There are plenty of unsung heroes in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, but the story of how those at New York’s least desirable address lent their muscle and might is perhaps among the most compelling.
On the night that the storm roared into the city, Dora B. Schriro, the correction commissioner, slept on a couch in her office at the Rikers Island jail, bracing for flooding and reassuring inmates and employees that the island would weather the storm.
The next morning, the vast jailhouse complex was mostly unscathed, but Ms. Schriro was stunned by the devastation the storm had wrought elsewhere.
So she decided to put her jail, and those who call it home, to work. Inmates did 6,600 pounds of laundry for people in emergency shelters. The jail supplied generators and gas to fuel them to neighborhoods in the dark, and donated long underwear usually given to inmates. And officers with medical training provided emergency care to victims.
“There was a lot of loss,” said Ms. Schriro, who personally pitched in at food lines on the Rockaway Peninsula, in Queens. “It was our responsibility and opportunity to jump in and help.”
Ms. Schriro, a Staten Island native who lives on City Island in the Bronx, and her deputies started strategizing how they would tap Rikers’s enormous resources even as the storm was still raging. Ms. Schriro had already reminded the Bloomberg administration of all that Rikers had to offer should the storm prove to be as catastrophic as predicted.
But Ms. Schriro felt a greater sense of urgency after seeing firsthand what the storm had done to the Rockaways, a place that is home to some of the jail’s inmates as well as to some of the guards who watch over them. She mobilized a group of correction officers to deliver truckloads of canned and dried goods from the island’s food supply and to use emergency relief supplies from the jail’s warehouses, including bottled water and blankets. The agency also delivered clothing to relief centers in the city, including jackets kept for inmates.
Officers took generators and backup lights from various jails to Breezy Point, Queens, and other locations. Correction Department buses and vans transported evacuees on Staten Island and shuttled recovery workers in Brooklyn.
Capt. Richard Polak, who helps oversee the laundry at Rikers, accompanied other correction officers to pick up sheets, blankets, towels and clothes from a dozen shelters in storm-struck parts of the city. The items were returned laundered within hours. It was the first time Rikers’s laundry was used to help in a citywide emergency, the correction agency said.