Narrator: Jessica Vargas

Summary: Jessica Vargas grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The daughter of a correctional officer, she first arrived at Rikers when she was 16. She later served a term in state prison and returned to Rikers as an adult. At Rikers, she learned “to make a meal out of nothing” in a hot pot, making spices from ketchup and sugar packets, and concocting a dessert made of soy milk, oranges, and instant juice packets. She discusses her recipe for “jail burritos,” made out of crushed ramen soup, crushed chips, refried beans, rice, and meat like salmon or beef jerky. When asked what she lost while incarcerated, she says: “I lost a lot. I lost time with my children. I lost time being a parent. … I lost respect for myself.” Vargas now works as a re-entry mentor. (Summary written by: Annie Anderson)

Interview Date: 1/22/20

Partner Organization: College & Community Fellowship

Interviewer: Anna Van Dine

Tags: youth incarceration, young people incarcerated with adults, detainees’ neglect, anxiety/stress, close Rikers, social interactions in prison, working in Rikers while incarcerated, officers’ abuse, insufficient health services, physical impact of incarceration, threats and fears, sexual assault, parole, personal history of incarceration, impact on outside relationships, coping mechanisms, correction officers, detainees’ exploitation, psychological impact of incarceration, officers’ accountability, visitation process, re-entry, close Rikers, reparations, Rikers Island, Incarceration, Prison abolition, New York City, Oral history, Rikers Public Memory Project, RPMP

To read the transcript of this interview, click here