Life: The Kalief Browder Story, a six-part docu-series about the life and death of Kalief Browder, aired on Spike TV Wednesday night (Mar. 1). Browder, who was incarcerated at Rikers Island for three years after being accused of stealing a backpack at the age of 16, maintained his innocence after being held at the infamous NYC prison for more than 1,000 days without a trial; 800 of those days were spent in solitary confinement. Despite his case being dismissed, Browder committed suicide in 2015 after dealing with depression and paranoia. He reportedly attempted suicide multiple times while at Rikers.
The special premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and is executively produced by Harvey Weinstein and Jay Z, who appears in the documentary. As a whole, the film examines the criminal justice system and aims to sway the conversation about how black and brown males are dealt with in said system.
The first hour of the series details Kalief’s upbringing as a child adopted by the late-Venida Browder, his experiences as a young boy and his interrogation after his arrest. Read about some of the most important moments from night one of the six-part event.
After Kalief’s father left, his demeanor changed
As a child, Kalief was a goofball with a heart of gold, who enjoyed being a regular kid with his friends David and Tyrone. He also had a strong relationship with his siblings. However, friends and family members who were interviewed said that the absence of Kalief’s father Everett caused a change in him. Neighborhood friends explained that they felt Kalief seemed “lost” after his father left, and began confiding in the wrong people.
“After [dad] left, Kalief switched quick,” said his sister Nicole. “I was like, ‘you shouldn’t be around these people’…he didn’t wanna listen.”
Jay Z concluded that Browder was likely spending time with the wrong people as a way to experience emotional catharsis with those who share similar stories.
“So, you sittin’ next to the guy and you’re like ‘yeah, my dad left too, f–k him, I hate him,’” he explained. “But you’re actually letting those feelings out, [just] not in the way that’s evolved.”
Kalief’s bail was denied due to a previous felony charge
Prior to his arrest in 2010, Kalief was arrested for crashing into a parked car after joyriding in a stolen bakery truck. Although his mother Venida was able to afford the $900 bond, the $3,000 bail was denied since he violated his felony probation by getting arrested again.
Although he was innocent in the infamous backpack case, the justice system put a hold on him until the case was resolved, or until someone could post bail to get him out.
“$3000 doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but when you don’t have it you just don’t have it,” said Venida.
However, Kalief made sure to stay strong while incarcerated. “If I just say that I did it, nothing’s gonna be done about it,” he says passionately in an audio recording about his unwillingness to plead guilty. “No justice is served, nobody hears nothing at all. I had to fight.”
Kalief was vocal about his demons
The bravery that Kalief exhibited while in the public eye after his release was remarkable. However, he battled demons every day, which ultimately led to his tragic death.
“For stuff that I’ve been through prior, I just feel like I have a lot of demons walking with me,” Kalief said in an interview after his release from Rikers. “Not from anything I did, but stuff that I’ve seen and been through. Every time I get time to myself, I think about those things and it stresses me out.”
His mother also takes note of his post-Rikers issues in an interview as well.
“Mentally, he’s not there,” she tells the camera while sitting at her kitchen table. “You know, I’m his mom, I can see when there’s a difference, and it’s like he’s in and out.” She also shows holes that Kalief has punched in the walls to deal with his post-Rikers aggression.
Despite his issues, Kalief had high-powered dreams
Kalief had dreams to be a successful businessman. He was enrolled as a student at Bronx Community College before his passing. In the docu-series, he discusses how he feels discouraged about his chances at being like “businessmen and business women dressed in suits.”
“That’s just me. I wanna be successful like them.”