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What I saw on Rikers Island: Brutality and humiliation in a New York City jail

July 23, 2014

Rikers is a New York City jail that holds about 11,000 inmates who are awaiting trial or sentencing, or who have been convicted and sentenced to a year or less of time. Cecily McMillan writes about her experience there:

Violence is easy to grasp and to condemn. What’s harder to understand for people who haven’t done time is the day-in, day-out degradation and neglect.

Inmates are routinely denied basic medical treatment. I saw a woman soiled with vomit and sobbing for hours. We other inmates were afraid and concerned. We didn’t know what was happening, or what we could do. Finally, at the insistence of a few inmates, she was taken to the hospital. She never came back. Her name was Judith. She had befriended me before she died.

I fear for my jailhouse “madrina” (godmother), who remains on Rikers. For more than a month, she has been asking to get a biopsy of a lump in her throat, which she worries is a recurrence of the cancer she was treated for years ago.

And then there is the ritual humiliation of the inmates — not physical death, but death of the soul.

Read full op-ed in “What I saw on Rikers Island.