EMERGENCY CALL TO ACTION AT RIKERS ISLAND this Friday, August 15th at 9 a.m.

Despite all the recent news coming out about Rikers, conditions inside have not improved whatsoever but in fact have become far worse for the women imprisoned there. The Corrections Department failed to take responsibility for the abuses and negligence exposed by the media, instead the inmates are facing greater repression than ever.  Now more than ever, the women in Rikers desperately need your support.
My friends and family from the Rose M. Singer Center that I still talk with daily and visit weekly tell me about the horrors inflicted upon them as punishment for daring to speak out. My jailhouse madrina (godmother), Ida Santiago, was released last Friday after serving eight months at Rose M. Singer Center.  It broke my heart to learn from Ida that she was punished above all – her bunk was specifically targeted as captains combed through her belongings, trashing any piece of paper with my name on it.
Searches have intensified, increasing from twice a month to five times in the two weeks before Ida’s release. The women at RMSC are being denied contact with their loved ones, as nightly lock-ins at Rikers now begin at 9 p.m. instead of 11 p.m. — preventing them from making phone calls. Each time I return to visit I have witnessed and experienced even more abusive conditions: more invasive searches, increased use of drug dogs, and lockdowns of facilities.
I have worked with allies in the press to make their voices heard on the outside, and many of the women have been brave enough to continue to investigate and report on conditions inside to make a case for real change. However each day they become more and more afraid to speak on the phone or mail out their findings.  Though we have gone through great lengths to protect their courageous efforts, I increasingly fear for their safety.
In this dire moment I am asking you to join me and Ida in pressing our demands on Commissioner Ponte himself at the heart of the machine that imprisons our sisters on Rikers Island. Join us on Friday and take a stand for the prisoners who are being denied the dignity and respect that every human being deserves.
We’ll meet in the Rikers Island parking lot (get off the Q100 bus at the last stop before the bridge to the island) at 9 a.m. to gather and then head to the island together.  If Commissioner Ponte does not meet us at 10 a.m. we will wait for him until 2 p.m. If Ponte does not come at all, we will release a public statement to condemn his refusal to recognize the voices of thousands demanding change.

Read and sign the petition here - please share it with all your friends and invite them on Facebook to on join us Friday.

“What I Saw on Rikers Island” by Cecily McMillan

Please sign and share my petition to end human rights abuses on Rikers Island.


Statement from Rikers on July 2, 2014

Fifty nine days ago, The City and State of New York labeled me a criminal. Millionaires and billionaires who had a vested interest in silencing a peaceful protest about the growing inequalities in America worked the justice system, manipulated the evidence presented and suddenly I became dangerous and distinguished from law-abiding citizens. On May 5th the jury delivered its verdict, the judge deemed me undesirable, and officers drove me across that bridge and barred me within. On the outside, I spent my time fighting for freedom and rights, On the inside I discovered a world where words like freedom and rights don’t even exist in the first place. I walked in with one movement, and return to you a representative of another. That bridge right there, that divides the city from Rikers Island does not only divide two worlds, today I hope to bring them closer together. Crossing back over, I have a message to you from several concerned citizens currently serving time at the Rose M. Singer Center.

Incarceration is meant to prevent crime. Its purpose is to penalize and then return us to the outside world ready to start anew. The world I saw at Riker’s isn’t concerned with that. Many of the tactics employed seem to be aimed at simple dehumanization. In the interests of returning the facility to its mission and restore dignity to its inmates, we, the women of Rikers, have several demands that will make this system more functional. These were collectively drafted for me to read before you today.

First of all, we demand that we be provided with adequate, safe, and timely healthcare at all times. That, of course, includes mental health care services and the ability to request female doctors if desired at all times for safety and comfort. We often have to wait for up to 12 hours a day for a simple clinic visit, and occasionally 12 hours a day for up to a full week before we see anyone.The women of Rikers feel a special sense of urgency for this demand because of a particular event that occurred recently.

About a week ago, our friend Judith died as a result of inadequate medical care. Judith had been in RSMC for a while, but was transferred to our dorm 4 East A, where I was housed, only a few days before her death. She had recently been in the infirmary for a back problem, and had been prescribed methadone pills for the pain for quite a while. A few days before she died, they decided to change the medicine to liquid despite her dissent. They gave her a dosage of 190mg, which any doctor will tell you is a dangerous dosage, far higher than what anyone should be taking unless it is a serious emergency. Judith was not allowed to turn down the medicine or visit the clinic to get the dosage adjusted.

After three days on that dosage, Judith could no longer remember who or where she was and had begun coughing up blood, accompanied with what we believe were chunks of her liver. We attempted unsuccessfully to get her medical treatment for the entire day, at one point being told that this was “not an emergency,” despite the fact that Judith was covered in blood. That night they finally removed her to the hospital, where she remained in critical condition before passing away a few days later. This was a clear case of medical malpractice, both with the ridiculously high dosage of methadone and the refusal of adequate treatment. Stories like this are far too common in Rikers Island, and we demand that no more of our sisters be lost to sickness and disease as a result of inadequate medical care.

Our next demand is that COs should be required to follow the protocol laid out for them at all times, and that at some point soon that protocol should be examined to make sure that all rules and procedures are in the best interests of the inmates. We also demand that we have a clear and direct means to file a grievance that will be taken seriously and examined fully, so that Officers can be properly disciplined and removed from the area quickly when they abuse or endanger us.

Recently my friend Alejandra went to file a grievance about being denied access to medical treatment for a concussion until she awoke one morning unable to move. When she met with the captain after filing the grievance, she was presented with a different sheet and a different complaint than the one she had provided and was forced to sign it. Inmates should be able to trust that situations like that will not concern, and that our safety and dignity be respected by those designated to supervise us. There is a clear protocol for officers already laid out in the inmate handbook, but it is seldom followed. Officers are allowed to make up the rules as they go and get away with it, which we find unacceptable.

Our final demand is that we be provided with rehabilitative and educational services that will help us to heal our addictions and gain new skills, and that will make it much easier for us to adjust to the outside and achieve employment when we are released. Specifically, for our education we would like access to a classes beyond GED completion, maintenance, and basic computer skills, access to a library, and English classes for those attempting to learn the language. We feel that the addition of these programs would significantly help us prepare for release and reentry into the world, which would lower reincarceration rates.

We also feel strongly that Rikers Island needs to have much better drug rehabilitation programs. Many women who come through here are addicts, and many women are imprisoned here because they are addicts. That’s the area in which reentry rates seems to be the highest. This is likely a direct result of the failure of the meager programs that we are provided with. Thus, it seems only logical that serious and effective drug rehabilitation programs be provided to those who need them, assuming that the Department of Corrections would like to help work to achieve a better, healthier society and keep as many people as possible out of jail.

Working with my sisters to organize for change in the confines of prison has strengthened my belief in participatory democracy and collective action. I am inspired by the incredible resilience of incarcerated people I have encountered, and I find faith in their ability to find commonality in a system that is utterly stacked against them. My time at Rikers has changed me permanently, an even more formative experience than Zuccotti Park itself. Most importantly I have learned that the only difference between the people we call citizens and those we call criminals is vastly unequal access to resources. As long as we deny the humanity of people in prison, we cannot imagine a truly free society.

Working with my sisters to organize for change in jail has been the most transcendent experience of my life. We will continue to fight until we gain all the rights we deserve as citizens of this city, of this state, and of the United states of america.

-Cecily McMillan

July 2, 2014 

Rikers Island, NYC


“Hace cincuenta y nueve días, los gobiernos municipal y estatal de Nueva York me etiquetaron como criminal. Los millonarios y multimillonarios —que tenían un interés personal en silenciar una protesta pacífica sobre las crecientes desigualdades en Estados Unidos—, coaccionaron el sistema de justicia, manipularon las pruebas y de pronto me convertí en una persona peligrosa y diferente de los ciudadanos que respetan la ley. El 5 de mayo, el jurado deliberó sobre su veredicto, el juez me consideró indeseable y los oficiales me hicieron cruzar ese puente [el puente de la isla-reclusorio] y me encerraron ahí. Desde el exterior, pasé mi tiempo en cautiverio luchando por libertad y derechos. Desde dentro, descubrí un mundo donde palabras como libertad y derecho, en primer lugar, ni siquiera existen. Entre ahí con un movimiento y salgo de ahí como representante de otro. Ese puente que está ahí, que divide a la ciudad de la isla Rikers, divide a dos mundos: hoy, espero unirlos más. Al cruzar de vuelta, tengo un mensaje para ustedes de varias ciudadanas preocupadas, que actualmente están cumpliendo condena en el Centro Rose M. Singer.

Se supone que el encarcelamiento es para prevenir el crimen. Se supone que es para castigarnos y después devolvernos al mundo exterior listos para empezar de nuevo. El mundo que yo vi en Rikers no está preocupado por eso. Muchas de las tácticas empleadas están dirigidas a una simple deshumanización. Con el interés de hacer que la instalación recupere su misión y restaure dignidad a sus internas, nosotras, las mujeres de Rikers, tenemos varias demandas que harán más funcional este sistema. Éstas fueron elaboradas colectivamente para que yo las leyera ante ustedes hoy.

Antes que nada, exigimos que se nos proporcione atención médica adecuada, segura y puntual en todo momento. Eso desde luego incluye servicios de atención a la salud mental y la posibilidad de solicitar doctoras mujeres en todo momento, si así lo deseamos, para nuestra seguridad y comodidad. Muchas veces tenemos que esperar hasta 12 horas al día para una simple consulta clínica, y a veces entre 12 horas y una semana completa antes de poder consultar a un doctor.

Las mujeres de Rikers tienen una especial urgencia respecto a esta demanda debido en particular a un suceso reciente. Hace como una semana, nuestra amiga Judith murió como resultado de una inadecuada atención médica. Judith llevaba un tiempo en esta prisión pero no fue trasladada a nuestro dormitorio 4 Este A —donde yo fui alojada— sino hasta unos días antes de su muerte. Hacía poco había estado en la enfermería por un problema en la espalda y se le había recetado durante algún tiempo pastillas de metadona. Pocos días antes de morir, decidieron cambiarle la medicina por líquido, a pesar de que ella se negaba. Le dieron una dosis de 190 mg., lo que cualquier doctor puede decir que es una dosis peligrosa, mucho más alta de lo que cualquiera debe estar tomando, a menos que se trate de una grave emergencia. No se le permitió a Judith rechazar la medicina o visitar la clínica para que le ajustaran la dosis.

A los tres días de tomar esa dosis, Judith ya no pudo recordar quién era ni dónde estaba, y había empezado a toser sangre junto con algo que nosotras pensamos que eran pedazos de su hígado. Tratamos de conseguirle tratamiento médico el día entero y no lo logramos; en cierto momento se nos dijo que “no era una emergencia”, pese al hecho de que Judith estaba cubierta de sangre. En la noche por fin se la llevaron al hospital, donde estuvo en condiciones críticas antes de morir, unos cuantos días más tarde. Éste fue un caso claro de negligencia médica, tanto por la dosis ridículamente alta de metadona como por haberle negado un tratamiento adecuado. Historias como ésta son demasiado comunes en Rikers Island, y exigimos que  ya no más compañeras nuestras sucumban a la enfermedad como consecuencia de una inadecuada atención médica.

Nuestra siguiente demanda es que los oficiales de las correccionales estén obligados a apegarse en todo momento al protocolo que tienen, y que en cierto momento, pronto, ese protocolo sea examinado para asegurar que todas las reglas y procedimientos sean en el mejor interés de los internos. También exigimos tener una vía clara y directa de presentar una queja que sea tomada seriamente y examinada completamente, para que los oficiales puedan ser adecuadamente sancionados y apartados del área rápidamente cuando abusan de nosotras o nos ponen en peligro.

Recientemente, mi amiga Alejandra fue a presentar una queja porque se le negó el acceso al tratamiento médico por una concusión hasta que una mañana se despertó sin poderse mover. Cuando vio a la capitana después de haber tramitado la queja, le presentaron una hoja diferente con una queja diferente de la que había entregado y fue obligada a firmarla. Las internas deberían poder confiar que estas situaciones ya no serán motivo de preocupación y que nuestra seguridad y dignidad serán respetadas por los encargados de supervisarnos. Hay un protocolo claro ya establecido en el manual del interno para los oficiales, pero pocas veces lo siguen. Los oficiales tienen permitido componer las reglas sobre la marcha y salirse con la suya, cosa que encontramos inaceptable.

Nuestra última demanda es que se nos proporcionen servicios de rehabilitación y educación que nos ayuden a curar nuestras adicciones y a adquirir nuevas aptitudes, y que nos facilitarían mucho más ajustarnos al exterior y conseguir empleo cuando seamos liberadas. Especialmente para nuestra educación quisiéramos tener acceso a clases para pasar más allá de la prueba de Desarrollo Educativo General (GED), de mantenimiento, y de manejo básico de computadoras, acceso a una biblioteca, y clases de inglés para quienes están tratando de aprender el idioma. Pensamos que añadir estos programas nos ayudaría considerablemente a prepararnos para salir y reingresar al mundo, lo que disminuiría los índices de encarcelamiento.

Asimismo, tenemos la firme impresión de que Rikers Island necesita tener mucho mejores programas de rehabilitación de drogas. Muchas mujeres que llegan aquí son adictas y muchas son encarceladas porque son adictas. Parece que ése es el aspecto al que se debe la mayor tasa de reingresos a la cárcel. Probablemente es el resultado directo del fracaso de los escasos programas que nos dan. Por lo tanto, parece lógico que se brinden programas serios y eficaces de rehabilitación de drogas a quienes los necesitan, asumiendo que al Departamento de Correccionales le gustaría ayudar a trabajar para lograr una sociedad mejor y más saludable y mantener fuera de la cárcel a la mayor cantidad posible de personas.

Trabajar con mis hermanas para organizar un cambio en los confines de la cárcel ha fortalecido mi creencia en una democracia participativa y en la acción colectiva. Es para mí una inspiración la resistencia de la comunidad que he encontrado en un sistema que está amañado en contra nuestra.       La única diferencia entre la ciudadanía a la que llamamos “respetuosa de la ley” y las mujeres con las que cumplí mi tiempo de sentencia es la desigualdad en el acceso a los recursos. Al cruzar el puente me veo obligada a mirar atrás y reconocer que estos dos mundos no están divididos. El tribunal de justicia me mandó aquí para atemorizarme a mí y  a otros y silenciar nuestra inconformidad, pero tengo el orgullo de salir diciendo que el 99% está, de hecho, más fuerte que nunca. Continuaremos luchando hasta que ganemos todos los derechos que nos merecemos como ciudadanos en esta tierra.”


Cecily McMillan

2 de Julio, 2012

Rikers Island, NYC

Big thanks to Malu Huacuja del Toro for translation!

Cecily was sentenced to 90 days in jail, plus five years of probation. Read the statement from the team here.
We're also collecting donations for continued court costs, considering pending appeals.


Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Youtube