There’s a known stench on Rikers Island in the New York summertime. Neither the people incarcerated there, nor the correction officers working there, can escape it. “The smell alone would torture you,” says Candie Hailey-Means, who was incarcerated at Rikers until May 2015. “It smells like sewer, mixed with fertilizer, mixed with death.”
Hailey-Means was sent to Rikers on Feb. 22, 2012, when she was 28 years old. Six weeks after her arrival, Hailey-Means was sent to solitary confinement after an incident with one of the guards. (Hailey-Means says the guard assaulted her but she was written up for assaulting the guard.) She spent two years and three months in solitary, locked in a 6-by-10-foot cell for 23 to 24 hours a day. A small slot in the door, where she would receive meals, was her only connection to the outside world.
Hailey-Means’ mental and physical health quickly deteriorated. Her treatment by guards and the intolerable conditions in solitary confinement — complete isolation, extreme temperatures, polluted air, the stink of the landfill — led Candie to try to take her own life. About two weeks after being locked in “the bing” (the c... Read more