An honest and gripping memoir of one man’s life-altering experience teaching at Rikers Island.
When Brandon Dean Lamson first accepted the teaching position at Horizon Academy, a court-mandated academic program for eighteen- to twenty-year-old prisoners at Rikers Island, even he had to question his own motivation. Why was he risking his life every day at a prison notorious for being one of the most dangerous places to work? Was it his small way of making amends for the blatant and pervasive racism he witnessed every day growing up in his small Southern town? Or was it to prove he wasn’t afraid to go where his own father, a prominent District Court judge, had sent both the innocent and guilty alike? In Caged, Lamson provides an intimate view of his transformative experience teaching inmate students on Rikers Island.
Rikers Island resonates as a place of horrific violence and inescapable punishment, one of the last places in America that truly invoke overwhelming, universal fear. Set in the late 1990s—a time when the city was rapidly changing into an increasingly corporatized and policed space—Caged exposes a criminal justice system designed to thwart efforts to rehabilitate and educate the incarcerated. Lamson’s first-hand account illustrates how penitentiaries too often use prison education as another means of control.
Written in a gripping, confessional narrative, Caged explores the consequential impact of Lamson’s move to New York City, his childhood experiences with racial justice, and his journey working in four prisons over the course of three years. Lamson provides glimpses into his own self-destructive behavior as parallels emerge between his life on Rikers and his personal life, his white privilege, and how his behavior progressively entraps him in ways that resonate with the challenges faced by his students. The book intimately captures how incarceration changes both prisoner and educator alike as Lamson struggles to integrate into life outside prison after his departure from Horizon Academy.