The Prison on Central Park NorthNovember 5, 2006
During a break from the relentless non-stop torrent of work that was my recent NYC business trip, I decided to walk up to Harlem from the hotel I was staying at. Never having been there, and having an aforementioned dearth of black friends, I would have been at a total loss as to how to find Harlem’s location (a notoriously closely guarded secret from Whitey), had it not been for the Shaft-era classic “Across 110th Street.” Ah, crossover hits, you teach me everything I know about the urban experience.
So, it was with a spring in my step that I headed out of the W Hotel on 39th and walked a mere 74 blocks North until I got to 112th Street, the two extra blocks being about as far into Harlem as I could get before someone asked me if I had a light and I panicked and ran South. Sadly, my plan to walk a very long distance and then catch a cab at the end of my walk was thwarted by the fact that my walk ended in Harlem, an area not traditionally drowning in cabs. Eventually, I found one, some twenty blocks south again (just above the Guggenheim on 90th), and made my way safely to the country club, where I met with my plutocrat cronies & plotted the continuing oppression of the downtrodden.
On the way into Harlem, I noticed that there’s a prison (not just a holding cell or police station, but a full prison, with over four hundred cells) on Central Park North. It’s in fact the tallest building on the street. The prison would have some of the nicest views in the city, if the windows weren’t completely boarded up. It’s a surreal place called the Lincoln Correctional Facility, and it’s been there for nearly 100 years; first as a women’s shelter for single Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, then later as a school, and eventually it transitioned into government use, first as an army barracks for black soldiers (it IS on the Harlem border) and then just as a full time prison.
I don’t understand how you can afford to have a prison on some of the most expensive urban real estate in America, nor why you’d take a building with some of the greatest views in Manhattan and populate it with folks who aren’t allowed to look at the outside world, but what do I know? I’m the guy who thought it would be a good idea to walk to Harlem from 39th St.