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A Plea for Humanity at Rikers | The Nation

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Sarah Leonard

“Wherever you find injustice, the proper form of politeness is attack.”

A Plea for Humanity at Rikers

Rikers prison

(AP Photo/ Bebeto Matthews, File)

Women imprisoned at Rikers, the notoriously violent and abusive New York prison, have crafted a list of demands for better conditions. Those demands have been ignored by Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte. Cecily McMillan, the Occupy protester whose unfair trial resulted in a three-month sentence in that prison, has issued the following statement. Tomorrow, you can join her at Rikers, to press the case of inmates who are regularly assaulted, denied medical care, and abandoned to suffer from mental illness to the point of death.

 

Dear Commissioner Ponte:

On July 1st, the women of my dorm (4 East A, 800 Building) in Rose M. Singer Center came together in the spirit of democracy—we collectively drafted demands to make our lives livable. When I was released on July 2nd, I read their words at a press conference in front of the gates of Rikers Island—our only opportunity to be heard without a working grievance process at RMSC. We hoped you would hear us.

When those demands went unanswered, I repeated them in a New York Times op-ed that further stressed the need for immediate change, specifically the circumstance of my friend Judith who suffered an untimely death due to the medical neglect and malpractice that is a part of everyday life at RMSC. Still, our experiences did not reach you. Still, we did not hear from you—despite a thoughtful response from former Corrections Commissioner, Martin Horn. Still, I remained hopeful that you would one day listen to our pleas for dignity.

I started a petition. It has been widely endorsed by elected officials and prisoner advocacy groups alike—we have nearly ten thousand signatures. Since you still have not been moved by these voices, we are bringing them to your doorstep. We are members of the public who have loved ones amongst the people labeled prisoners, and we insist that their humanity is equal to our own. We are taking the demands of those incarcerated across the bridge to Rikers Island for you to receive and acknowledge them at 10 a.m. in front of the Samuel Perry Building on the morning of Friday, August 15th.

We respectfully request your presence to recognize the desperate needs of our imprisoned brothers and sisters. We will calmly await your arrival and make every possible preparation to allow you to receive the thousands of signatures calling for basic human rights at Rikers: adequate mental and physical healthcare, and an accountable grievance process. Please take time out of your day on Friday, as we will, to listen to the people being abused in your correctional facility.

I look forward to meeting you there.

Sincerely,

Cecily McMillan

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