The New Plantation: Lessons from Rikers Island
Jason Trask, author
On June 21st, 2019, Deerbrook Editions will release The New Plantation: Lessons from Rikers Island, a memoir by novelist Jason Trask chronicling his experiences as an English teacher of incarcerated teens on Rikers Island in New York City. He writes that even before he began teaching on Rikers, “I knew racism affects every aspect of American culture. But I knew it only with my intellect. Rikers hammered that knowledge into my heart.” During his three years on the island, of the 200 plus students who passed through his class¬room, only five were non-Hispanic whites. Prior to teaching on Rikers, his only teaching experience had been of college students. It quickly became clear to him that he would have to forget everything he thought he knew about his profession. We witness his attempts to cross the cultural divide between his students and him. While he is a white guy from rural Maine—among the whitest states in the nation—nearly all of the young men in his classroom are African Americans or Hispanics from New York City. In the process, we see him break a number of rules, not only those established by the Departments of Correction and Education, but also many of the rules of tradition and, in some cases, common sense. We see him fall on his face time after time, but in the end, though his educational methods seldom meet the standards of orthodoxy, he connects with his students in a meaningful way. In the process, he helps many of them to pass the GED. Trask delivers to us the sights, sounds, and even smells of a world known only to those with personal experience of the Prison Industrial Complex.