As prepared for delivery
NYC Department of Correction
20th Anniversary of 9/11 Remarks, Rikers Island
Press Secretary Jason Kersten
Thank you, Officer Cooper.
I originally did not expect to be speaking today. I was not a member of this department on 9/11. I was not a first responder.
I tried to be. I walked down the West Side Highway that night with a shovel and a case of water, wanting to help find people, but people with badges turned me away. The situation was being handled, they said, and they thanked me and lots of other people like me.
It was only when I came to this department, four years ago, that I began learning who the people handling the situation were. They were you. I was astounded to learn of DOC’s gigantic, pivotal contribution to the 9/11 rescue and recovery efforts.
It filled me with pride that I was part of an agency that had done that. It also filled me with surprise, sorrow, and anger, that no one really knew about it. How could the story of such effort and sacrifice have been lost?
I was still learning then that stories of heroism by people who work in corrections seem to be always lost, or overlooked. Part of it is because we work behind gates and no one outside sees in, but back then, our responders were in plain sight, and still they didn’t see you.
So I was thrilled when former commissioner Brann asked Public Information to create a book about DOC’s 9/11 response. Here was a chance to help tell a story that desperately needed to be told. As she put it to me: “This is an open wound.”
As I began interviewing you, those feelings of pride, anger and sorrow only increased.
No one asked for recognition. That wasn’t anyone’s motivation. But as the years went on, it felt like we had been erased. Even as the physical effects of our contribution became so painfully clear. The saddest thing is that as correction we are used to it, we come to expect it. That is not right.
Our hope was that the book would be completed by today, but we didn’t factor in that while we were working on gathering up the history of this incredible emergency response, an entirely new one would take place right here with the pandemic.
So we are a little delayed due to covid. The book will be called Lost Responders, and we’ve included an excerpt in this edition of Bold Print. For any of you still on the fence about being interviewed, there is still time.
I asked a few of you if you might be willing to speak today, but no one was really comfortable being out front. Every person I have interviewed has told me that they were not special, that they were just doing their job. Others did more.
As the person who has probably heard more DOC 9/11 stories than anyone, I’m here to tell you that you are special. It takes a special kind of person to be good at corrections, and 9/11 brought out our best.
No other agency in this city could have done what you and your family members did, with such organization, dedication, and sense of mission. We are a city within a city, and when those towers fell, you rushed out of these gates and did it without a second thought. Some of you were there helping even before the towers fell. Many of you went off to fight the wars that came afterwards.
The sacrifice was enormous. The vast majority of responders I have interviewed suffer from 9/11 related illnesses. Those we come to remember today died from them. They and their families gave everything.
Nothing we can say to our DOC 9/11 family members will ever be enough. Your husbands, sons, sisters and daughters came back from this with wounds that no words can ever help close. It has been left to you to care for them, support them, and in too many cases, lose them.
It is up to all of us to remember them. Sadly, we all know that in the years to come we will be placing more names on this memorial.
Despite this unimaginable legacy of suffering and sacrifice, despite knowing the cost, every responder I have interviewed has told me this: It’s the best thing I ever did. I’d do it again.
If that isn’t special, I don’t know what is.