Kalief Browder’s story seems almost unimaginable in a country where we are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and have rights that guarantee us a speedy and public trial. In 2010, Kalief, a 16-year-old student from the Bronx who was on probation, was arrested for allegedly robbing a man. He denied the accusation. Never convicted of the crime, he was incarcerated for three years at one of our country’s worst jails — Rikers Island. At Rikers he was physically and mentally abused, while outside the walls the penal system continued to delay his due justice. He spent roughly two years in solitary confinement and attempted to take his life several times. His story is the baffling and heartbreaking subject of Spike’s six-part documentary series TIME: The Kalief Browder Story beginning Wednesday, March 1 at 10/9c.
Kalief was the youngest of Venida Browder’s seven children, and was one of five she adopted after fostering. We sat down with Kalief’s only sister Nicole, who tearfully shared her family’s anguish beginning with his arrest and his time at Rikers.
“We didn’t have $900. We didn’t have money,” Nicole explained. “The guards beat him up, they took his commissary money. They made other fellow inmates in there beat him up. All this pain he was suffering. He suffered so much in there. It’s hard for me, as a sister. It’s hard for my brothers to really live this out.”
Every day she thinks of the injustices that occurred and how our judicial system failed them. It wasn’t until 2013 that a judge finally dismissed the case and Kalief was freed. While his story did result in pressure from the media, celebrities and politicians for reform, Kalief never overcame the nightmares of his ordeal and he took his life in 2015 at his family home.
The series shares Kalief’s story through agonizing first-person accounts from his mother, politicians, social reformers and close friends, as well as features archival footage and cinematic re-creations of scenes from his life. It took producers almost a year to get into Rikers Island to cover this story. Some of the executive producers attached to the project include Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, Harvey Weinstein, David Glasser and Jenner Furst.
Glasser shared, “Harvey literally looked at me at one point and said, ‘I had no idea. I had no idea how bad this is and how this is going on in my and Jay’s backyard [New York]. And you know what? If there’s anything that comes out of this, people are going to see it, and something needs to be done about it.’”
TIME: The Kalief Browder Story airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on Spike.