It was all smiles & no photographs at the Brooklyn House of Detention Open House this morning. I've never seen so many beaming, hand-shaking people in uniform before. With the House opening up to inmates again next week, after years of closure, this was assuage-the-public day, aimed at reassuring nearby residents like Lisa Goldfarb that all was dandy:
“I never would have agreed to buy this house for all this money had I known it was opening,” she added, saying that real estate agents told her the jail was going to be converted into condominiums. The couple paid $3.4 million for the(ir) town house in July.
“We took a gamble and lost on this neighborhood.” (NY Times)
Ah, some people do have it rough. Still, on the bright side, there were refreshments in the visiting room today, & strollers were welcome. The crowd was on the young side, & looked like they were ready to discuss kindergarten spots. "Not your usual customers today!" laughed a thirty-something woman to a stocky female guard. She grimaced politely in return.
What a surreal exercise in community relations the whole thing was. The visitors asked dopey questions about starchy diets, & held their toddlers up to the bars: "Say "Let me out of here, Henry!" The guards' grins wore thin now and then, & they got a little brusque about line formations. We saw the protective custody cells, and a shining cavity metal detecting chair, The Boss.
Our tour was tightly controlled. We weren't allowed up to the gym, or the exercise roof. We didn't get to see the chapel. I was disappointed, as was the guy I was next to for most of the visit. In his sixties, he'd started work at Rikers in '69, & transferred here in the seventies. He'd experienced prison riots, & had overseen one Mr. Bernhard Goetz. He'd come over from Staten Island to look at look at the place today & was struck by all the changes: back then the cells were double occupancy, & the dog days of summer had made them even more hellish than usual. He talked of fights over the Soul Train show, & that led to mention of Don Cornelius's recent death. He felt he'd been a fair guard, and had earned the prisoners' respect, but he chuckled grimly at the behavior of some of his fellow officers, who he said had shown"no respect for their badges."
Outside, a prison protest (three men & a banner) continued, & we visitors were derided for our presence at this PR debacle. As a visitor, I squirmed a bit, but I'm too curious to be put off by a verbal taunt or too. I'm nosiness incarnate. As part of the protest, I was handed this rock-hard cookie. I agree with the sentiments printed on the label, but I don't think I'll chance a taste.