Do NOT Go Directly to Jail

Visiting a loved one in Rikers? Good luck.

And when Theda Toye got into an argument with a Rikers bus driver, the driver told her: "Write a letter to the Board of Correction—no one is going to listen to you here."

In one respect, the bus driver was right: Visitors are supposed to send their complaints to the BOC, which is supposed to review those appeals and, to some extent, advocate for the visitors. But how seriously the agency takes those complaints is another matter.

The board is supposed to rule on appeals of visiting bans within five days, but the understaffed agency never makes the deadline and often doesn't even issue a ruling. The board's leadership has yet to make an issue of the suspensions with Correction Department officials.

Nyki Oliver, 19, of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, on her way to visit her cousin at Rikers Island. The trip takes "mad time," she says.
photo: Cary Conover
Nyki Oliver, 19, of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, on her way to visit her cousin at Rikers Island. The trip takes "mad time," she says.

Take the case of Donyne Lucas, 41, of Long Island City. She was banned indefinitely for bringing tobacco into the jail for her boyfriend. (It's considered a banned substance). She and her boyfriend contacted the Board of Correction to file an appeal.

Lucas says the board didn't lift a finger to help her. She even stopped by the agency's Chambers Street offices. "As far as I know, they did nothing," she says. "Whatever they had in the computer, that's what they let stand."

Lucas, along with her seven-year-old daughter, didn't get to see her boyfriend for more than a year. "It was really hard," she says. "I think they should have just canceled my visit for six months—not indefinitely."

Jessica Ramirez received an indefinite ban in February 2006 after contraband cash was found in a magazine that she was bringing to her boyfriend. She appealed the ban to the DOC, she says, but her letters were ignored. She then wrote to the Board of Correction.

More than a year after her initial appeal—and well after her boyfriend had already been released—she was told the ban had been lifted. "It was very frustrating," she says. "It's not like I had a criminal record. They could have just given me a warning."

A request for comment from the Board of Correction was still pending at press time.

Back at the lonely bus stop at Queens Plaza, the bus carrying Tamika Gordon departed. Before long, more pilgrims arrived for the Rikers Express.

"I'm not the one who's locked up, but it seems like that sometimes," Monique Smith said as she waited. "Sometimes you get all the way out there and they've already had a visitor, and so you can't go see them."

By contrast, a defense lawyer also waiting for the Rikers bus said it's much easier for lawyers to visit. She said she rarely waits more than 30 minutes to see her client. That efficiency, of course, was generated by a lawsuit that forced DOC to make special provisions for defense lawyers to see their clients without having to wait hours.

A few steps away, 19-year-old Nyki Oliver, of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, said she was visiting her cousin. "I try to go out there whenever I have a day off," says Oliver, who works at a midtown department store. "Going out there, it's just takes mad time."

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