Arrested at 16 and Awaiting Trial at 22: A Discussion on the Prison Complex and Justice System

Think it not robbery for a young man to lose his life in prison, but to take his own life while no longer confined. If suicide is where we begin to discuss the case of Kalief Browder, I fathom to think what subject we end on with the other million Americans who are incarcerated. Arrested at sixteen and awaiting trial ever since, one can only hope that Venida Browder and Jennifer Gonnerman lead a charge on suicide prevention. Suicide, much less suicide prevention, weigh burdens even unexpected for a mother, friend, or journalist, so we are forced to reckon with what we already carry: a mother, friend, or son may be incarcerated. What millions do while inside a prison cell undoubtedly depends on what was not done outside, and for Kalief Browder, it sometimes depends on both.

According to Gonnerman’s story in the New Yorker, Kalief attempted suicide several times between 2010 and 2015, unmasking a trail of troubles. Spending almost 4 years in prison for a crime he claims to not have committed can make even the most psychologically stable person go astray. How Kalief Browder chose to voice his issues remain unquestionable after Saturday, June 6, 2015, but why a system of police and persons in justice could not honor his voice on Saturday, May 15, 2010 can still be taken to task. This voice — of crime uncommitted and trial ungranted — is not only a soft warning of destruction, but a scream for rehabilitation in the penitentiary.

Browder spent 2 years under solitary confinement in Rikers Island, one of the largest prison complexes in the United States. Notwithstanding depth, being one of the most abusive systems is at the core of concern. Mass incarceration is literally tolerated by the rate in which citizens enter and exit, undermining the validity of inmates. Not to mention, the vast rate in which black men are sentenced is all too prescient of the abuse in which Kalief Browder detailed before his suicide. Hesitation does not wrinkle the feather that a 16 year old sentenced without a conviction for 3 years is on the brink of penitentiary suicide. The prison industrial complex is by design broken, and efforts to reform often lie only on Saturday afternoons in solitude, if not dropped in a court of law.

A mother got a phone call on Saturday in 2010 that a host of family and friends now wish to remember in 2015. Regret fills prison systems everywhere, inmates and guards alike, but may communities be filled with resources. For the citizens who enter and claim innocence while tying bed sheets into knots, guilt must not claim that citizen until entering a court of law. Young men like Kalief Browder remind us of a necessary distinction between prison and court; one may claim your guilt or innocence and the other can prove your guilt or innocence. While prison may have taken a life too soon, may witnesses of this dealing with life take justice long and hard. May the world serve Kalief Browder in memory, and in justice.


Sister Kahrima


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