Rikers Corrections Officer: We’re Being Told to Work Even If We Have Coronavirus

Inside a massive failure of leadership at Rikers

LEVEL Editors
Published in
6 min readApr 16, 2020


Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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We spoke to a captain in New York City’s Department of Correction — a Black man in his early forties who is understandably concerned about repercussions should his identity become known. In light of that, we decided to preserve his anonymity.

BBeing a corrections officer is a thankless occupation. Firefighters are the bravest; police are the finest; corrections are the forgotten. This has never been more evident than with New York’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

I’ve been a New York corrections officer for 11 years. For the entirety of that time, I’ve worked on Rikers Island, one of the world’s largest jails. I first heard about the coronavirus at the beginning of the year. Like most of us, I didn’t know much about what it was or its potential danger. All I knew was that there was an outbreak on the other side of the world that people had begun keeping an eye on. It meant little to me.

I’m an essential employee. Corrections officers are indispensable. When something goes down, there’s no calling out sick or staying home to keep my family safe. I have to report to risk every single day. Officers like me have to ensure that chaos isn’t a side effect of a global pandemic.

Which is why I’ve been on my regular schedule — despite having symptoms of Covid-19.

A month ago, I arrived at Rikers for my scheduled shift. Over the previous few weeks, several officers had already gotten sick, but by the time I reported that day, roughly 40% of Rikers’ staff would become unavailable due to the virus.

I walked into the visitor’s area outside of the jail, and a civilian staffer stepped up to take my temperature. I didn’t feel sick, but the thermometer read 101 degrees.

If I worked anywhere else, I would have been sent home and had a two-week self-isolation. A fever, even a low one, is pretty much the first symptom you can attribute to the coronavirus. If you’d rather be safe than sorry, a 101-degree fever means…