Rikers will be presented on some U.S. PBS stations in May. Check local listings for the station and time in your area. You may also watch it online at http://www.pbssocal.org/programs/rikers/rikers/.
"Listening to and giving someone a voice who has not had one is an act of revolutionary love," Bill Moyers said recently during a Q&A at Pilgrim Place in Claremont, California. Moyers hosts a new one-hour documentary that does just that. After his brief introduction, directors Mark Benjamin and Marc Levin turn the film over to the testimonies of men and women who have endured incarceration at Rikers Island, the 10th worst prison in the United States.
Located within sight of New York's LaGuardia Airport, Rikers houses between 7,500 – 9,500 detainees at any time, and 80% of them have not yet been convicted of a crime. This is where they are taken while awaiting trial when they can't afford bail, some for up to three years. It's estimated that as many as 50% suffer from a mental illness.
We meet Tariq, Barry, Hector, Candie, Robert, Kathy, Five Mualimm-Ak, Ismael, Marvell, Ralph, Damian, and Raymond. Speaking directly to the camera, they talk about their Rikers experiences, from the ride across the bridge from Queens, to encounters with other inmates and corrections officers, many of them violent, to how they felt when they were released back into their communities. Some of the most harrowing descriptions cover the experience of solitary confinement, when the noise and isolation nearly drove them crazy.
Their observations are disturbing. "To be successful, you have to manifest a certain form of wickedness." If you show weakness, you become the prey of the predators. Violence rules, yet it is dangerous to report assaults. There is a uniformed officer for almost every inmate, and they contribute to the atmosphere of violence; several scenes show guards beating up an inmate. The system, it is evident, is designed to keep people going in and out of jail for years.
These stories from Rikers, unfortunately, are similar to ones we could hear from prisons all over the United States. The nation has a crisis of incarceration with over 2.2 million Americans locked up in its jails and prisons. More than 11 million people cycle in and out of correctional institutions every year. And given the stated intentions of the Trump administration, these numbers will increase.
Rikers is an honest, searing, prophetic, and motivating documentary. We predict that you cannot view this film without wanting to do something to change the system it depicts. Visit Rikersfilm.org to learn more, including how many people are incarcerated in your state, and to find out 13 things you can do to make a difference. Check out national resources, host a screening, and download a discussion guide to the film.