shocking, groundbreaking oral history of the infamous Rikers jail
complex and an unflinching portrait of injustice and resilience told
by the people whose lives have been forever altered by it
“This mesmerizing and gut-wrenching book shows the brutal
realities that tens of thousands of people have been forced to
navigate, and survive, in America’s most notorious jail.”—Piper
Kerman, New York Times bestselling author of Orange
is the New Black
What happens when you pack almost a
dozen jails, bulging at the seams with society’s cast-offs, onto a
spit of landfill purposefully hidden from public view? Prize-winning
journalists Graham Rayman and Reuven Blau have spent two years
interviewing more than 130 people comprising a broad cross section of
lives touched by New York City’s Rikers Island prison complex—from
incarcerated people and their relatives, to officers, lawyers, and
commissioners, with stories spanning the 1970s to the present day.
The portrait that emerges calls into question the very nature of
justice in America.
Offering a 360-degree view inside the
country’s largest detention complex, the deeply personal
accounts—featured here for the first time—take readers on a
harrowing journey into every corner of Rikers, a failed society unto
itself that reflects society’s failings as a whole.
Dr. Homer Venters was shocked by the
screams on his first day working at Rikers: “They’re in solitary,
just yelling...the yelling literally never stops.” After a few
months, though, Dr. Venters notes, one’s ears adjust to the sounds.
Nestor Eversley recalls how detainees made weapons from bones. Barry
Campbell recalls hiding a razor blade in his mouth—“just in
These are visceral stories of despair,
brutality, resilience, humor, and hope, told by the people who were
marooned on the island over the course of decades. As calls to
shutter jails and reduce the number of incarcerated people grow
louder across the country, with the movement to close the island
complex itself at the forefront, Rikers is a resounding lesson
about the human consequences of the incarceration industry.