Kalief Browder, Jailed at Rikers as a Teen for 3 Years Without Trial, Kills Himself

By Lily Dane

Kalief Browder, the young man who was held for years in New York’s Rikers Island prison as a teen without trial or conviction, killed himself on Saturday.

In 2014, Jennifer Gonnerman of The New Yorker brought attention to Browder’s plight with her poignant article titled “Before the Law.”

Browder ended up in one of America’s most corrupt and violent prisons after being accused – at age 16 – of stealing a backpack on May 15, 2010.

Because his family was unable to raise his $10,000 bail and because of repeated court delays and an overwhelmed system, Browder was forced to endure three years of hell – including beatings and deprivation of food – at Rikers Island waiting for a trial that never happened. He refused to accept several plea deals on principle, maintaining his innocence throughout his entire ordeal.

Browder spent more than 1,000 days in prison. Two years of that was spent in solitary confinement. He tried to end it all at least six times while at Rikers. In in February 2012, he made two attempts: he tried to hang himself from the light fixture in his cell using a noose he made with torn bed-sheets, and then tried to slit his wrists with a piece of plastic.

New York prosecutors finally dropped the charges against him on May 29, 2013 – which was his thirty-first court date.

But Browder’s personal hell didn’t end with his release from Rikers.

In November of 2013, six months after he left the prison, Browder attempted suicide again. He attempted to slit his wrists, but was halted when a friend stopped by and intervened. When the friend left the house to find Browder’s mother, he tried to hang himself. Browder was then taken to the psychiatric ward at St. Barnabas Hospital.

Paul V. Prestia, Browder’s attorney, told the Los Angeles Times that every day was a struggle for Browder, who died at his home in the Bronx at age 22.

“I think what caused the suicide was his incarceration and those hundreds and hundreds of nights in solitary confinement, where there were mice crawling up his sheets in that little cell,” Prestia said in a phone interview Sunday evening. “Being starved, and not being taken to the shower for two weeks at a time … those were direct contributing factors.… That was the pain and sadness that he had to deal with every day, and I think it was too much for him.”

Prestia then became emotional, his voice wavering as he recalled Browder, whom he said hadn’t had mental health problems before he was arrested and jailed in 2010.

“He was a good friend of mine — I wasn’t just his attorney, you know?” Prestia went silent for a few seconds, then continued: “He was a really good kid.”

When Gonnerman interviewed Browder in October 2014, he told her the progress he made since being home didn’t feel like much to him:

“It’s been a year now, and I got a part-time job, and I got my G.E.D.,” he said. “But, when you think about it, that’s nothing. People tell me because I have this case against the city I’m all right. But I’m not all right. I’m messed up. I know that I might see some money from this case, but that’s not going to help me mentally. I’m mentally scarred right now. That’s how I feel. Because there are certain things that changed about me and they might not go back.”

According to Prestia, Browder was attending a community college in the Bronx, and had a 3.5 GPA.

When he came out [of jail] and I first met him, he was completely broken — I had to show him how to use a computer; he had to get a job. These were issues he was going to have for his whole life. It’s not his fault. He didn’t deserve that.

Browder’s family wants to ensure that what happened to their loved one doesn’t happen to anyone else. In a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times, they said:

After fighting so hard to get out of jail — and then fighting on the outside to restart his life — he ultimately was unable to overcome his own pain and torment, which emanated from his experiences in solitary confinement.

We ask the public to respect our privacy during this very difficult time, and we pray that Kalief’s death will not be in vain. We ask that the mayor and every public official in New York City take every action possible to ensure that no other person in New York City will ever again be forced to live through all that Kalief endured.

Browder wasn’t the first adolescent to suffer abuse and mistreatment at Rikers, but his tragic case helped bring attention to the rampant corruption at the prison. In December 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that NYC had ended punitive isolation for young inmates following a damning Justice Department report that described a “culture of violence” at Rikers.

“When you go over the three years that he spent [in jail] and all the horrific details he endured, it’s unbelievable that this could happen to a teenager in New York City. He didn’t get tortured in some prison camp in another country. It was right here!” said Prestia.

But sadly, Browder’s case isn’t really that unusual. The US has an ever-growing prison population. In fact, we don’t just have the world’s largest prison population per capita, we blow every other country out of the water, as Andrew Pontbriand pointed out in a recent article. And with that growing prison population comes abuse, corruption, mistreatment, and exploitation. Many of the incarcerated are locked up for non-violent, victimless crimes – and many of those inmates are mentally ill and do not receive proper care, and are more likely to be abused than other prisoners.

And let’s not forget Chicago police’s “black site” at Homan Square, which operated for who knows how long before its existence was revealed to the public by The Guardian earlier this year. There, Americans have been “disappeared” and denied basic Constitutional rights: they are held in secret without being permitted to contact family members or attorneys, left out of official booking databases, beaten, shackled, and allegedly sexually abused. One has to wonder if Homan Square is the only facility of its kind in America.

But perhaps the most disturbing fact about the American “justice” system is this: approximately two million children are arrested every year – 95% for non-violent crimes; and the United States incarcerates 5 times more children than anywhere else on earth. 

In 2010, approximately 70,800 juveniles were incarcerated in youth detention facilities alone. Approximately 500,000 youth are brought to detention centers in a given year. This data does not reflect juveniles tried as adults. Around 40% are incarcerated in privatized, for-profit facilities.

This is America. These kinds of things aren’t supposed to happen here. We deserve better than this, and so do our children.

Lily Dane is a staff writer for The Daily Sheeple, where this article first appeared. Her goal is to help people to “Wake the Flock Up!”

Activist Post Daily Newsletter

Subscription is FREE and CONFIDENTIAL
Free Report: How To Survive The Job Automation Apocalypse with subscription

7 Comments on "Kalief Browder, Jailed at Rikers as a Teen for 3 Years Without Trial, Kills Himself"

  1. colinjames71 | June 9, 2015 at 10:24 am | Reply

    Well, this is just sad as shit and my heart goes out to his family and friends. I wasn’t aware of this particular case until now, which I can’t hardly believe but you can’t know em all. Tragic, that’s all I’ll say. We all know the underlying problems so there’s no use rehashing, the article covers it well enough.

  2. Psychic Warrior | June 9, 2015 at 12:37 pm | Reply

    Blessed are the whistle-blowers for they are the light of justice and blessed are the protectors for they are the shield of wisdom. In my mind I see many a Homan Square; the thought of what goes on in the underground bunkers of our alien/military/industrial/complex, haunts me daily. Tens of thousands of missing in this country each year with true terror lurking in these protected halls of experimentation and there is a reason why the FBI doesn’t find them; do you know the reason why?

  3. FalconMoose | June 9, 2015 at 5:41 pm | Reply

    Makes me wonder if Rikers is one of those numerous privately-run prisons that are contracted with by municipalities and are provided a 90% “occupation rate”. Very sad situation. I want to be on a jury for a non-violent crime soooobad. NO CONVICTION.
    Although, this guy must have had a poor attorney for not making a deal for his release until trial. Guess they make you pay for not accepting their deals.

    • Jessica Coco | June 9, 2015 at 9:25 pm | Reply

      that’s exactly what happens. I’ve sat in several court sessions and through my job met many people who relate to exactly to that. The purpose of the Defense attorney to get plea agreements in 90% of cases in order to maintain 200% maximum occupancy in the jails. It’s a game of numbers and to them we are just a number. If you don’t have $ to hire an attorney who often also pays off the judge, then you don’t exist.

  4. Mike Lashewitz | June 9, 2015 at 6:34 pm | Reply

    Unacceptable in a modern world. The system had FAILED ALL OF US. What are we paying them for and why are we allowing this?

  5. James Bennett | June 10, 2015 at 9:49 am | Reply

    We WILL live to see the passing of this tyrannical chapter in our history.

    The young man crossed over to a place of unconditional Love.

  6. timwebb1000 . | June 10, 2015 at 2:39 pm | Reply

    The “basic Constitutional rights” being denied to Americans in instances such as the one described above must be understood in the context that, at law, the only right a Constitutor has is the right to freely pay the debts incurred by another; ( please confirm in a reputable law dictionary; ) hardly the basis for a just and equitable system of governance.
    This is why you were given a Constitution by your Founding Fathers; not to morally elevate you, or to free you from the avaricious attentions of England, but to bind you eternally to pay the debts incurred by these gentlemen in the course of their campaign to oust the British and replace them with themselves, ie the “We the People” referred to in that document.
    Understand that these “People” were never intended to include the lower orders of serfdom represented by yourselves.
    Indeed, as none of you put your signatures to this piece of paper, then its protections and rights and privileges do not accrue to yourselves, self evidently.
    The United States is a corporation registered in Puerto Rico; all those who acknowledge themselves to be its citizens must understand that citizens in law are not men and women, but lifeless objects, beasts, sub-humans, beyond the purview of the Ten Commandments; whose rights subsist entirely and solely in what they are granted by their owners; rights which may be denied, modified, or removed, entirely at the whim of these owners.
    Further understand that any “person” whose birth was registered, immediately becomes the property of the King or his designated Agents; in this case, the entire Congressional and Presidential system of bondage and exploitation beneath which you languish, sicken, and all too frequently, die.
    Similarly, anyone who signs a register following marriage also binds himself to the authority of the state in any subsequent dispute involving either spouse or children.
    Anyone who accepts a Social Security number, or who answers to a name written in capital letters, also acknowledges his servitude and irredeemable bondage to this cruel and unusual Master.
    Such a one was almost certainly Mr Kalief Browder; and he paid the penalty contemporaneously hanging over the heads of all those others who freely choose to repeat his folly.

    You will note that the United States itself is a registered entity, and thus, also “of the King”.
    This will explain to you why Mr George Herbert Walker Bush knelt before the Queen of England during one of his visits to the capital city, to receive an honorary knighthood from her; an act of High Treason specifically forbidden to serving members of the United States body politic.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.