Graham Rayman ’88 tackles history of Rikers Island in new book

Graham Rayman '88

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2023 edition of Wooster Magazine.

Graham Rayman ’88 has a career in journalism that spans over 30 years, a career that began as a journalist for The Wooster Voice, The College of Wooster’s student newspaper. As a staff writer and investigative journalist for the New York Daily News, Rayman reports on criminal justice and policing in New York City. His new book, Rikers: An Oral History (Random House, 2023), written along with co-author Reuven Blau, takes readers through the history of Rikers Island, New York City’s largest correctional facility. 

Jails, like Rikers, hold people as they either await trial or serve short sentences for minor crimes. But, as Rayman says, the impact of that time spent in jail can be lifelong. “If you serve time at Rikers, you’re never going to forget it,” he remarked. Rayman and Blau worked to center the voices of those most impacted by Rikers Island and the New York Department of Corrections. They interviewed over 130 people, ranging from incarcerated people and their relatives to officers, lawyers, and commissioners, with stories spanning from the 1970s to the present day. Their stories give audiences a personal view of life on Rikers Island. 

For Rayman, his passion for journalism began as a student at Wooster. As a political science major, Rayman learned the research skills necessary for his career. Wooster’s liberal arts curriculum offered him the opportunity to take classes in journalism and communication studies as well—he calls a journalism class he took with Ray McCall, professor of English, “perhaps the most influential class I took at Wooster.” As a writer and editor for The Wooster Voice, he got a valuable chance to apply these skills in journalism even as an undergraduate. 

“I really got to explore what I was interested in. I’m incredibly grateful that Wooster took a chance on me,” he said. 

Rayman urges readers to consider Rikers: An Oral History as the story of not just one specific jail complex in New York City, but also to think about it within the context of a larger conversation on jails and policing. This book asks readers to consider what role they believe jails should play: a center of rehabilitation or a center of punishment. “Should jails be grim, violent, traumatizing places, as the book portrays Rikers, or places where there’s hope and space to learn and grow? We want people to consider what they believe and what they want from jails in their own communities,” Rayman explained. 

Posted in Alumni on March 15, 2023.

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