everyone in jail is guilty. We are detainees. We are here to prove our innocence. But to the Department of Corrections we are not innocent until proven guilty. We are guilty until proven innocent.
-Brigitte Harris

My first day at Rikers was horrible. I had to be checked out by doctors and sleep on the floor. The food was cold and looked like dog food. The COs (correctional officers) treated me badly. They cursed and called me names.

I try to stay out of trouble and read more, but there is so much drama around me. They have roaches that fly and all types of bugs I have never seen before. It’s very dirty. Most people don’t take showers. The CO searches my clothes and me at any given time. There is a limit to phone calls, visits, TV, everything. Jail is not the place to be. Freedom is everything.
-Sparkle Daniel

I’ve been in prison for going-on a year. It’s a very dirty and dangerous place to be. The inmates don’t get the help that is greatly needed for their cases. It’s a place you don’t want to come to—so please obey the law and stay in school. This place is scary. So please do the right thing, and say no to drugs.
-Luz Mendez

I am 25 years old and right now I am on Rikers Island. I have no children. However, I have raised children—so I know what it is to want the best for the younger generation.

The first thing that I want you guys to know is that jail is not only for “bad people.” Jail holds all types of people (good, bad, nice, mean, etc.).

A lot of the women in jail are good people who at one point in time made a bad decision.

It is very important to love what you do and be focused. For example, when you’re in school some children would say it’s boring. I think you should find something you like in school that’ll keep your mind entertained and focus on that. Before you know it, it’ll be time to go home and you would have had a good day.

Whenever you are going through something, please speak about it. Talk to your counselor, your parents, or even your older siblings. Don’t be afraid to express yourself. Always remember that you are somebody, and your feelings really do matter. Be good at what you do and remain focused. Although it may be fun and cool to be outside in the streets, when you really think about it, there’s nothing you can learn from them. Ask to be in as many programs as possible. Love your life and remember you are somebody. Make the people who love you, care for you, and have helped you at one point in time be happy. Finish school and become an important person in this world. When you see people doing things that they’re not supposed to, stay away from them. You will be in the same amount of trouble as them if you were just there. Always be a leader, and not a follower.
-Daisha Galarza

I’ve been on Rikers Island for two years and some months… and I believe we all deserve a second chance. This place is no place for women. Jail is no place for anyone. It’s a lot to endure. When I think of the word “jail,” here are a few words that come to mind: favoritism, cut-throat, degrading, loneliness, filth. After reading that list, you tell me if it’s a place you want to be.

The story is as follows… a cutthroat world inside of a world; jail—a building with gates that locks you; you would swear a black cloud lived over it. Favoritism and ignorance is the norm. Either you’re not the right color or you don’t have the right look. Where does that come in in the job description?

Degrading: they strip search us, throw around our property, and take whatever they want from us. Jealousy is all over the place. People hate you because they are not as fortunate as you. And they get angry when you don’t want to talk to them or share your business. You could be embarrassed at any time. The officers talk to you like you’re worthless.

Loneliness is an emotion that is always there. It’s hard to share your feelings with anyone. There are psychiatrists you can talk to, but they might most likely try to give you medication that you don’t need—as opposed to talking to you.

Let’s not forget the filth: it’s dirty. There are bugs, huge roaches, and mice. The food is horrible, and you only get to talk to your family 21 minutes at a time—if you have money. A visit is only an hour. Imagine a limit on the amount of time you spend with your loved ones and family! At home you can be around your family all day… plus eat home-cooked food.

The list could go on and on, but the best way to cope is to stay away. Everyone makes mistakes. There are some good women here, but my advice is before you do something foolish, think about what you have to lose. So stay free, stay happy.
-Erica Olivencia

Five words to describe Rikers:
1.    Unlawful: adj 1) not lawful: contrary to law: ILLEGAL 2) not morally right or conventional. Unlawful
2.    Unjust: adj: characterized by injustice: deficient in justice and fairness: wrongful {complained of unjust treatment in court} Unjust
3.    Inhumane: adj 1) lacking pity or kindness: savage. 2) lacking human warmth: impersonal. 3) not fit, adequate, or worthy. Inhuman
4.    Degrade: vb 1) depose 2) to dray down in moral or intellectual character {degraded by a life of crime} Degrading
5.    Alone: adj 1) separated from others: ISOLATED {alone in my room} 2) exclusive of anyone or anything else. Lonely
Jail: n: a building for the temporary custody of prisons {“little cage”}.

What do freedom, love and family mean to you?
-Ruby Malik