Three weeks ago, a young African American man from the Bronx took his own life. The impact of Kalief Browder’s suicide has been felt at the city, state, and even federal levels, and may be felt far into the future.

Browder’s story, in which he was held on Rikers Island for three years beginning at the age of 16, spent an accumulated two of those years in solitary confinement, and was ultimately released without a trial or charges, became news last fall, when Jennifer Gonnerman published a profile of him in the New Yorker. Prior to his death, he attracted celebrity attention from the likes of Jay-Z and Rosie O’Donnell, and the attention was used to garner support around issues ranging from bail reform to banning youth from solitary to raising the age at which juveniles may be imprisoned and tried as adults. His death has been a galvanizing force and has spurred even more attention and action.

Within a week of Kalief Browder’s death, the New York State Assembly passed a bill introduced by Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell that would ban solitary confinement for all individuals below the age of 21 and all individuals with a mental illness or a developmental disability. This is a bill that could prevent future cases like Browder’s from ending in tragedy.  It is a bill that could eventually alter the course of the solitary confinement of youth across the country.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has found ways to bring up solitary confinement issues in the past, cited Browder’s story in a concurring opinion this week. The case, Davis v. Ayala, was focused on jury selection and the death penalty, but Kennedy introduced the intersectional issue of solitary confinement into the discussion. His critique was based on research and referred to the “terrible price” exacted by prolonged isolation.

Closer to home, a Union Square vigil on June 16, organized by the Jails Action Coalition (JAC), gave voice to powerful words from various individuals affected by solitary confinement directly and indirectly. Johnny Perez, a JAC member and survivor of solitary confinement, said, “I’m scared of becoming a hashtag on a t-shirt.” This is a sentiment that has been echoed by many young people of color in a culture that profiles and often wounds or kills them. At this point, #KaliefBrowder has appeared on Twitter thousands of times, and a Google search of his name yields over 600,000 results.

Outside of social media, news media outlets have published dozens of pieces on Kalief Browder in a variety of different contexts. The New York Times published an editorial on Browder and the quest to ameliorate the “culture of violence” fostered on Rikers Island. Ian Kysel wrote an op-ed piece for Washington Post outlining the irreversible harm done to youth in solitary. Browder may have fallen victim to the hashtag, but his legacy could prove to be one that changes laws or, at least, attitudes toward solitary confinement.

Browder’s lawyer Paul Prestia spoke at the vigil, saying, “If we have to stand here again a year from now or six months from now, what’s the point?” Browder’s death may have helped O’Donnell push the new bill through the Assembly, and Kennedy’s concurrence could invite cases regarding solitary confinement to be considered by the Supreme Court. The question is whether or not his story will remain in people’s hearts and minds when the Assembly reconvenes in January, or when the next Supreme Court case that has room to set a solitary confinement precedent occurs, which could be years from now.

The solitary confinement narrative refers to the widely held opinions or misconceptions regarding the practice, which are created and perpetuated by media outlets, government officials, and the public. Browder’s death is tragic because he was so young, because this could have been avoided, because this system has loopholes, because he was simply human—the list goes on. Changing the narrative through legislative as well as grassroots action is important in its potential for increased resistance in the public and private spheres.

Though Browder was dedicated to bringing about change, he did not die for the attention. He died because he was in serious pain, because the punishment for living inside a body that is constantly profiled has shown, time and time again, to be death. He died because there was no escaping solitary confinement and what it took from him as a teenager. He died because the prison system forgot about him once he entered the box. His death exists not in a vacuum, but in the context of a movement. The movement owes it to him not only to mourn, but also to take action.

  • damspam

    I think even Satan is startled by the depths of human cruelty.

  • Corliss

    None of detainee suicides are reported to the public and if they’re not killing themself, they’re killing someone else, this mental abuse is common practice by the evil ones that take oaths. Unconvicted detainees are treated worse than convicted prisoners, forced to strip naked and expose themselves every time they go to court! (No one remembers Rhem v Malcolm, 371 F2nd 594)! They know what causes a dangerous state of instability and call it job security! When is America going to wake up to the Government’s own human trafficking, a multi billion dollar industry involving illegal laborers, fraudulent wars, the highest consumption of narcotics in the world, and the highest incarceration rate in the world while laughing at public safety! This is why the rest of the world hates Americans, it’s the character of a Nation, treacherous pirates from the beginning.

  • prophetess D

    . We don’t need
    reform. we need TRANSFORM. This is saying “we’ll decrease the
    amount of torture”

    how about no
    more torture? Solitary is only
    torture the way they do it. THAT is what
    needs to change.

    MY remedy
    will transform the whole system.

    Remedy for
    Rikers

    http://www.1prophetspeaks7.blogspot.com/2015/06/remedy-for-rikers.html

    Faith based
    programs are the only ones that really transform people. God through Jesus changes people. Hence we need to change the prisons into
    schools of ministry.

    Give EVERY
    person in solitary a bible, guitar and kitten
    BIbles should be a constitutional right in every jail cell everywhere,
    like a toilet.

    Guitars are
    tools to help them learn to worship God which invokes HIs spirit so they can
    hear from Him. Kittens would help them
    maintain their humanity. Many prisoners use cockroaches or rats as pets.

    I spent 8
    months in solitary. It was torture because I did not have a bible or
    instrument.

    I was already a strong believer – an
    intercessor and lifelong musician. Everyone in jails hears voices. I knew they were God and demons The task was to decide who was who. MOST prisoners think they are hallucinating
    when they hear voices. And the atheist
    psych people who talk to them tell them this too. THEN they think they need
    psych drugs for the alleged hallucinations. They get all distressed cos they
    cant get the drugs, when the drugs is NOT what they need. They turn people into
    vegetables. They block all thoughts, not just bad thoughts They cause brain
    damage I was on them so I know. They HINDER prayer. They are not what people need .People need to
    be TOLD they are NOT hallucinating that God is there for them and to develop a
    relationship with HIM by reading a bible and playing music.

    I have
    masters in jazz composition In music school people go into small rooms the size
    of cells, often, with their instrument, It is not hell like jail – it is more like heaven. Hence we can turn solitary into an experience
    that a person should have had before they ended up in jail. A chance to be in music school. This is a blessing. They will come out of
    there trained to be a minister to others – in jails, in schools, warning kids
    not to use drugs, join gangs, etc and ministers.

    The other
    important issue is to erase criminal records. THEy are what ruin people’s lives
    because what is written down acts like curses and sends assignments to a person
    where they get re-accused in all kinds of bizarre situations and ruins their
    lives. And it also tempts people to re-do sins and criminal behaviors.

    Prison
    should be a time out Solitary does not
    have to be torture. though it should be used in a way where people have their
    own cell and come out for communal meals, to compare notes about prayer.

    Psych drugs
    destroy people. They are the problem, not the solution. They cause suicide and
    homicide. The Governors need to give people an amnesty by executive orders –
    overriding their previous sentence.

    Regardless
    of the previous sentence, it could be that they need to spend no more than a
    year or two training for ministry – reading the bible, learning how to pray.

    Their job
    can include writing a memoir of what happened to them so others can understand
    it and learn from it. Especially for people on death row.

    People make
    mistakes in life. It is part of life .To punish people for this makes no sense.
    We should be interested in transforming them and using their previous
    experience as part of their testimony to what Jesus has healed them from and to
    warn others about not doing.

    The worst
    criminals have the most powerfull testimonies. So their mistakes are not
    wasted. They are valuable testimonies to others of the transformative power of
    God/Jesus. Someone who was a mass
    murderer has a more impressive testimony than someone who stole gum.

    The jail
    sentence should be seen as a time out for assessment of a person’s attitude and
    behavior and training to change it.

    One thing
    that would be effective would be part of their sentence would be to have the
    person write 50,000 times “Drugs are a bad idea” if they used drugs,
    for example. Doing this will re-program
    their brain NOT to want to do drugs! Or
    whatever they did before. Like when kids
    have to write on the blackboard.

    We should
    use school as a model for what happens in jails. Life is School. Re training rather than
    punishment should be the objective.

    Turning
    someone from an animal into a caring human being is a more inspiring testimony
    than just executing people or punishing them.

    Those who
    are unwilling to forgive need to be warned – it can send a person to hell. That is what solitary is like as a warning
    that hell is real. Every person near me
    had been horribly abused and needed to forgive. They were there as a warning to
    do so or go to hell, which is what jail was a taste of.

    jesus said
    unless we forgive others, God won’t forgive us. Matthew 6

    Hell is
    real. Jails, solitary, psych wards,
    holocausts and wars all exist as a taste of it on earth, so we WILL believe
    there IS such a real place. That is their purpose.

    but it
    doesn’t need to be for 20 years.
    Experiencing it for a week is enough to get the message.

    David
    Berkowitz the Son of Sam is one such person.
    He has been saved 25 years. Gov Cuomo should pardon him and ask him to
    come to Rikers and help transform the place.
    He should RUN for office because the PUBLIC needs to hear about the
    transformative power of Jesus. Especially the Jews. They do not realize
    this. And he is Jewish. Many Jews who
    commit crimes end up in psych wards and
    are not helped that way.

    see
    articles, free books, music http://www.1prophetspeaks.com

    see ARTICLES
    by CATEGORY page

    Articles in
    alphabetical order page

    http://www.1prophetspeaks7.blogspot.com

    articles in most recent order

    Remedy for
    Rikers

    http://www.1prophetspeaks7.blogspot.com/2015/06/remedy-for-rikers.html

    Spiritual
    Bootcamp – my experience in solitary launching prayers

    http://www.1prophetspeaks7.blogspot.com/2014/02/spiritual-bootcamp-my-experience-in.html

    Comment on
    solitary watch

    THis is not
    sufficient reform. We don’t need
    reform. we need TRANSFORM. This is saying “we’ll decrease the
    amount of torture”

    how about no
    more torture? Solitary is only
    torture the way they do it. THAT is what
    needs to change.

    MY remedy
    will transform the whole system.

    Remedy for
    Rikers

    http://www.1prophetspeaks7.blogspot.com/2015/06/remedy-for-rikers.html

    Faith based
    programs are the only ones that really transform people. God through Jesus changes people. Hence we need to change the prisons into
    schools of ministry.

    Give EVERY
    person in solitary a bible, guitar and kitten
    BIbles should be a constitutional right in every jail cell everywhere,
    like a toilet.

    Guitars are
    tools to help them learn to worship God which invokes HIs spirit so they can
    hear from Him. Kittens would help them
    maintain their humanity. Many prisoners use cockroaches or rats as pets.

    I spent 8
    months in solitary. It was torture because I did not have a bible or
    instrument.

    I was already a strong believer – an
    intercessor and lifelong musician. Everyone in jails hears voices. I knew they were God and demons The task was to decide who was who. MOST prisoners think they are hallucinating
    when they hear voices. And the atheist
    psych people who talk to them tell them this too. THEN they think they need
    psych drugs for the alleged hallucinations. They get all distressed cos they
    cant get the drugs, when the drugs is NOT what they need. They turn people into
    vegetables. They block all thoughts, not just bad thoughts They cause brain
    damage I was on them so I know. They HINDER prayer. They are not what people need .People need to
    be TOLD they are NOT hallucinating that God is there for them and to develop a
    relationship with HIM by reading a bible and playing music.

    I have
    masters in jazz composition In music school people go into small rooms the size
    of cells, often, with their instrument, It is not hell like jail – it is more like heaven. Hence we can turn solitary into an experience
    that a person should have had before they ended up in jail. A chance to be in music school. This is a blessing. They will come out of
    there trained to be a minister to others – in jails, in schools, warning kids
    not to use drugs, join gangs, etc and ministers.

    The other
    important issue is to erase criminal records. THEy are what ruin people’s lives
    because what is written down acts like curses and sends assignments to a person
    where they get re-accused in all kinds of bizarre situations and ruins their
    lives. And it also tempts people to re-do sins and criminal behaviors.

    Prison
    should be a time out Solitary does not
    have to be torture. though it should be used in a way where people have their
    own cell and come out for communal meals, to compare notes about prayer.

    Psych drugs
    destroy people. They are the problem, not the solution. They cause suicide and
    homicide. The Governors need to give people an amnesty by executive orders –
    overriding their previous sentence.

    Regardless
    of the previous sentence, it could be that they need to spend no more than a
    year or two training for ministry – reading the bible, learning how to pray.

    Their job
    can include writing a memoir of what happened to them so others can understand
    it and learn from it. Especially for people on death row.

    People make
    mistakes in life. It is part of life .To punish people for this makes no sense.
    We should be interested in transforming them and using their previous
    experience as part of their testimony to what Jesus has healed them from and to
    warn others about not doing.

    The worst
    criminals have the most powerfull testimonies. So their mistakes are not
    wasted. They are valuable testimonies to others of the transformative power of
    God/Jesus. Someone who was a mass
    murderer has a more impressive testimony than someone who stole gum.

    The jail
    sentence should be seen as a time out for assessment of a person’s attitude and
    behavior and training to change it.

    One thing
    that would be effective would be part of their sentence would be to have the
    person write 50,000 times “Drugs are a bad idea” if they used drugs,
    for example. Doing this will re-program
    their brain NOT to want to do drugs! Or
    whatever they did before. Like when kids
    have to write on the blackboard.

    We should
    use school as a model for what happens in jails. Life is School. Re training rather than
    punishment should be the objective.

    Turning
    someone from an animal into a caring human being is a more inspiring testimony
    than just executing people or punishing them.

    Those who
    are unwilling to forgive need to be warned – it can send a person to hell. That is what solitary is like as a warning
    that hell is real. Every person near me
    had been horribly abused and needed to forgive. They were there as a warning to
    do so or go to hell, which is what jail was a taste of.

    jesus said
    unless we forgive others, God won’t forgive us. Matthew 6

    Hell is
    real. Jails, solitary, psych wards,
    holocausts and wars all exist as a taste of it on earth, so we WILL believe
    there IS such a real place. That is their purpose.

    but it
    doesn’t need to be for 20 years.
    Experiencing it for a week is enough to get the message.

    David
    Berkowitz the Son of Sam is one such person.
    He has been saved 25 years. Gov Cuomo should pardon him and ask him to
    come to Rikers and help transform the place.
    He should RUN for office because the PUBLIC needs to hear about the
    transformative power of Jesus. Especially the Jews. They do not realize
    this. And he is Jewish. Many Jews who
    commit crimes end up in psych wards and
    are not helped that way.

    see
    articles, free books, music http://www.1prophetspeaks.com

    see ARTICLES
    by CATEGORY page

    Articles in
    alphabetical order page

    http://www.1prophetspeaks7.blogspot.com

    articles in most recent order

    Remedy for
    Rikers

    http://www.1prophetspeaks7.blogspot.com/2015/06/remedy-for-rikers.html

    Spiritual
    Bootcamp – my experience in solitary launching prayers

    http://www.1prophetspeaks7.blogspot.com/2014/02/spiritual-bootcamp-my-experience-in.html