Well, March 17, 2012, was the first time I was ever sexually assaulted by a man. I would say profoundly that was an experience that made me feel more “woman” than anything in my life ever has. When I went to Rikers, I was shocked that you are not given any clothes as a detainee — no jumper, no nothing, until your sentence. So whatever you have, whatever you walked in there with, that’s all you have. Unless somebody else gives you something or your family or friends send you it. Unless somebody else gives you something or your family or friends send you it.
I RECENTLY served 58 days of a three-month sentence on Rikers Island. I was convicted in May of assaulting a New York City police officer as the police cleared Zuccotti Park of Occupy Wall Street protesters in 2012. (I am appealing my conviction.) I got a firsthand experience that I did not seek of what it is like to live behind bars. Rikers is a city jail; it holds some 11,000 inmates who are awaiting trial or sentencing, or who have been convicted and sentenced to a year or less of time. During my incarceration, two correction officers were arrested on charges of smuggling contraband, including drugs, to inmates. The week after I was released, two more correction officers and a captain were arrested on charges of having beaten a handcuffed prisoner into unconsciousness in 2012. Last week, The New York Times reported on the “culture of brutality” on Rikers. The city is now investigating more than 100 reported violent assaults on inmates. None of this would surprise the inmates of the Rose M. Singer Center, the women’s barrack on the island, who routinely experience or witness brutality of all kinds. On one day in May, I was waiting outside the jail pharmacy for my daily A.D.H.D. prescription. A male officer began harassing me, and when I made the mistake of looking at his badge to get his number, he slammed his body into mine and shouted a sexual slur at me.
Cecily McMillan, the 25-year-old Occupy Wall Street activist who was jailed for elbowing a police officer during a protest, returned to court on Thursday, where a cadre of hard-hitting journalists greeted her with questions about her courtroom attire. "My editor told me to ask who you're wearing," a photographer was spotted eagerly asking McMillan, according to The Village Voice. McMillan, who was earlier this month released from Rikers Island -- one of the country's most notoriously violent jails -- explained that although she was free, she no longer felt safe in New York "because I was sexually assaulted and then put in jail for it," according to the Voice. McMillan has alleged from the start that the officer involved in her assault case forcibly grabbed her breast from behind during the protest; after elbowing him, she was promptly arrested and put in jail. Upon hearing her explanation Thursday, a Post reporter responded, "Well, you look fabulous! But you should eat more." The interactions resulted in a blatantly sexist portrayal of McMillan sprinkled with mocking details about her fashion choices -- all of which fail to mention that she was asked such questions by the press. The Daily News went straight to the sartorial details with the headline, "Occupy Wall Street protester wears Calvin Klein to court."
Maybe the best way that I could explain is through describing a search. Our dorm gets randomly searched at least twice a month, more if they want to set an example or if somebody has been smoking in the bathroom or if there have been rumors that somebody had some sort of contraband. They use this space more or less to haze the new [correctional officers]. Two or three captains, 10 or so officers file into your dorm in full riot gear, the whole Plexiglas panel that's surrounding their body, the masks and a huge wooden bat. Another set of officers file into the bathroom and stand in a line facing the stalls that don't have doors. The first time they did the search I was using the restroom and had to finish my business right in front of them. They direct everybody to get down on the beds face down with your hands behind your back, after you put on your uniform and your ID badge. In Rikers you become a number. I'm 3101400431. A third set of officers file in through sleeping quarters. Sometimes they bring in dogs. They call you row by row into the bathroom to strip down completely naked, do a deep knee bend forward, a deep knee bend backward, then have you open your mouth and shake out your hair and lift up your breasts.
The Occupy Wall Street protester who was jailed for elbowing an officer in the face was released just last Wednesday, and she is now speaking out about the brutality she faced while incarcerated. Her arrest sparked outrage and for the 58 days that she served, she said she endured serious brutality, including sexual assault: I was locked up, hands and feet with my legs spread open, exposed in a storage closet with bloody rags all around. Officers were using this space to charge their cell phones, coming in and out, talking about how I needed a good hard you-know-what because I was obviously so out of control as a woman. It was not an environment in which I could have said, ‘Hey, you know what, you guys ought to listen to me, I was sexually assaulted by a police officer.'
Imprisoned Occupy Wall Street activist Cecily McMillan was released from Rikers Island on Wednesday morning, July 2nd, after serving 58 days. She spoke publicly at a 1pm press conference outside the jail’s outer gates on Hazen Street. This was the first time she was able to speak publicly after testifying in her trial. Cecily’s controversial trial garnered international media attention. She was supported by elected officials, community leaders, and celebrities. While serving her term at Rikers Island she was visited by members of Russian rock group Pussy Riot, themselves unjustly imprisoned in 2012. The Following is Cecily’s Statement as read to members of the press at 1pm EST: “Fifty nine days ago, The City and State of New York labeled me a criminal. Millionaires and billionaire–who had a vested interest in silencing a peaceful protest about the growing inequalities in America–coerced the justice system, manipulated the evidence, and suddenly I became dangerous and distinguished from law-abiding citizens. On May 5th, the jury delivered its verdict, the judge deemed me undesirable, and officers drove me across that bridge and barred me within. On the outside, I had spent my time fighting for freedom and rights. On the inside, I discovered a world where words like freedom and rights don’t even exist in the first place. I walked in with one movement, and return to you a representative of another. That bridge right there, that divides the city from Rikers Island, divides two worlds – today I hope to bring them closer together. Crossing back over, I have a message to you from several concerned citizens currently serving time at the Rose M. Singer Center.
McMillan’s time in Rikers may have taken a toll, but it has not broken her. She describes the many indignities there as struggles endured in solidarity with comrades, not as personal complaints. She says that before Rikers, she didn’t know that placing your hands on your hips expressed defiance. In Rikers, she says, you have to keep your head down, your hands behind your back–postures of compliance, passivity. She sleeps in a dorm room with forty other women. There are invasive searches of your personal items, your body. Her phone calls are recorded. Contrary to the notion of inmates lazing about watching the clock tick, prison is endless activity, endless lines—the movieBrazil “on steroids,” she says. Still, her mind isn’t dulled or her spirit crushed. She is thinking, writing, planning, talking.
A former banker visits the only member of Occupy Wall Street to receive a prison sentence: it sounds like the set-up of a joke or a parable of the modern age. Instead, it was a real scene last Thursday, when I went to see jailed OWS activist Cecily McMillan at Rikers Island. That the opposite would never have happened was not lost on Cecily or me: bankers don't get sent to jail, and, when they rarely do, they certainly don't get sent to Rikers. Rikers is New York City's largest jail, housing a population that is overwhelmingly poor – mostly people who can't post bail, which in some cases is as low as $50. It has become a short-term holding facility for those who can't muster $2,000 in a pinch, or who don't have the 10% of bail to lose to a bondsman. Since her 19 May sentencing for an assault on an officer, Cecily McMillan has lived in a barracks-like room with close to a hundred other women. Cecily herself is a banker-like rarity in Rikers: she has resources, both from the media obsession with her case and the OWS movement that she has come to partly symbolize.
Cecily McMillan, a 25 year old Occupy Wall Street activist who last week was sentenced to a 90-day stay at Rikers for assaulting a police officer on St. Patrick’s Day in 2012, had a court appearance today for her Dec. 7th, 2013 arrest where she is being brought on charges that she interfered with a police investigation of two people who jumped a turnstile at the Union Sq. Station. This misdemeanor case was a lynchpin of ADA Erin Choi’s case against McMillan because she is also being accused of interfering with a police investigation and then having an anxiety attack. McMillan stated in this Dec. 7th case that she was forced by the officer to go to Bellevue Hospital after taking her glasses away (she is practically blind without glasses/contacts) and also had problems breathing due to the tightness of her dress. McMillan also stated that when the officer who brought up her file and saw that she had an open felony case, he stated to her, “ADA Choi is going to have a field day with this”. The police officer stated that she was cursing at them at prevented them from making an arrest. The two people who actually jumped the turnstile were never arrested or processed.