As soon as you have about a half hour or so to spare, turn your attention towards a chilling piece published in The New Yorker this week that documents the experience of one Bronx teen who spent three years on Rikers Island while awaiting trial for a robbery charge that was later dismissed.
The 7,000-plus word article, authored by Jennifer Gonnerman, is the stuff of nightmares—in 2010, 16-year-old Kalief Browder was arrested in The Bronx after a man accused him of stealing his backpack a few weeks earlier. Browder maintained his innocence and was assigned an attorney, but his case was continuously postponed, trapping him in jail and forcing him to miss his junior and senior years of high school.
Browder was finally released in May 2013, after the Bronx District Attorney's office dismissed his case due to lack of evidence. During his time at Rikers' Robert N. Davoren Complex (RNDC), Browder spent a considerable amount of time in solitary confinement and became suicidal; since his release, he has been hospitalized in a psychiatric ward and had significant difficulty finding employment. Take a look at an excerpt below:
Browder’s brother reconsidered his advice when he saw him in the Bing visiting area. For one thing, he says, Browder was losing weight. “Several times when I visited him, he said, ‘They’re not feeding me,’ ” the brother told me. “He definitely looked really skinny.” In solitary, food arrived through a slot in the cell door three times a day. For a growing teen-ager, the portions were never big enough, and in solitary Browder couldn’t supplement the rations with snacks bought at the commissary. He took to begging the officers for leftovers: “Can I get that bread?” Sometimes they would slip him an extra slice or two; often, they refused.
Browder’s brother also noticed a growing tendency toward despair. When Browder talked about his case, he was “strong, adamant: ‘No, they can’t do this to me!’ ” But, when the conversation turned to life in jail, “it’s a totally different personality, which is depressed. He’s, like, ‘I don’t know how long I can take this.’ ”
Browder got out of the Bing in the fall of 2011, but by the end of the year he was back—after yet another fight, he says. On the night of February 8, 2012—his six-hundred-and-thirty-fourth day on Rikers—he said to himself, “I can’t take it anymore. I give up.” That night, he tore his bedsheet into strips, tied them together to make a noose, attached it to the light fixture, and tried to hang himself. He was taken to the clinic, then returned to solitary. Browder told me that his sheets, magazines, and clothes were removed—everything except his white plastic bucket.
On February 17th, he was shuttled to the courthouse once again, but this time he was not brought up from the court pen in time to hear his case called. (“I’ll waive his appearance for today’s purposes,” his lawyer told the judge.) For more than a year, he had heard various excuses about why his trial had to be delayed, among them that the prosecutor assigned to the case was on trial elsewhere, was on jury duty, or, as he once told the judge, had “conflicts in my schedule.” If Browder had been in the courtroom on this day, he would have heard a prosecutor offer a new excuse: “Your Honor, the assigned assistant is currently on vacation.” The prosecutor asked for a five-day adjournment; Browder’s lawyer requested March 16th, and the judge scheduled the next court date for then.
The following night, in his solitary cell on Rikers, Browder shattered his plastic bucket by stomping on it, then picked up a piece, sharpened it, and began sawing his wrist. He was stopped after an officer saw him through the cell window and intervened.
The city recently announced that prisoners under the age of 18 will no longer be subject to solitary confinement; for more on what it's like for teens at the RNDC, see our longform story from August. But read the whole story on The New Yorker first.