Narrator: Tamika Graham

Summary: Tamika Graham is from Staten Island, New York. She was detained at Rikers as a teenager and as an adult. Growing up, she had “one side of the family who’s on the good side of the law and … another side of the family that’s on the opposite side of the law.” While one of her uncles was a top detective and another worked at Rikers, her friends and community glorified Rikers and saw a stint there as a rite of passage. She recalls having to toughen up during her first term at Rikers, where she lived in an adolescent house and hung out with a group of young people nicknamed the “animalescents.” She remembers the lack of school programs, the harshness of the officers, and seeing other girls crying day and night in their cells. When she served time as an adult on Rikers, two of her sisters worked there, and one of them gave her advice on how to deal with the officers. Describing Rikers as “horrible,” she notes: “There’s no place that you can go to on Rikers, not even in a chapel, where you can feel safe, where you can feel like everything’s gonna be okay.” (Summary written by: Annie Anderson)

Interview Date: 1/29/20

Partner Organization: JLUSA

Interviewer: Jenny Goldberg

Tags: Rikers Island, Incarceration, Prison abolition, New York City, Oral history, Rikers Public Memory Project, RPMP, Personal history of incarceration, Youth incarceration, First impressions, Anxiety / Stress, Psychological impact of incarceration, Intake, Overcrowding, Violence in prison, Young people incarcerated with adults, Correction Officers, Social interactions in prison, Threats and fears, Coping mechanisms, Sexual assault, Poor living conditions, Defense mechanisms, Network of support, Officers’ abuse, Turtle squad, Rikers history, Abuse of medication, Detainees’ neglect, Insufficient health services, Working after Rikers, Housing after Rikers, Prison facilities, Working in Rikers while incarcerated, Lack of resources/services, Solitary confinement, Police/officers’ accountability, Medical evaluations at Rikers, Emotional impact of Visitation, Impact on outside relationships, Re-incarceration, Housing after Rikers, Going to court, Visitation Process, Reparations, Impact on communities

To read the transcript of this interview, click here