The Rose M. Singer Center at Rikers Island is the women’s barracks of Rikers Island, opened in 1988 as a $100 million state-of-the-art correctional facility under Mayor Edward Koch. Despite forward-thinking initiatives like job training programs in horticulture, nursing, sewing and cooking (there is even a restaurant called The Rose Garden that was designed by prison staff), the women’s prison has seen its fair share of problems, most recently a lawsuit alleging a “pervasive culture of rape” by correctional officers.
Yet, in a rare instance of positive news recently, Groundswell, a New York City organization for community public art, in partnership with the NYC Department of Correction and Department of Education, worked with the female inmates to produce a mural inside Rikers Island titled “The Freedom Within.” The mural was dedicated in a ceremony on June 12th.
According to Groundswell, the mural “imagines restorative futures for themselves and other women who have been or are incarcerated,” a topic the young women reflected during public artmaking program with the STARS Citywide Girls Initiative. Murals are not uncommon in Rikers Island, on our last visit inside we noted an impressive, expressionist mural lining one long hallway.
This work has a similar quality, full of bright colors. The rain clouds and rose thorns give weight to this image, situating the collective experience but opening up from a whirlpool of waves a possibility that signals “the struggles and eventual triumphs of their transformation,” writes Groundswell. The woman’s hair serves also as rolling hills, forming an even greater contrast with the institutional wall on which the mural is painting.
There is hope here, but the site–Rikers Island– is ever-present in “The Freedom Within.”