by Tiffani Borello
I lived on an island. On this island there were no tropical palm trees, beautiful resorts, or restaurants. This is the island I lived on for a year when I just turned 21 is called Riker’s Island which is a penitentiary.
During my active addiction I was desperate for money and was hanging around the wrong crowd and did something I am very ashamed of. I committed a felony which cost me a year of my life. I remember getting sentenced in the court room and it was the day before my moms birthday may 19 2017, and as I was put in handcuffs I turned around to give my mom one last look just to see her breaking down crying in the court room. I put on a brave face and tried not to cry because I didn’t want to seem “weak.”
After I was put in the cells in the court house waiting to be transferred to Rosie’s (the woman’s jail on Rikers island). After what seemed like hours, they transferred us to the bus to bring us to the jail and the men inmates on the bus would get a kick out of yelling obscenities and nasty things to me and the four other girls that were also going to rikers.
Once you arrive, you are not treated as a human anymore and you’re just another number in the system. Other inmates would try to test me by taking my bed or trying to steal my commissary which caused me to have to fight to defend myself. I know violence is not the answer but when you’re inside jail you’re in a different mentality. If you do not stand up for yourself you will constantly be a target.
Every day seemed like a life time. My family supported me the best they could sending me books and visiting every weekend driving three-four hours for an our visit. On the first visit when I saw my family and they saw me in a gray jumpsuit, we all immediately started crying. Jail puts such a toll on you emotionally, I would see 22 year olds with their hairs start graying.
The food was awful as expected and I gained about fifty pounds in that year. The woman’s facility lacks work out equipment and we only have one hour of Recreation around 6am in the morning. So most days, I spent reading books, studying for my GED, and sleeping since there isn’t much to do when you’re on 23-hour lock down.
In a way I feel like going to jail was a blessing in disguise because I went to countless rehabs and detoxes. I had time to reflect on my past actions and started to educate myself and strive to be a better me. I got my GED while incarcerated, which was one of the biggest blessings. I was also clean, not clouded and able to think rationally and my family saw a change in me.
Jail is not the place to be and I looked at the people around me and some of them were as old as my grandma. They would leave and come back to jail constantly and I knew I didn’t want that to be me. During my year there I saw girls and woman come back three or four times while I was just waiting for my one time to be free and promised myself I would never return.
Holidays broke my heart. In Rikers, you get a 21-minute phone call every 3 hours and it’s very expensive so some inmates couldn’t afford to talk to their families. Some families didn’t have an ID so they were unable to visit their loved ones. Calling my family on Christmas was so hard. Hearing them all together while I was alone sleeping on a metal frame with a little yoga matt was depressing. But I couldn’t blame anybody but myself. I put myself there. I was constantly getting my area flipped and searched naked for contraband and it felt inhumane.
But I believe in my heart God placed me there for a reason. I believe I would be dead by now if it wasn’t for jail. I am not ashamed of my past because that is what made me strong and who I am today. Being released from jail and being able to hug my mom and family without a wall in front of us was the best gift I could’ve received.
Last year this time, I was in a cell and today I’m healthy, going to school thanks to my GED, and trying to make the best of my life. I’m trying to keep moving forward and put the drugs behind me. Someone told me “It’s either you choose one thing and give up everything or give up one thing and gain everything.” I choose life.