What NYC lost when it lost a prison

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From AM New York :

Russelle Miller-Hill was convicted on a drug charge and sent to Albion Correctional Facility in 1991.

Born and raised in the Bronx, the prison near Niagara Falls was far from home, and she says she got no visitors.

Towards the end of her term, she went down to New York City to spend about 18 months at Bayview Correctional Facility, she says.

You were “on your way out the door,” says Miller-Hill. “You were home basically.”

She was given medical furlough and allowed to return to her actual home on weekends, rekindling a relationship with her daughter and spending time with her family — eating meals together, going for walks in Central Park. Sunday night, she’d head back to Bayview.

Miller-Hill is one inmate who benefited from proximity to support networks and familiar territory, and an example of the importance of where we put our prisons — in this case, right in the middle of one of NYC’s toniest neighborhoods, Chelsea.

The facility, perched between Chelsea Piers and the Highline on 20th Street, closed in 2013, leaving just one state-run correctional facility housing women in NYC.

Calm on the outside, horrific on the inside

The Bayview building has had a long and varied history in Chelsea. Originally known as Seaman’s House YMCA, a refuge for sailors, the complex was sold to the state in 1967. It became a medium-security prison in 1974.

The facility carried markers of its origins: a drained swimming pool decorated with fish mosaics, a small chapel. On the rooftop rec yard, inmates were provided with a view of the Hudson River and the changing neighborhood below them.

At first, some residents worried the inmates would present a danger to the neighborhood, says Pamela Wolff, a longtime resident who served on the community board. Chelsea residents formed a committee that met once a month at the facility to discu

Wolf says the women heading to jobs or going home on weekend passes “became invisible.”

“They weren’t wearing badges. They looked like everybody else.”

Inside, however, the prison was troubled.

It was “horrific,” says Miller-Hill, the woman who spent time at Bayview. “We were not addressed as our names, we were numbers,” she says.

It lasted for little more than a year, Wolff said. “It became obvious that there really was no issue — no criminal activity, no mugging.” Ultimately the committee was dissolved.

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