How a Notorious Jail Became a Literary Hotbed

A female inmate falls for a handsome guard. He’s really a former con man in witness protection. Their forbidden flirtations smolder toward a climax: Murder!

It happened not on Rikers Island, but in “Rikers Island.”

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The book, a 406-page romantic drama that sells for $18.99 on Amazon, is part of a expansive genre inspired by New York’s troubled jail complex. The authors are detainees and correction officers who have written scores of Rikers books, many self-published, that are available online, at neighborhood stores or from the trunks of authors’ cars across New York City.

This particular entry in the canon was self-published in December by Michele Evans, who began writing it while serving 18 months at Rikers. She had an eye for detail, a pencil cadged from a counselor and material all around.

“I knew I had gold as far as content was concerned,” said Ms. Evans, whose real-life crush on a jail officer inspired the plotline.

Riddled with dysfunction, violence and lawlessness, Rikers has produced a constant loop of lurid headlines, as well as a decade-long movement to close it. But it has also spawned an awful lot of literature.

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