May 15, 2010 at 7:47pm began the hardest chapter of 16 year old Kalief Browder’s life. It would lead to his death five years later.
He was arrested one evening by the NYPD in the Bronx for a robbery that he fit the profile for. He was told by the officers that they would just take him in for a chat. There, that was where it all went wrong. As a minor, he should’ve asked for what reason and to call an adult because he was not going to say anything without one present.
Instead at 7:47 pm, while in an interrogation room at the 48th Precinct at the age of 16 his life was changed. He ended up a youth inmate on Rikers Island, where for three years he lived without seeing a trial, being tortured, abused and segregated in solitary confinement. In 2015 he, on July 6th, days after my birthday he took his own life.
On the black side, you have to teach your kids to be respectful of the police.
There are videos all over the internet of him being abused while on the Island by both inmates and the authority. Tell me once you see what these “authority” figures do to him and do to supposedly help him and see if your respect for them waivers or not — especially if you were never one to disrespect them.
There are things that I have always chosen to keep to myself. What I am about to say is one of them. But they are a window to my world. I have seen three different people in my life, playing three different roles be changed by the injustice that the so called justice system has put in place for those here in New York City.
I’m a product of my environment. This is my environment right now baby, I’m sorry
It’s 2017 and in the last five years, I have heard that statement come out of three different people, with a twist on the title. One I was sis, one I was baby and one using my name. I have a brother, a partner and a friend whom have been broken by that system.
My younger brother, is one of the smartest guys that I know. Like genius smart. He got straight A’s in school, wanted to leave NY to go to college. He is creativity in his words and through art. As of right now, he has been sitting in prison upstate New York since he was 19. After being chased from the front door of his building for three blocks. He was thrown into the window of a restaurant on a major street. He was gone for days, we tried to reach out to his friends and his cell phone. Almost a week later we received a call from him. He was in the hospital and was being transferred to Rikers Island. He wouldn’t tell us what happened. Then we found out. He had been arrested on a major charge that no one could ever come back from. We knew he had not done it because as a family we knew where he was. We knew he would be home soon. Soon has not come yet. The major charge was dropped. They kept him for a violation of probation and a different charge. He has been gone for five years. He will be released soon and I know he will not come back the same. In the letters and the conversations that we have had, I can hear the young child in him with hopes and dreams of what is to come when he is released.
Sometimes forgetting that this record has the ability to do damage to the youth that he has left. Instead of having the opportunity to not having to put convictions on any application, he now has to — and hope that it all works out.
My love. I fell in love with someone who I watched change weekly while in there. He would tell me how he would watch the planes take off because they are so close to the airport. Wishing that he could be on one those planes getting away from the bull that is New York.
Much like Kalief, he took a plea deal as a teenager to get out of a jam thinking that once he was grown; over 18, it would dissolve. Not realizing that anytime he was arrested for anything in that allotted time, even if he was innocent it would be revoked. At the time of his last arrest, he was a father, he had a job, he was doing everything that he was too do as a citizen. In a neighborhood such as the ones we are surrounded by, there are people that made different life choices. Some of those whom he knew had made choices opposite of his. He was taken in the bases of knowing these people because they lived in the same area. Let’s think about that, you live in the same neighborhood all your life and you are charged as though you have knowledge or partake in the activities of those you grew up with.
What would you do? Stand to prove your innocence. You don’t take pleas. The prosecution constantly adjourns due to their being unprepared for trial to take place. So you sit, you stew, you deal with the CO’s who don’t want to be there (but they like their paycheck). You deal with the CO’s who are dirty and love to use their power to get their dirt done.
After watching his son grow through visits every few weekends. After us constantly talking about him coming home soon and the things we had planned, he started to change. The anger, the emotional mood swings. He was breaking down. His family and I would tell him that he needed to be stronger for a little while longer. It was breaking him down. He was somewhere for something that he did not do and they had no evidence of him doing.
There, we were almost there. Then the day came. He was quiet that day. I got no morning call. No lunch break call but the night call came. He had done it. His lawyer called him to tell him that though the prosecutor still had nothing that they had a deal for him. It would have him plea out to a lesser charge and home with us in the next six months instead of sitting on the Island until they were ready to pursue a trial. They gave him 48 hours for him to decide on what he wanted to do. Trying to get him to understand that we were by his side, that we would help him through we didn’t want him to take the deal.
The one thing that we could never understand is what it is that he was going through there. He took the plea. The week before Christmas, the week of his mothers birthday; they moved him upstate New York. It was a rough Christmas and New Year. It was another 2 months before we saw him again. Transferring him between the system took time and approving his abiliy to have phone calls and visits took even more time. There he was. After more than six years of no legal issues, he was in the Department of Corrections for the state of New York. All the things that he had been working on, including a new job offer was gone.
The six months turned into a year. The year turned into 18 months, two prison movements and closer to the Canadian border.
He had changed. He became paranoid. He didn’t trust anyone. He couldn’t control his emotions. It was all understandable. His child was growing up without him, make great strides in school. His mother’s health was not the best. I was getting through college, without him. He constantly stressed that I would leave him for a college guy and leave him behind or that I would have my career and hate that I would have to pick up the slack in the household while he picked himself back up. It hurt our relationship.
So, I would talk about what we were going to do when he was home. That we would take a family vacation — let everyone get reacquainted. Spend time away from the city. Not realizing that once he was released it would be another hard year before he was clear of the city’s hold.
But before that even happen. Our relationship would end. Our friendship would wavier, though we never stopped loving one another life tried to go on.
My friend isn’t “my friend” anymore. He was there three months. He was being robbed and throwing to obtain his personal items back. While protecting himself from the person attacking him the police were called. Who arrested them both. He was taking from central bookings to Rikers within days. After two weeks, the charges were dropped but he was not discharged from Rikers for three months. In those three months he was abused, tortured and mentally abandoned. When he was released he was no longer my friend. He had just turned 19, which meant he was put into a housing unit with grown men. Vicious and seeking those smaller than they were.
He told me stories about what happened to him, which I could never imagine how he makes it through the day. Apparently, he couldn’t. Upon being released he was medicated because he was diagnosed as bipolar. He is homeless, fearful of police, paranoid and sleepless. Before this he was an athlete. He had graduated high school and was trying to find his way now as an adult. He was thinking about going to a community college to study engineering and play basketball as he did in primary school — then transferring to Georgia State. He wanted to take care of his siblings. Give them something that he felt they didn’t have growing up.
My friend, came back tormented. Changed for the rest of his life.
They all are. I personally, can say that any amount of time in the hands of those watching over the men and women on Riker’s Island, can make anyone change — in a bad way. Some would say isn’t that the point it would make them do better once back in society. It would make them change their ways. It doesn’t.
These men and women, young and old, are almost forgotten about once they are on this secluded island. There was once a time that you would look at the MTA map and see this piece of land between across from JFK, you would never know that that land was where hundreds of thousands of people got to be forgotten.
In most recent times, I don’t know why recently, it has been found out that CO’s (both men and women) run programs that include smuggling, physical abuse and mental torment of those in prison. Youth, are chained to the desk during educational programs, where bruises are left by the shackles. Murders, slashing, long period of time in seclusion aka solitary or best known as the bing.
In this first quarter of FY 2017 in the 10 facilities on the island (with 6 others through the boroughs). There are on a daily average 9,145 males (intake of 13,650) and 637 females (intake 1,417). (Check out the information here) Imagine that. The overcrowding. The low amount of qualify, hell just staff in general. A facility built in 1932 with a small amount of change since. The mechanics are poor. The security of the system is poor. The ability to protect, rehabilitate and help with resources for those whom are removed from society for a period of time, no matter the length, is just not there.
People like the ones that I love that have been a caught up in this poor system of things have people that love them in this world but are torn from it when they are taken from us and thrown to the wolves.
We love them; before they go in, while they are there and when they come home. The unfortunate thing is that even with the love we have for them, we cannot help them to unsee or undo the things that have occurred in that place.
Ask Kalief Browders mom. Christopher Robinson family. Kadeem John. Robert Hinton family who was beaten by CO’s, won his suit against the city but was later killed. Andy Henriquez. Bradley Ballard. Victor Woods. These men are all gone. They can’t tell you their stories. There families can, the other inmates, the photos of the scenes can tell you. They forget the love. They lose the sight of the love. They lose life and we lose a part of our own.