Writer: Marcus Carr
The amount of documentaries I have watched is uncountable, but this one particularly grabbed my attention, and it will certainly grab yours.
Time: The Kalief Browder Story, is a short series on Netflix that was executive produced by Jay-Z and directed by Jenner Furst. It is a six part series that previously aired on Spike in March, but has made it’s way to the Netflix circuit.
The documentary follows a 16-year-old named Kalief Browder, who was from the Bronx that was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack, only to be sent to the notorious prison, Rikers Island, for three years.
The first part of this series starts in the 48th Precinct, where Kalief Browder has been brought in by the police for questioning regarding the theft of a backpack. The episode cuts to a Dateline interview with Kalief, post-Rikers Island, where you quickly pick up his distrust in people and his paranoia. The episode then shows flashes of the brutal brawls Kalief endured during his time at Rikers. He spent over 1,000 days at Rikers, with more than 800 of those days spent in solitary confinement. Kalief believes that he was wrongfully arrested by the New York Police department, and was beaten, starved, and tortured while serving his time in prison. You learn about all of the people who surrounded Browder throughout his life and the process of his deposition. You go on to learn about the actual arrest of Kalief Browder, and what happened at the scene and police station.
The second part of the series starts off by showing the actual violence throughout RIkers Island, and provides footage from the prison. They describe the stay at Rikers “difficult to survive if you are by yourself.” Former correctional officers give insight on how the life at the prison is and how brutal the “animalesants” are. “The Program” is then introduced to the viewers, the program is described as you’re “with it” and you’re a “punk”, Kalief was one of the few who did not participate in “The Program”. The members in the program would jump inmates until they were with the program. They would put them “on the bus,” which means they jumped an inmate so bad that the officers would move the inmate to another housing unit, but it was more than likely to just happen again. Kalief does not recall how many times he was “put on the bus” because he moved housing units so frequently. Browder believed that correctional officers were also apart of the program. The documentary goes on to tell the history of Rikers Island, where it developed, and how it is still connected to racism. Kalief was jumped by 30 or so inmates for punching another inmate for spitting in his face. The brawl footage is an eye opener on how violent this facility was. The consequences for the brawl was a pass to “the box,” which is solitary confinement. This was when Kalief was first put in solitary confinement for more than five months. Solitary confinement is known for driving people insane and mentally torturing them.
Part three, The Bing, starts by Kalief stating he was sent to solitary confinement five times. He talks about how he was terrified of solitary confinement because of the stories. The box, was a 10 by 8 foot cell, with only a bed and toilet. You do not have human contact besides receiving food. United Nations consider 15 days straight in solitary confinement as torture, Browder’s first extended stay in solitary was when he was 17 for 300 days. He was legally innocent at the point of his sentence. You go through his trials; which, get pushed back over and over again. Kalief would not give up to pleading his innocence, he demanded he stayed in court and not take a plea deal. Browder recalls the experience in solitary during the summer and how he would beg for ice and toilet paper but was often ridiculed for his request. You then learn about how the correctional officers were corrupt. They would feed Kalief, another inmate’s half eaten food or they would starve you, Kalief lost count of how many times he starved. Browder was offered a plea deal for 3 ½ years but he rejected it, insisting that he was innocent. He continued to demand he wanted his case taken to trial. We learn that Kalief’s resilience was driven by the accusations being taken personal and not wanting to be a felon and take plea deal as his brother did. Kalief was put back into general population only to be put back in solitary confinement for 14 months straight.
Part four, The Witness, begins with clips from interviews with judges who did not dismiss Browder’s case. We go on to learn how Kalief tries to take his own life while the officers sit back and watch, only to cut him down before he loses consciousness and beat him in his cell. He ran out of the cell because he knew the cameras would catch it on film. He was 17 at the time. The suicide attempt was never recorded but instead considered a “goal” to get out of solitary confinement. Kalief gives his side of the story in this part, and goes through the events of getting arrested. The witness’ brother then tells his story of what happened on why they accused Kalief and his friend of robbing him. We get insight on phone calls to the police operator and the police car ride to arrest Kalief. The police never did a report on the night that the original robbery had taken place. The victim’s story was mixed up multiple times, and remained inconsistent. There was no video evidence ever recovered. Kalief goes on to tell about his altercations with an officer, who told him he would “beat him in the shower” because there was no cameras in the shower. The officer ended up slamming Browder to the floor on camera for no apparent reasoning while Kalief was handcuffed. The official medical report claimed that “Kalief claimed he hit his head on a shower wall” all while this was caught on film. The victim had then fled to Mexico while they kept pushing his court date. Judge DiMango was brought to try and get Kalief to accept a plea deal to accept misdemeanors that would send him home that same day. But Kalief turned down saying “No, I didn’t do it, I want to go to trial.” He went back to Rikers Island just to take a stand on what he believed in. Eventually the DA admitted they did not have a case, after 1126 days the prosecutors dropped the charges on Kalief, and he was released.
Part five, Injustice for All, begins with Kalief’s charges completely dropped and he was released at 2:30 am. Kalief then opened a lawsuit on the NYPD and the city. Browder talks about how relieved he felt and how much he has changed. He explains how he felt weird about having conversations with himself. He would like to be alone most of the time. Kalief was featured on a variety of television shows, speaking out on what happened to him. Eventually police would be monitoring Kalief, strolling by his house, following him, watching him, and listening to his conversations. He was extremely paranoid, but this was only the beginning for Kalief Browder.
The rest you will have to watch in the documentary. This man endured the worst conditions just to stand up for what he believed in. The message that he conveyed with his courage is uncomparable to many, and can only be admired. I recommend this documentary for everybody; especially with the ongoing issues in our society. Here is the official trailer for the short series. Enjoy.