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Lockdown on Rikers Mary Buser began her career at New York's Rikers Island as a social work intern brimming with ideas ready to make a difference and eager to help incarcerated women find a better path for themselves Her initial experience working with mothers in the nursery and women in the Mental Observation Unit was rewarding and she returned to Rikers for full time employment after finishing graduate school But her second time around was radically different assigned to a men's jail her return coincided with the dawn of stop and frisk policy unprecedented arrests and the biggest jailhouse movement in historyCommitted to the possibility of growth for her charges Buser tried to keep the new regime at bay yet soon her patients began arriving to their sessions with bruises black eyes and punched out teeth whispering that they'd been beaten by officers And because of the anxiety surrounding their respective legal cases and the sheer impossibility of their release they refused to report it As she was transferred between different jails including the Mental Health Center and the dreaded solitary she saw horrors she'd never imagined Finally it became too much to bear and Buser escaped Rikers and never looked back until now Lockdown on Rikers shines a light into the deepest and most horrific recesses of the criminal justice system and shows how far it has really drifted from the ideals we espouse

10 thoughts on “Lockdown on Rikers

  1. says:

    Since reading Just Mercy A Story of Justice and Redemption which appalled me with the injustice in our legal system my interest in social issues has peaked After seeing one of my friends thanks Esil review I thought this was a nice compliment to the other And once again I am appalled At the way we treat our mentally ill the resources that are being cut continuously appalled that they need to be jailed to get any kind of care Really? In the 21st century in what is supposed to be an enlightened nation Maybe I should say I am angry too?Buser starts out as an intern in social work at Riker's working in the women's section She returns later as an employee but this time in the men's section She points out some major differences in the two sections The men are treated very harshly and she sees things she is powerless to change One thing that stayed the same in both sections is most of the people awaiting trial at Rikers are poor no bail money not many resources have state appointed lawyers with way too many cases Seems once again the system is working only for those with money can afford good attorneys and have family available for support They can commit the same crimes but they are not the ones sitting at Rikers sometimes waiting for a trial that is years away So another eye opening read lots of food for thought There has to be a better and fair humane way doesn't there? ARC from Netgalley

  2. says:

    4 Many years ago as part of my work at the time I was given a tour of the Don Jail in Toronto while it was still in operation The Don jail was a notoriously nasty place and it is in fact no longer an operating jail I'm sure it was not nasty like Rikers but I remember having a very visceral reaction to the visit a mixture of fear unreality and revulsion The beginning of Lockdown on Rikers elicited a similar reaction in me But in this relatively short book the author does such a good job of bringing Rikers to life and humanizing the inmates she worked with that by the end of the book my reaction isn't revulsion or fear but outrage and frustration at the gaping flaws in the criminal justice system Buser is a social worker who first worked at Rikers as a student in the women's jail in the early 1990s and then returned a few years later in the mid 1990s to work in the men's jails Her book contains a mixture of her own background information about Rikers and the increased rate of incarceration in the US individual stories of inmates she worked with and her reactions to her experiences The stories of the women who are all black or Hispanic are almost all about addiction mental illness poverty dysfunctional family backgrounds histories of foster care and fear that the inmates' own children will end up in foster care The stories of the men are very similar but their crimes are often serious and the way they are treated by the correctional officers much brutal Buser was clearly troubled by the realities of the people she worked with and frustrated at the limits of what she could do for them although she appears to have at least been able to forge meaningful therapeutic connections with many inmates Because Rikers is primarily a holding jail for people awaiting trial which shockingly held 24000 people at one time throughout Buser's work there Buser also makes the point on than one occasion that many people there have not been convicted and that they are there because they can't afford the few hundred dollars needed for bail There are politics seething at the surface of this book but primarily Buser recounts her experience and her observations in a way that really brings to life the grim reality she depicts And now I'm going to break my self imposed one paragraph rule because this book really made an impression on me I recently listened to the audio of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson which is an amazing book based on his work with the Innocence Project In his book he focuses on inmates on death row but he has a few chapters dealing with women youth and the mentally ill He is very pointed in his comments about the fact that there is no justice in criminalizing problems like addiction poverty and mental illness that we need a system focused on helping people rather than punishing them Lockdown on Rikers is a great compliment to Just Mercy Buser gives a lot of life to some of the issues Stevenson touches on Incarceration and punishment are no doubt complicated issues fraught with an overlay of politics and economics but these two books really highlight those issues and how the current system in America is woefully flawed Lockdown on Rikers was a powerful read I read it in less than a day and had trouble putting it down Thank you to St Martin's Press and Netgalley for an opportunity to read an advance copy

  3. says:

    Ms Buser chronicles her experiences working as a mental health professional at the Rikers Island Jail in NYC Her tenure coincided with the then Mayor Rudy Giuliani's reign and his ambitious efforts to combat crime As a 30 year law enforcement professional myself 21 years with the Federal Bureau of Prisons I was eagerly awaiting this book Ms Buser did not disappoint me From her early days as a student intern and through her climb up through the ranks Buser captures the experiences and horrors of captivity Buser started out with a rather simple philosophy that being everyone needs to be heard and at least for the moment they inmates found the peace and relief that comes from being deeply heard by another In all honesty I agree with her As her career progressed and her experience level rose she found herself evolving ? that if I was going to work with the incarcerated then I needed to leave judgements to the courts and keep my focus on mental status I too found this to be true You simply could not continue to function without putting on some sense of blinders It was just too much Eventually she found with that session I saw the light My belief that everyone could be helped was naive She discovered one of the reasons for gangs the group is a powerful unit it's inherent draw being that it offers a sense of belonging a universal human need which explains much of the allure of gangs Buser continues to evolve throughout the book She comes to understand that she cannot save the world through her position at the jail It's a sobering depressing realization; but one that most I believe corrections professionals come to see I applaud her efforts spoiler alert and wish that it had all turned out better for her If I could offer her any consolation it is that she probably did make a difference it's just hard to see until you have the time and space to step away and realize it Not a happy read but I found it to be engaging Buser is a good writer I would recommend this book to someone thinking about Corrections as a career

  4. says:

    I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review I'd reuested the book because the prison system in this country is essentially broken beyond repair and I thought that maybe Ms Buser would have some uniue insights as to how this came about and what could be done in the future While she had some really wonderful anecdotes as well as shocking and saddening ones the revelations are few and far between She writes a lot about not being able to give inmates the standard of care they deserve and how frustrating this is in our supposedly very civilized society To her credit Ms Buser really invokes a sense of joy for her hard earned victories within the prison walls a sorely needed bright spot in what is a truly dire situation The writing here is average and no frills at best Nothing impressive but I think that gives her stories the room they need to shine Ultimately my problem was with the lack of synthesis The book moves from one stage of her life to the next and ends abruptly with very little comment anywhere regarding the problems with prisons in general and ways we can move towards something better in the future

  5. says:

    I don't really follow world events so to be honest I have not read any of the articles on the treatment of the prisoners at Rikers So going into this book I had an open mind I think this was an advantage to me as I was able to get a glimpse of what author Mary Buser saw and experienced during her time at Rikers I have to give Mary props as it takes a special kind of breed of people to do the type of job that Mary and her co workers offer to prisoners in the judicial system Which I imagine there is injustice happening in the prisoners but the media does not report it because who really wants to hear about the criminals getting treated badly I know when I think of that I don't feel sorry but then again I am imagining serial killers and not the petty criminals who are in jail for things like drug problems and petty thief I was hoping that Mary would disclose details about the injustice but what I did read did open my mind to the fact that the mental help problems that we have in place are not enough and we need to strengthen them as mental health is a serious problem like drugs and alcohol

  6. says:

    This is a non fiction book about Mary working in mental health at Rikers Jail in New York She started as an intern first in the women's unit and later moved to the men's part of the jail She has a great deal of compassion for the inmates Most of the inmates according to Mary are black Hispanic poor coming from homes where drug use is the norm or growing up without parents or in foster care What kind of lives do we expect from the result of growing up in these environments? She talks about the women who are pregnant when the enter jail having their babies in jail and raising them in jail where there are facilities that house the babies for a short time She refers to an article she read that stated criminals do things to others that the rest of us might actually enjoy doing had these impulses not been socialized out of us; yet hearing about these deeds can be tantalizing which explains the wild appeal of crime based books movies and TV shows I don't know about thishow exactly had these impulses be socialized out of us?? But I do agree that on some level we do find excitement in reading and watching violence and that is disturbing but true It is uite a stretch to imply that we might actually like doing the actIf you want a glimpse inside of Rikers and how mental health is almost non existent then this is a good read Rikers is a 415 acre island with a record of 24000 detainees at one time who sit and wait for their sentences to be handed down so they can go to prison or be let out of the jail If these inmates had the finances to allow them to be free until sentencing they would not have to be spending a year to two years awaiting their sentences in jail Mary talks about the mental anguish of waiting in prison for their sentence as opposed to being free and waiting and how so many just want to get it over with so they accept a plea bargain instead of going to trial It is disturbing how the detainees are treated in jail Remember they haven't even gone to prison yet these people are waiting for their trials and the sentences No great writing going on here it is like a daily account of her days and the frustration of dealing with bureaucracy and trying to do her job In the end she just leaves I commend her for staying as long as she did It is an impossible task This book makes me think a great deal about the conversation or lack thereof going on right now in the media about gun control rather than the mental health crises that exist in our country Let's just put them away impose stricter gun laws but very little mentioning of the mental health of the individual who committed the crime It is STILL a taboo subject Ridiculous

  7. says:

    I'm torn on how to review this book I'll start with what I liked The author shares some extraordinary stories and anecdotes of life behind prison walls For readers unfamiliar with the truth of our prison system many of these stories will be shocking Even those hardcore readers who believe people in prison need to be punished as opposed to rehabilitated can't possibly read this and not be horrified But there is also humor to lighten the mood as well as some moments of hope to raise the spirits Now the not so good stuff for me I felt the book lacked a thread of continuity This reads a bit like journal entries with stories from each workday blended in with rants about the frustration of bureaucracy We go from one thing to the next a steady stream of stories without much insight I would have liked focus or some way of connecting everything with specific discussion points My other problem comes with the writing style which felt at times oddly removed particularly for a memoir The author tells us that certain things upset her regarding inmates' treatment but I never felt it I never saw a real reaction Instead as with many people unhappy with their jobs or their lives the author plods along and tries to block out the things that upset her And when it finally all becomes too much she resigns I just didn't feel the outrage from the author that I was feeling as a readerThis memoir ends in the year 2000 when the author left her job I have an advanced review copy which ends rather abruptly I understand that the published book will have an epilogue I think that will be an important aspect but of course I can't comment on the uality of that epilogueI do commend the author for writing this book That alone earns extra points from me We simply cannot call ourselves a civilized society while behind prison walls we're tossing the poor into isolation cells Supermax for years at a time And yes it's always the poor You will not see a wealthy person in Supermax and that is not because wealthy people don't break the law We need people like Mary Buser to speak up so that maybe enough of us will get too angry to sit back in silenceI received an ebook copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review

  8. says:

    Life is too short for bad books This book is based in a different era If you judged this book solely off the cover you will be misled It is about mental health in rikers island She shares anecdotes of inmates she has encountered The writing is not captivating and is forgettable The stories are not shocking and if you've watched MSNBC's Lockup you haven't missed anything by reading this book

  9. says:

    This book has a lot to say about working in our prison system But Mary Buser seems to be an exceptional employee There are no characters like her in books written by people who have spent time in prison The book is unfocused Sometimes it seems to be a book about prisons and the people in them Sometimes it is about the politics that establish Ms Buser's working environment A lot of the time it is about Ms Buser personally This book adds to the portrait of the inhumanity that pervades our prison system people who have been tried and may very well be innocent are serving time in our prisons right along side of those who are guilty and sometimes dangerous People are pressured to agree to plea bargains because our justice system is so hopelessly overloaded that the only way to establish a release date is to plead guilty and get a fixed sentencePrisons will probably never get proper funding Prisons and their inmates are at the bottom of taxpayer priorities Prisons are designed for security not for comfort or even humane living conditions Prison personnel are hired to keep an unruly often dangerous population under control the hard way brute force The prison personnel have little incentive to make life better for the inmate population nobody really cares what happens to the imprisonedMs Buser is an incurable do gooder She is out there trying to improve mental health in Hades She counsels men who are in jail serving time while they are awaiting their day in court so they can prove that they shouldn't be there in the first place She does her best keep them calm and hopeful She can't actually help them so she tries to make them feel better She is promoted to chief assistant and her boss takes an extended leave of absence Mary takes on both jobs She also takes on the job of an administrator who has yet to be hired She's a real trooper Her boss is still not pleased She expects Mary to handle three full time jobs and do them all extremely well Mary is responsible for mental health in the solitary confinement unit That forces her to confront the brutal inhumanity that is accepted practice in the prison systems Even if the men locked into these concrete confinement cubes were guilty of heinous crimes the punishment is torture and a violation of the Constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment But as Mary discovers many if not most of the people locked in solitary don't belong there Still she has to help them endure the barbaric treatment by psychological strategies or by upping their meds Anything as long as they don't hang themselves to end the misery And Mary does her job until her bosses decide to hire somebody from outside instead of promoting her

  10. says:

    And even in the cases of the very worst sociopath held in solitary the uestion still remained How could it be that a punishment that drives any human being criminal or otherwise to attempt suicide to escape it not be considered cruel and unusual? Years later the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture would state that solitary confinement beyond fifteen days should be absolutely prohibited Yet instead of reducing or seeking alternatives to solitary confinement the nation has been on a chilling march to build Supermax prisons made up of solely of isolation cells for the supposedly high risk prisoners house human beings inside these cells not for thirty sixty or ninety days but indefinitely as a matter of routine I loved this book because the author who had spent many years working on Rikers starting as a young intern and working her way through the ranks came across as very honest and dedicated to her patients not bodies as they were called by the Corrections Officers; while much of what she had to say was shocking it wasn't dramatized or sensationalized it didn't NEED to be I have to say though when I finished the book I almost felt exhausted FOR the author who had stared in the face of the hate and brutality inflicted on the inmates by those who were supposed to be protecting them First when Americans decided on prison as a deterrent to crime and at the inception a place that would reform people the actual PRISON was the punishment Prisoners are stripped of EVERYTHING They lose access to family parents siblings and often times CHILDREN they have no possessions not even underwear that aren't state issued THAT IS THE PUNISHMENT CO's and wardens and everyone else in the good ole boys club do NOT have the right based on the constitution to take it upon themselves to make it even inhuman This is made even worse if that's even imaginable for the prisoners who have mental health issues; it truly is inhumane and unbearable While Buser tried to stay positive and behave in a humane even kind way she was met with resistance EVERY step of the way It seemed obvious to me by the end of the book that there is just NO way to change the system while being a part of it One would HAVE to find a way to leave Rikers for a different arena and work from the outside in My uestion would be whether or not someone who had spent any amount of time within the walls of Rikers and saw and experienced what goes on there would still have the will and stamina to fight for justice for the inmates I just don't see how it would be possible

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