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Showing posts by: Mary Buser click to see Mary Buser's profile
Wed
Sep 30 2015 4:30pm
Excerpt

Lockdown on Rikers: New Excerpt

Mary Buser

Lockdown on Rikers by Mary E. Buser tells the shocking stories of abuse and injustice at New York's notorious jail (available September 29, 2015).

Mary Buser began her career at Rikers Island as a social work intern, brimming with ideas and eager to help incarcerated women find a better path. Her reassignment to a men's jail coincided with the dawn of the city's “stop-and-frisk” policy, a flood of unprecedented arrests, and the biggest jailhouse build-up in New York City history.

Committed to the possibility of growth for the scarred and tattooed masses who filed into her session booth, Buser was suddenly faced with black eyes, punched-out teeth, and frantic whispers of beatings by officers. Recognizing the greater danger of pointing a finger at one's captors, Buser attempted to help them, while also keeping them as well as herself, safe. Following her promotion to assistant chief, she was transferred to different jails, working in the Mental Health Center, and finally, at Rikers's notorious “jail within jail,” the dreaded solitary confinement unit, where she saw horrors she'd never imagined. Finally, it became too much to bear, forcing Buser to flee Rikers and never look back - until now.

1

On a gray September morning in 1991, I stood in front of Bloomingdale’s on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, eagerly waiting for my ride. As a graduate student at Columbia University’s School of Social Work, I was beginning a yearlong internship at Rikers Island. I would report to New York City’s notorious correctional complex three days a week to provide emotional and psychiatric support to incarcerated women. While most people would balk at the mere thought of working with criminals, as soon as I learned about this assignment, I was intrigued. It incorporated my most important aspirations: to help the poor and underprivileged and to become a psychotherapist. The fact that the poor and underprivileged in this setting were also accused of crimes barely fazed me. Already in my mid-thirties, I had prior experience, not only with people in emotional distress, but with the incarcerated.

[Continue reading Lockdown on Rikers!]

Wed
Sep 23 2015 4:15pm

Law & Order v.s. Lockdown: The Truth Behind Rikers Island

As a former mental health chief at New York City’s Rikers Island, I watch TV crime dramas with special interest, especially when the action switches to Rikers. No crime series includes the notorious lockup more often than the enduring Law & Order. While this popular TV series makes for satisfying entertainment, and even better PR for our vaunted system, I am always struck by the vast difference between these shows and real life. In each Law & Order episode, tenacious cops track leads and leave no stone unturned as they hunt down perpetrators of crimes, both minor and heinous. After the suspects are arrested, those who cannot make bail are frequently held on Rikers Island, where they await their day in court. And as the barred gate slams shut, the police work is finished. Dun-Dun. The judicial process takes over, assuring us that the detainee sitting in that jail cell is innocent until proven guilty. He will have his day in court, by gosh, his constitutional right. If he cannot afford legal counsel, the court will appoint a lawyer. Attorneys in crisp suits will then spend sleepless nights preparing for trial. Prosecutors will stop at nothing to prove guilt, while defense lawyers use every ounce of their legal acumen trying to prove otherwise. When the fateful day arrives, which it does very quickly, consistent with “right to a speedy trial,” the courtroom drama unfolds, and by the end of the show, the verdict is read – Guilty, or Not Guilty. Justice is served. The TV gets flicked off with the knowledge that the guilty will be punished, the innocent exonerated, and that our criminal justice system is in fine working order!  

[Sleep tight, nothing to see here...]