From the Ivy League to a prison block to the newsroom, journalist Keri Blakinger chronicled her drug-fueled fall from grace to her rise as a hard-hitting journalist fighting for society’s underdogs in her new memoirs, “Corrections in Ink”. Here are excerpts from the book.
I have problems: I’ve run out of clean clothes, I can’t find my glasses, my English paper is late, and my pockets aren’t big enough for all the heroin I have.
But, honestly, more than anything, I want a cigarette. I’m only ten minutes from where I’m going and it’s cold outside. The sun is deceptive; it looks like a beautiful morning in upstate New York, but it’s actually December and the wind is blowing from Ithaca Gorge. I stop walking and dig my fingers deep in my pockets in search of a Parliament.
In a minute there will be police, with questions and handcuffs. By tomorrow, my crusty face photo will be front page news as the Cornell student is arrested with a $150,000 slap. I’ll sober up to a sea of regrets. My dirty clothes and late English papers – one of the last assignments I need to graduate – will be the least of my problems.
But that’s all in the future. Right now, I just want this cigarette. Where the hell did I put them?
When I woke up this morning in the Stewart Avenue hideout, the first thing I did was look at my diary – I’m still over-organized, even on the brink of disaster. Then I answered the phone after my boyfriend called several times. We had a fight. I emailed one of my professors asking for another extension and promised myself that today would be the day I would finally finish everything I needed to graduate.
Then I mixed a scoop of heroin and coke and spent the next two hours pricking my arms and legs, digging under the skin with a 28 gauge needle in search of relief . My veins are all slashed and scarred and hard to find, so my stabs to oblivion usually involve a few hours of crying as I bleed on the floor, leaving behind the speckled blood spatter of a crime scene. This time I got really high, and that last hit was really out of spite; my boyfriend had the nerve to accuse me of stealing our heroin, and frankly, I’m sick of it. I’m pissed at him, I’m pissed at myself, I’m pissed at every moment that brought me here, and I’m pissed that he keeps calling, yelling, and threatening me when I’m just trying to get high, get high, get away from the darkness from where – or towards which I am running. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
In 2015, after serving 2½ years in prison for drug possession, Blakinger started working at the New York Daily News after working as a freelance writer and reporter for smaller newspapers. Her drive—and her in-depth knowledge of the state’s criminal justice system—set her apart from her peers.
The job didn’t provide the kind of community service that local reporting in Ithaca offered, but I found I liked the fast pace of the tabloid world. Every day, I wrote three to seven short stories for the web, mostly weird crimes, interviews with D-list celebrities, a weird story, and the occasional salacious news adjoining piece. My most-read stories weren’t exactly impressive: a short article about a parody of an Adele song about snowy days, a dive into the infamous Black Dahlia murder, a look into existence real of a correlation between penis size and hand size…a tongue-in-cheek mission launched me after then-candidate Donald Trump insulted main opponent Marco’s hand size Rubio. (And, yes, a study has shown that there is a correlation, but it’s down to finger proportion, not hand size.)
But for all the weird stuff we could delve into for the more lustful of readers, the investigations and on-the-ground reporting were largely irrelevant, as those were squarely within the purview of the Lower Manhattan A-Team. For the most part, I just kept my head down and focused on what I needed to do. Then a few weeks later, I found data showing an increase in the use of solitary confinement in state prisons, even after authorities promised to reduce it. When I presented it to Bob as a story, instead of telling me to stay in my lane, he mumbled, “I need to introduce you to Reuven.”
Reuven Blau was in his late thirties and worked in the main newsroom. He wore goggles and a yarmulke and he had been on the beat covering the Rikers and the prisons probably since before I set foot there. When he called to talk about the numbers I had, he spoke so fast I could barely make out the words.
He was speaking in tabloid slang that I didn’t even understand, but he was offering to work together. One story turned into another, and in December I was headed to the city jail. Reuven had a tip about a woman who said she was raped by a guard in a closet, and he sent me to investigate.
On Rikers Island, the wait for visits is brutal. It’s hours spent queuing in the chill of the East River winds, waiting for stone-faced prison officers to search you again and again as you weave your way further through the concentric circles of correctional hell. If you sneak in to do a story, you walk into the interview empty-handed, pretending to be a friend and not a reporter. Without a notepad, you have to memorize the best quotes as they’re spoken or, generally, whispered in the hope that the guards won’t hear you. I had been in jail before as a free person – once to visit Sam and a few dozen times to teach the writing class with Glynis – but each time it was like stepping back into a bad dream, haunting and surreal.
This time was Christmas Eve, and I was there to interview a woman named Jackie, who had landed in jail for robbery. And – unlike most prison rape cases – she actually had hard evidence. After the attack, she had sent her sister pieces of her clothes, covered in the guard’s spotted clothes. [semen] stain. As we sat on either side of the visiting table and talked, we realized that we had crossed paths before: we had been in prison together, sent to admissions in Bedford the same month that she was on his last charge.
We spent the visiting hour exchanging notes on the whereabouts of all our mutual friends upstate and discussing the details of his assault and the decision to save that tacky shirt.
“I wanted proof,” she said. She’d been through the system enough times to know how much it mattered.
She went on to tell me that the man’s face looked dead the whole time, “like he wasn’t there”, and that she was afraid to report it through official channels, where the officials might just fight back instead of helping or investigating. But now that she had decided to talk about it, she was ready to go all-in.
“Use my name,” she said. She wanted everything out there, to make sure something happened to her rapist.
We didn’t know it then, but eventually something happened, an incredibly rare outcome behind bars. Even where there is evidence, only around 1% of prison and prison staff accused of sexually abusing people in custody are actually convicted of it.
This guard was one of them.
Afterwards, Reuven said he didn’t know if Jackie would have trusted another reporter the same way, and I realized something: I could tell this story in a way that so few others people could, or even wanted. I had been there, I knew ten Jackies – and they all had stories to tell.
Excerpt from “Corrections in Ink: A Memoir” by Keri Blakinger. Copyright © 2022 by the author and reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Publishing Group.