For some individuals, getting into Rikers might seem like the easiest thing. This is especially true for the age group we teach. Recidivism rates for juveniles and young adults show an average of 50% being rearrested within a year of release (and 70% within three years).

It’s common to get on the unit and hear, “Guess who’s back?” This is not foreign to me. When I came of age in court custody it felt like a sick dance of ring-around-the-rosy, except the rosy was the justice system and in the end—we all fell down. I was rearrested within a year—on purpose. When you spend so much time in the system, the place feels like home.

But back to Rikers. For whom entering the facility is not easy: the volunteers. When we arrive, we must get into a queue with other volunteers, court advocates and parole officers (etc., etc). All these people need the clerk to thumb through files (80’s-style) and check for clearances; if the clearance isn’t there, they have to call around or deny the person access. This arduous process can take a long time so getting there a half-hour before class usually means we’re late. Every so often our clearance hasn’t been faxed so we’ll frantically call around, hoping someone in Programming is still around after office hours.

As volunteers, it’s not like we’ll be losing money if we don’t gain access but the outcome is far worse because it tarnishes the trust of our young students. In all three classes, there has been one or two students who’ve pulled me aside to say, “Don’t say you’re coming every week if you don’t mean it.” Or, “Miss Gigi, if you’re not coming back can you just say so now so I’m not looking for you.”

When I’m late, I’m confronted by these students, “I didn’t think you were coming.” Sometimes the officer on duty will tell me (as was the case last night), “The guys were just asking if you decided to call out.” I could feel the tension mixed with relief when I got there. “I told you she was coming,” one kid said. I was twenty minutes late because an alarm had sounded (fight somewhere in the men’s ward) and the debate was whether that was why I was late or if I’d ditched class.

Many of these kids come from homes where the adults often made promises they didn’t keep. It’s natural for them not to trust adults especially when the only thing consistent in life has been inconsistency. It took several months to garner this trust in my girls’ classes and while we’re almost four weeks in with the boys, I think we’ll arrive there soon.


(currently-incarcerated students’ work has been taken down, pending departmental approval)


By I.

It’s really just me

One unique solo me

The Only One above me is the One who created everything

Life is a balance,

That’s why I’ve been tripping lately

Ibro is the one who’s always wrong about others

Looking out for them without asking nothing in return

He’s always insecure

Hoping nobody think bad about him

So generous like his Saint name Ibrahim

Solo is the selfish me

Can’t nobody put him down

He gives no info about who he is

You better read the lines between

Getting to him is like trying to find the 2 points

Between one line

He only listen to you if you paying me

Time is money, he stay busy

He don’t think about you or another

Everything beside him is irrelevant

He lets nothing interrupt his grind

Solo stays to himself since day one

Them girls want to squeeze in his box

Ibro is the happy me

Solo don’t care about a thing


By I.

Why don’t you try to fit your feet in my shoes

Then you’ll understand

What I have to lose

I know you want to know

How I act like I don’t have nothing to lose

You don’t want to know

Every step I take

You want to know who lead me there

All you got to know, you’re not there

Mister Independent, I got my own

Monotheistic God got my soul

You see the stars in the sky

The sky is full of stars

You see my smile with less pride

But I still manage to have a little laughter

Henny in the bottle, I’m trying to not go insane

I’m not waiting for someone to come and get me

But you see me after

With my head down

Holding the bottle, hoping to not go another round

Because that’s not a way to be pleased

Then I pray to God, hoping to receive forgiveness

I put that on everything, you don’t know what I go through

If you looking for me

I’m always looking

Sometimes the demand be killing me

That’s something you never hear


By I.

If I was you, I’ll never let me go

And if you was me, you’ll understand why I won’t let you fall

You kiss and don’t tell

You make me smile by taking control sometimes

But you love me, I got your mind out of control

You doing whatever I desire

Without you feeling less of yourself

Them beautiful scars on you

I really love your imperfection

Nobody is perfect but you are perfect in my eyes

I look in the eyes and I know you don’t tell lies

To you, all I bring is pride with less pain

You know I keep it real

With you, I keep it realer

You took my heart with you

You are really something else

Something like my star baby

I’m proud to call you my lady

And I don’t even care what anybody say

I’ll stick to you girl, like glue

Girl, you are a dream come true

You are my blessing news

You are my gorgeous mornings

That red sundress on you is my favorite view

Beautiful Soul

By I.

I’m the type to steal your heart

And never return it

Because you are so good, girl

I look up to you

I want to do more than holding you

I want to be the one that always talks to you

And ask you if you’re okay

I came to a realization that you are the most beautiful girl I see

I just love to watch you do you, especially the way you move

The independent you tells a lot about you

You were so insecure and didn’t know who to trust

With me, now your heart is secure

No worrys girl, I’ll be your rider for life

Don’t hesitate with my heart

You know you can take it because you’re all I trust

Our love is never lost

It’s found in the Hands of The Creator

That’s the best because we are blessed

I already heard a lot of stories about you before I met you

I had to meet you to at least admire your beauty

I’ll do anything to make you smile so I can sleep at night

Without your love girl, I don’t know where to go

You are who I’ll never let go



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