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Inside Rikers: Stories from the World's…

Inside Rikers: Stories from the World's Largest Penal Colony

by Jennifer Wynn

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The author doesn't get entirely inside Rikers, the island-jail-city adjacent to New York's LaGuardia airport, but she comes close. Wynn is a teacher and counsellor, working inside Rikers, and with former inmates in New York. For the most this is a collection of stories of inmates, how they got there, and how they (mostly fail to) re-integrate back into society. Here perhaps her book is at its weakest. We know their tales are full of lies and self-deception, and to give her credit she knows it as well. There's something terribly depressing about hearing time and again how inmates, and the city's poor, are set up to fail. The only people in the process who seem to not 'get it' are the criminals, but that supposes that you think you know what's going on, and really you don't. Just as Rikers is its own little world alongside New York, with its own set of rules and logic, so also is the world of the criminal within New York - and in fact they shade into each other. Jail becomes just another neighbourhood. To give Wynn credit she tries to make this point, and tries to get inside the strange set of relationships between civilians in prisons, Corrections Officers, and prisoners. And she notes the futility of the so called war on drugs, many years before it became acceptable to admit the truth. I'd recommend this book, even highly, but with one caution, and that is that it is not a story of 'inside', so much as a look inside. But having said that, Wynn has indeed seen more than most of us will get a chance to (or will want to), and faithfully recorded that much. If you can, read Wynn alongside a good 'authentic' account of life on the inside - such as Karpis's 'On the Rock'. ( )
  nandadevi | Dec 20, 2013 |
I learned a lot from reading this book! ( )
  Nasbooks | Dec 22, 2007 |
written by a woman who worked there for several years. she follows several men as they try (and often fail) to escape the revolving door of NYC jail ( )
  beau.p.laurence | Jul 23, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312291582, Paperback)

Rikers Island penal colony is a world unto itself, with its own power plant, schools, hospital, even a tailor. But the 16,000 people forced to live there, unlike free worlders, are "usually known by their single worst deed." So writes Jennifer Wynn, who has spent the last decade getting beyond those deeds and helping inmates turn their untapped talents into new lives. Wynn first entered Rikers Island as a reporter, returned to teach in a rehabilitation program called Fresh Start, and ultimately became the program's director. Though she has left journalism as a career, this powerful debut puts her in the best tradition of activist journalism. Unlike most criminologists, she understands that the best way to make a point is to show rather than tell. By interlacing statistics with moving stories of Rikers' inmates, she makes clear the arguments for prison--and social--reform.

Though compassionate, Wynn is also a realist who takes a measured approach to the challenges confronted by both inmates and correctional workers. She shares success stories--say, the guy who had been in and out of Rikers for eight years, but finally, with the help of Fresh Start, graduated from the New York Restaurant School--but she is also forthright about the failures. Two questions resound: How can New York City, home to some of the sharpest business minds in the country, spend $860 million a year on inmates and have 75 percent of them return to prison after release? On the flip side, one of her "failures" asks, "I live in the best ... country in the world and I keep asking myself, Why can't I make it?" Wynn is persuasive when she discusses why incarceration increases crime and deepens dependency, how income inequality affects crime, and why--the most bitter irony of all--for many inmates, living on the outside is even harder than jail. This humane examination of America's greatest social problem redefines what it is to be a free worlder and holds a torch to those who make their lives--whether by choice or by law--within its jails. --Lesley Reed

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:58 -0400)

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Describes the world's largest and most expensive correctional facility, offers an incisive portrait of its more than eighteen thousand inmates and the individuals who work there, and discusses the changes that have transformed the jail.

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