TAMI LEE, retired correction officer, 1989 to 2020: I never smiled for thirty years. I never smiled at that job one time. Sometimes I’d have to think about it—like, “Smile.” I didn’t want to smile so they could think I was playing with them because I was not playing with them.
CASIMIRO TORRES, detained various stints, 1980s to 2000s: I had a girl one time, I used to go to this twenty-four-hour store after I came out of prison, late at night, and after a few times she started calling me Smiley. I said, “Why do you call me that?” And she said, “Because you’ve never smiled.” And it had never occurred to me that I hadn’t smiled in years and years. I had my prison face on wherever I went. It’s something that clings to you, like the smell of shit. You have to really wash it off.
ANNA GRISTINA, detained 2012: I was in the bullpen, waiting at the processing area. There was a woman. These girls were going, “She needs to get to the doctor. She’s shaking on the floor.” A couple minutes later, everyone is screaming. The guards, they are having their lunch. This sergeant with braids, she says, “Shut the fuck up! Mind your own business!”
We were looking and we saw this woman from across the pen, froth coming out of her mouth. She’s having a seizure. She’s vomiting foam. The guard says, “Mind your business. You’re in enough trouble. Keep your mouth shut.” We came back from a lawyer visit, and they had taken her out on a gurney, dead. The guards had denied her medical, and she died. I don’t know her name or her age.
She [the woman who died] had covers over her body when they took her out. She had been screaming for hours for help. She had been half the day in the holding pen with no water, no nothing, having seizures. I’ll never forget the feeling of telling my lawyers a woman died in there and they shrugged their shoulders.
JERRY DEAN, detained 1987, 2003: The last day I was leaving Rikers when I was sixteen, I sat in the corner, they drive me upstate [to the Goshen Secure Center], and I remember somebody said, when you leave Rikers, don’t ever look back, don’t look back in the car or the bus, or else you’ll come back. So I didn’t want to look back.
Rikers: An Oral History
Graham Rayman, Reuven Blau