At Rikers Island Awaiting Sentencing, Cecily McMillan Says, "I've Never Felt So Loved Before"

cecly-mcmillan-zach-roberts.jpg
Photo by Zach Roberts
Cecily McMillan, the night of her arrest.
"My lawyer has told me to expect two years," Cecily McMillan said yesterday from the visitation room at the Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers Island, where women in New York awaiting trial or sentencing are held. The 25-year-old wore an extra-large grey jumpsuit that dwarfed her frame, prison-issued sandals and horn-rim glasses. She looked exhausted but sounded steady, if not exactly thrilled about the prospect of going to prison.

"Two years is nothing compared to what other people in here deal with," she added.

On May 5, McMillan, a 25-year-old graduate student and Occupy Wall Street activist was found guilty of assaulting a police officer during a March 17, 2012 demonstration at Zuccotti Park. She'll be sentenced May 19, when she faces anywhere from probation to seven years in prison.

McMillan maintains that she only elbowed officer Grantley Bovell after he grabbed her breast from behind; photographs of her injuries have been widely disseminated, including a handprint-shaped bruise on her breast. Her case has quickly become a cause celebre, with Russian activists Pussy Riot visiting her at Rikers and nine of the twelve jurors in her case writing to the judge for leniency. Her supporters have also written hundreds of letters to Judge Ronald Zweibel on her behalf. They plan to deliver 500 of them tomorrow, and another 500 or so on Monday. An online petition asking Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo to intervene on her behalf has garnered more than 43,000 signatures.

McMillan, meanwhile, is wary that she'll be perceived as a media hog or someone gunning for political martyrdom. "I am not happy to be here," she said plainly.

- See also: Blind Justice: Cecily McMillan Faces Prison for Assaulting Cop

The process of getting into Rikers to see McMillan took nearly three hours. The Voice accompanied her friend Lucy Parks, 18, who spent much of the trial organizing McMillan's support team: helping her get up in time for court each day, finding trial-appropriate outfits through endless shopping trips at Macy's, and appearing for TV interviews after McMillan was found guilty, when no one else wanted to do it.

Parks tried yesterday to bring in a few items McMillan needed: the pink dress she'll wear at sentencing, black flats, black Skechers sneakers, a bra, pajamas, a copy of Leo Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You, and some notes McMillan's thesis advisor has made on the statement she's drafting to read at her sentencing. The bra was rejected by correctional officers at the facility, because it had an underwire, which could be used as a weapon. The Skechers were also deemed unacceptable. Sneakers on Rikers must be black Puma brand; the flats were returned without explanation. In order for McMillan to have shoes to wear at her sentencing, her lawyer will have to bring them in. (Writing implements and paper were also disallowed; all direct quotes from the hour and a half conversation with McMillan have been rendered to the best of my recollection.)

McMillan has been denied the medication she needs to treat her attention-deficit disorder since arriving at Rikers, and she's struggling to focus on finishing her statement (she also wrote this letter to her supporters a few days after she arrived). The rest of the time, she rises at 4:30 a.m. for breakfast and has been tasked with cleaning her 40-woman dormitory. She's trying to learn Spanish from the other inmates, and to convince the guards she's not a dangerous, violent criminal. Many of them are avid readers of the New York Post and Daily News, she says, who have provided less than sympathetic coverage of her case. When she arrived on the island, she heard some discussion among the guards about the "poor officer" she'd subjected to two years of legal proceedings. The clerks in the mail room were convinced she was facing 25 years to life on an especially violent crime, she says, because she was been remanded without bail, not a common situation.

Law enforcement sources told us that McMillan was twice offered a plea deal that would have allowed her to escape with just a misdemeanor conviction and no jail time. She denied that offer had ever been extended to her, and said she thought much of the pre-trial discussions with the District Attorney's office were a ruse designed to find out damaging information about her to use at trial. But she admitted, too, that she likely wouldn't have taken any offer, even a misdemeanor, that meant she had to plead guilty to a violent crime.

"Non-violence is my core," she said. "It's my anchor." She called the idea of accepting the label of a violent offender "intolerable."

McMillan called jail "a series of constant humiliations," but said she's more aware than ever of how privileged she is, with a high-powered attorney who worked for free, lots of friends and supporters, and the option to go to trial. "Nobody goes to trial here," she says. "Everyone takes a plea." With the amount of public support directed her way, she adds, "I've never felt so loved." (In the unlikely event she's released on Monday, she says, she'll start a fundraiser to try to give her lead attorney, civil rights lawyer Martin Stolar, some money, although he likely won't accept it.)

The real lesson of her arrest, she says, is that "this could have happened to absolutely anyone," and often does, in poorer communities of color, with far fewer cameras and reporters to cover it. "It's not about me." She talked feverishly about her dreams of reform: for prisons, the justice system, society at large. She and Parks still dream of moving to Atlanta together, where McMillan spent much of her childhood, and starting a communal house, what they call a small "prefigurative pocket of revolution."

In the meantime, she's already been invited to join an inmates council, and she's agitating for more solid reforms: pillows for the inmates, laundry soap (they wash their clothes with hand soap), and, most pressingly, a female guard on the night shift. A male correctional officer watches over her dorm while they sleep, something McMillan finds baffling and potentially unsafe.

"Almost everyone in here is a victim of rape or sexual assault," she says. "Why is there only a male on that one shift?"

After an hour and a half or so, the guards came to escort McMillan back to her cell. Parks had begun to look desperately sad. McMillan didn't want to leave her. They hovered for a time, looking at each other, McMillan pulling anxiously at her jumpsuit. Finally, McMillan hugged Parks, then found a quote from activist and labor organizer Joe Hill.

"Don't mourn, organize!" she said, as cheerily as she could. They both cracked a tired half-smile, looking a little teary, and then McMillan was gone.

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47 comments
br2012
br2012

Hit a cop go to jail, hit a Correction Officer no repercussions at all.

domin8er
domin8er

I think the cop should be prosecuted.  What kind of idiot would want to grab that ugly zzz wildebeest's fat sacks?

Agnes Szprycha
Agnes Szprycha

U look at the pic n may see a drunk girl...sure yet if u knew the story behind it ud be suprised. She wasnt drunk. She had a seizure they didnt call 911. They took her on the bus while in that stage. Get ur shit straight before u judge.

Ted Cantu
Ted Cantu

What a showman, throw her in jail

Agnes Szprycha
Agnes Szprycha

Pussy ass cop cried cause a girl beat him up?? Apparently you are not ment for the job boy.

Agnes Szprycha
Agnes Szprycha

How many times they fucken go over their powers killing people and shit. Nobody stands up here u have a girl who stood up for what she believed gave a pig a black eye and gets jail? Yet they kill and go back to work?? My money pays your salary. Do your fucken job.

Barry Chute
Barry Chute

I'm not mourning. Live in your fantasy world at Rikers. Start a book club.

Glenn Foley
Glenn Foley

Just from that photo of her u can see she's acting like a drunken asshole

Robert Cardinelle
Robert Cardinelle

No Luke Gunn, you obviously do not know the meaning of 'radical' and 'left.' It's dumb asses like you who are challenging conventional institutions, you idiot. You sound ignorant. If you do not like the stigma, change your views and objectives. You are not mainstream or conventional, dumb ass. And to defend a person that fights with a police officer striking him, and then cries like a baby when she faces the consequences for doing it, is bullshit stupid radical left.

craigvan
craigvan

Two years seems pretty stiff.  But in the videos you can see her crouch down and lunge at the cop.  That's not a reflex action.

She wasn't being a non-violent person when arrested. 

Luke Gunn
Luke Gunn

Stop saying radical left like it's some catchphrase or even a proper designation, you sound idiotic

Gavin William Sewell
Gavin William Sewell

And I sincerely ask both of you, Mr. Cardinelle and Mr. Storey, as men, and perhaps as conservatives of Faith, to look into your hearts and find the courage to see bullies as bullies, whether they wear uniforms or not. Please find the inner strength to not reflexively defend the powerful and persecute the vulnerable. Jesus--the hero of the faithful--and Socrates--the hero of humanists--were both put to death by cops after being tried by courts their peers considered fair. Learn the wisdom to call injustice by its name, sirs.

Gavin William Sewell
Gavin William Sewell

Mr. Storey: The officer who grabbed her was in plain-clothes. If Cicily were your sister, your girlfriend, or mother, and a man in street clothes grabbed her breast from behind, would you want her to elbow the man to get away, or turn around and ask, "Excuse me sir, are you by any chance an officer of the law or magistrate?"

Ira Ras Negus George
Ira Ras Negus George

The last days and times are here for sure! We seem to be forgeting what freedom means!

Robert Cardinelle
Robert Cardinelle

Hello Mr. Gavin ... red the article. She faces 7 years (on May 19, 2014), she has not been sentenced yet. Unless you are clairvoyant, you should wait until she is sentenced before you go into your radical left complaining mode.

Matthew Storey
Matthew Storey

Why anyone cares about this woman is as great a mystery as why anyone feels bad for Tibetans or Gazans, all richly deserve their fate and are regressive elements against modernity.

Matthew Storey
Matthew Storey

You don't get to elbow cops for ANY REASON, its not open to discussion or debate. The officer represents society policing an unwanted demonstration and if the criminal felt unjustly handled, they could take civil action after the demonstration but under no circumstances can a protestor or any citizen lay a hand on a police officer. THAT is the Rule of Law.

Gavin William Sewell
Gavin William Sewell

You don't need to be a radical leftist, Mr. Cardinelle, to think a young woman shouldn't do seven years in prison for elbowing a man who grabbed her chest, or that Zimmerman should have done some time for killing an unarmed teenager; you just have to be a moral human being with a respect for the rule of law.

Sandi Vito
Sandi Vito

This is so nuts. Neither she nor anyone in her situation should be in prison. We have an odd sense of justice.

Robert Cardinelle
Robert Cardinelle

She was found guilty. Shall we do away wit the courts. When Zimmerman was acquitted, the radical left complained that was unfair. Now McMillan is found guilty and the same radical left complains its unfair. Face it, the radical left only wants verdicts that they want and that are not relevant to findings of fact in legitimately adjudicated trials. Why is that?

pattreid
pattreid

@domin8er So, if she were "prettier" by your standards, the cop had a right to grab her? Sir, you are part of the problem.

cm2010
cm2010

No worries, in jail she can beat up all the COs she wants, and get away with it. 

pattreid
pattreid

You're the asshole, she was having a seizure. Seems the cops are not the only ones who need some training.

pattreid
pattreid

And you clearly have no understanding of the words either. Occupy was not a leftist movement. It was far more inclusive of libertarians (in the true original definition of libertarianism). The Occupiers ideals are closer to the original intention of our democratic (anti-corporatist) capitalist country. Yes, there were some lefties involved, but all activities done by Occupy were determined by leaderless, consensus governing. 

Do you think everyone in America needs to be "mainstream" or "conventional" to have worth? You lead me to think you want a cookie-cutter, march-in-lockstep, obedient and controlled population. Is that what you're really about? Is it your view that if a woman is attacked sexually, she should just shut up and submit, or ignore, that aggression?


Perhaps, before you go off running your mouth, you might consider educating yourself so you don't appear so ignorant. Furthermore, your foul mouth belies the aggressive stance of someone who underneath it all, realizes he's not too bright or not very educated.

JoeD
JoeD

Modernity!!! Yeah, you mean a police state? Idiot. Get the fuck out of NYC, you yuppie scumbag. 

FormerCourtEmployee
FormerCourtEmployee

Obviously, you have never had a negative encounter with NYPD "The bullies in blue"...it is just a matter of time.

cm2010
cm2010

Not to worry, she is in New York City's jail, she can physically attack all the Correction Officers she wants, and not have to worry about an ounce of repercussions.

JoeD
JoeD

You're not serious, are you, shitbag? 

dgkleing
dgkleing

LMFAO as if Obama is going to give a fucking shit if you fast or not the man is running a fucking country not your stupid dumb arse anal fucking riot. You all need to get a grip and realize the stupid shit head hit a cop now she has to deal with it.

iwik
iwik

Please do you research to find out what the 'radical left' wants. It is not to do away with the courts.

We can't take sides and solve the inequity of our system; we can make improvements to the system. Who doesn't want to make changes for the better?

The discussion here is that the trial was not conducted in a legitimate manner-ending in an unfair ruling.

These things do happen.

Healthy democracies require that we the people keep them in check. This questioning is the duty of every American!

This is a fight for justice!

This is a fight for equity!

This is a fight for equality!

These are the core values we all can AGREE ON. We need your help and the help of every common person to make sure our democracy is healthy. 

pattreid
pattreid

@cm2010 I'm beginning to think you are one of those COs, or maybe you've done time and can speak from experience.

dgkleing
dgkleing

Are you for real freak? I seriously think you should pack up you beads and moth balls and go back to the cave you obviously escaped from.

The rest of the world is so tired of the rantings of you god damed do gooders why can't you just realize once and for all no body gives a shit what you say all we ever do is laugh at you.

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