In 2013, after spending years behind bars in the notorious New York torture chamber known as Rikers Island without ever having been convicted of a crime, then 19 year-old Kalief Browder finally was allowed to return to his family and loved ones. However, those who had known the 16 year-old young man before he was tragically apprehended by an NYPD officer in 2010 (all because he erroneously thought Browder took someone’s backpack) quickly found that he had been profoundly damaged by his traumatic experiences on the island. As was reported on this blog in 2013,
While he was at Rikers, Browder was regularly “physically assaulted and beaten” by the corrections staff as well as other inmates, and as punishment for maintaining his innocence he was “placed in solitary confinement for more than 400 days” where those in charge attempted to starve him by refusing him up to 4 meals at a time. They also would not allow him to complete his high school education, even though he would have been working toward his high school graduation had he not been so heartlessly locked behind bars. He spent many sorrowful nights crying his self to sleep, eventually leading him to try and take his own life on more than one occasion. The reality of being trapped in a living hell on earth all the while being at the mercy of the monsters employed at the Rikers Island Corrections Facility would certainly drive most people to such a point of despair. What’s worse is that he had no way of knowing when, if ever, he was going to be released and allowed to return to his family. I did not mince words when I referred to the security staff as “monsters”, for what else would you call people who respond to inmate suicide attempts by assaulting and beating them even further as a way of “punishing” them?
Browder’s family, despite their best efforts, were unable to come up with the $10,000 to bond Kalief out of jail, which is why he was initially transferred to Rikers, a place where young people are regularly subject to long periods of solitary confinement, sexual harassment, brutal beatings and gang violence often initiated by the “correctional” officers themselves! In 2013 Browder told ABC News, “It’s very hard when you are dealing with dudes that are big and have weapons and shanks and there are gangs. You know if you… don’t give them what they want you know they are going to jump you. And it’s very scary.” After his release he suffered through multiple suicide attempts, placement in psychiatric wards, and severe bouts of restlessness, paranoia and depression. Yet through it all he managed to become an advocate and spokesperson for others living under the same circumstances.
On Friday, June 5, 2015, Kalief Browder’s mother received a phone call from her distraught son, who seemed to be constantly reliving the traumatizing years of his not-so-distant past over and again in his head, in which he told her, “Ma, I can’t take it anymore.” The following day he was found hanging in his bedroom.