“I came to explore the wreck. The words are purposes. The words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail.”
—Adrienne Rich, Diving Into The Wreck
A space that was once used as a tool of systematic dehumanization will soon be renovated and transformed into a place for enrichment, education, and empowerment. A space for everyone—not just women or formerly incarcerated women—but the entire community of New York.
The former Bayview Correctional Facility, located at West 20th Street and 11th Avenue in Manhattan, will soon serve as the site of NYC’s first-ever Women’s Building. In 2015, redevelopment rights were granted to the NoVo Foundation, in collaboration with Goren Group, to restore the prison into a vertical neighborhood that will bring together diverse non-profit organizations dedicated to working for the rights of women and girls.
According to the NoVo Foundation’s statement, “The work inside the building’s walls will be dedicated to improving lives on the outside—starting here in New York, with global reverberations,” and will “pull the outside in through public facilities, lectures, conferences, performances, and art shows,” thus enriching the neighborhood as a whole.
“This building, once designed to dehumanize and silence women, will now become a space dedicated to building women’s power and achieving equality, justice and liberation for all women and girls,” says Tamar Kraft-Stolar, co-director of the Women & Justice Project, an organization dedicated to fighting mass incarceration and criminalization.
The conversion of this space alone is historic, but as with all moments in history, there’s a back narrative that gets lost. Bayview functioned as a medium-security prison for nearly 35 years, but the facility was riddled with reports of sexual abuse by staff members and unsanitary, unsafe conditions. The traumatic residue left behind by this building will be considerable, but will it permanently stain the walls? Can construction and renovation ever erase the backlog of pain from being “inside” the system? According to the women who once spent their days and nights there, it can—but it will take a collective community effort (and a strong sense of hope) for the transformation process to begin.