Sunday, February 25, 2007

Inside Rikers, by Jennifer Wynn

(hb; 2001: non-fiction)

From the inside flap:

“Rikers Island – just six miles from the Empire State Building – is one of the largest, most complex and expensive penal institutions in the world, yet most New Yorkers couldn’t find it on a map. Like many prisons in America, Rikers performs an expert magic trick: it disappears people, keeping in those who want to get out and keeping out those who want to get in.

“Jennifer Wynn has been going in for seven years. She entered first as a journalist, volunteered as a writing teacher, and then served as director of a unique rehabilitation program known as Fresh Start.

“In the genre of literary sociology, Wynn takes readers over the Rikers Island bridge, into the jails, and then back out – to the communities where her students were born and raised. She chronicles their journeys as they struggle to ‘go straight’ and find respect in a city that fears and rejects them. Moving stories from a handful of ex-cons who have transformed their lives offer hope to a crime-weary public and to former prisoners in search of second chances. Interviews with leading criminologists shed light on the motives of urban offenders and explain why nearly 75 percent of Rikers inmates return to jail within a year of being released.

Inside Rikers also captures voices from the other side, the nearly ten thousand correction officers who earn their living ‘on the Rock,’ as the inmates call it, and why many believe that they, too, are ‘doing time.’”


Good, informative read about those who “do time” on Rikers, whether they’re prisoners or guards. There weren’t a lot revelations in the book for me – being a viewer/reader of prison-based (screen)writers – but for anyone who’s unaware of, or interested in, the high rates of recidivism among prisoners, the past history of police and prisoner brutality, and how rehabilitation and education have improved the lives of ex-prisoners (as well as society in general), this would be a superb place to start one’s research.


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