Rikers: A City in Itself

Text by Tommy Demenkoff

In February 2020, it was my (Bruce Wall) stroke of great good fortune to find myself on an adventure — a festive exploit which afforded me the extraordinary honour (and I mean that with the utmost sincerity) of being able to share a session with a group of fine men then resident in New York City’s Correctional Institution Complex at Rikers Island. This on the very cusp of the Covid outbreak, a situation which, whilst it has changed – and is changing – our very perception of life/living, is even now only empowering the critical import of the work we are privileged to do.


It was – in every way – a life-affirming event.  The delightful animation of not only the lads but the representatives from the Stella Adler Studios who took part – and most keenly – the very special officers involved made it entirely invigorating.


I had sensed in advance that this would be the case knowing full well that the Rikers Island Arts Programmes are steered by the extraordinary visionary that is Tommy Demenkoff.  (Tommy’s official – and well-deserved – title is: ‘Director of Arts Education / Programs & Community Partnerships for the New York City Department of Correction.)  Whilst there I was also blessed to meet with and work alongside another canny alchemist, Alexandra (‘Zon’) Wylie, who is every inch Tommy’s match.  Such benevolence; such assiduity – especially in a world where detail is ALL:  Such an exceptional team. 


Even now I’m planning my return to Rikers for January/February 2022 when I hope and pray the Covid intermission will have well and truly finished, allowing us all to move on to our next acts.  In three words:  I can’t wait. 


After the programme, Tommy kindly wrote:



First off – apologies for not being more present with your debut at Rikers Island – it was a very busy day with a fully packed programming schedule, and add in the Commissioner and some media issues and alarms, and there you have it, a regular day in my world– so, many many apologies.


My friend, of what I observed, you have not missed a beat – not ever mentioning how many years ago we first met, you have not – I repeat – NOT – missed a beat – your work is still thrilling and invigorating and so perfectly pitched for delivery yesterday for our male detainees in AMKC.  Bravo!  The comments we are receiving are so positive, but I had no doubt ever – what you offer Bruce is simply gold.  Thank you.


Please let us know when you see yourself returning to the Big Apple – and the gates will once again open for LSW. …. 


For more information on
Mr. Demenkoff please click here.