The second episode of the six-part docuseries Time: The Kalief Browder Story, aired Wednesday night (March 8). Before the premiere, which chronicles the life and death of former Rikers Island inmate Kalief Browder, Spike TV aired a special hour-long sit down with the show's producers, notable figures and Browder's family.
A town hall discussion titled, Time And Punishment, featured Jay Z and producer Harvey Weinstein with moderator Gayle King. Filmed live in Times Square at 9 p.m. E.T., the special discussed the importance of criminal justice reform and a bit about Browder's character. Browder's sister Nicole spoke about her brother's strength up until his suicide in 2015. She explained that no matter what he was going through mentally, he continued to push himself to succeed. He rode his bike to Bronx Community College every day in order to pursue his business dreams.
Director Jenner Furst said that Kalief's mother, Venida Browderm exhibited "truly inspirational" strength while watching her son go through what he went through. Weinstein explained that Mrs. Browder was thrilled to "pass the baton" to those who helped the documentary come to life in order to tell her son's story on a platform that could reach many people.
Jay Z, also a producer of Time, spoke candidly about Browder, and said that he was inspired by him because he reminded him of people with whom the rapper grew up with in Brooklyn. He hopes that the documentary is something that will continue to sway the conversation about criminal justice reform, and can help others who face a similar situation."Kalief's death is here to teach us to save a generation of kids," he said. "It's really hard to watch but important to see."
To avoid a scenario similar to what Kalief Browder faced, Jay Z says that we need to work together and demand a change from our officials. "We have the power, these government officials work for us," he explained. "We have to be a collective. We need everyone to be talking about this."
Hour two of the series dove deep into the gang "program" guards have witnessed on Rikers Island, the squalid conditions of the prison and how Kalief was interred in one of Rikers' most dangerous wings. Check out the key moments from night two of the six-part event below.
The Severity of the Conditions at Rikers Island
As one could guess, Rikers Island is no Disney World. Hearing about the terrible conditions for Rikers inmates thanks to archive interviews with Kalief Browder made it all the more realistic. There was feces on the walls, and Kalief explained how he used to beg for showers in the place he called "Hell on earth."
"Deep down, I'm a mess," he says of how being locked up at Rikers affected him personally. "I'm 21, but on the inside, I feel like I'm 40 ... there's no living life, there's no life at all in there."
Paul Prestia, Browder's attorney, spoke about how being in Rikers took a toll on his client. "[The corrections officers] have the discretion to do whatever the f--k they want to these people, and they did it to Kalief." Browder confirmed explained in another interview how he was beaten by both inmates and correction officers.
Similar to the novel Lord of the Flies, "the program" was self-governed by the inmates, in which they attempted to extort other inmates to give up everything in order to be a part of the alpha group at Rikers. If an inmate is not "with the program," they can expect to be taunted, tortured and attacked until they change their minds. A chilling moment caught on camera showed an inmate spraying shaving cream over a security camera, so that the C.O's wouldn't see someone getting beaten up and jumped by other inmates.
As testimonials from his family and friends suggest, Kalief Browder was always someone who spoke up against wrongdoing ever since a young age. He also explained how he didn't want to stick with a gang before Rikers because he'd "have to participate in stuff" he "didn't agree with."
"I stood up for what was right, even when I was in jail," he said. His outspoken personality led to being jumped several times. One of the worst incidents Browder faced at Rikers was being jumped by members of the Young Gunners, a Rikers gang, in October 2010, after he confronted a member for spitting in his face hours before.
The Corrections Officers
Akeem Browder, Kalief's brother, explained that Kalief was confused as to why corrections officers did nothing to stop an inmate attack or help afterwards. In a security video of an inmate attack, viewers can can clearly see a female C.O. leaving the area as several inmates attack another.
Described as the "lions in a pack of hyenas," a few C.O.'s were interviewed and were aware of their reputations, but it didn't seem to phase them. Darryl Bryant, a former corrections officer at Rikers, said that C.O.'s "did unconventional things to get inmates to cooperate." He also called two officers who tried to break up a fight between Kalief and the Young Gunners "sheep," suggesting they weren't tough enough on the inmates.
Several C.O's were very hard on the inmates. Kalief explained how inmates were getting beaten up and going to their cells with bloody, swollen faces and ripped T-shirts. "It scares me more because it's the corrections officers doing it," he explains.
Some C.O's were candid about their extortion deals with inmates. According to the documentary, corrections officers extorted inmates for drugs and cigarettes. One tried to smuggle the synthetic marijuana in his sock, while others smuggled knives.
The Worst Wing
Browder was initially sent to the adolescent wing of Rikers, which housed inmates from ages 16 to 18. Known as the "animalescent" wing, the teenage inmates were touted as some of the most violent and predatory inmates at Rikers. He was moved from one housing unit to the next because he got jumped several times.
Bernard Kerik, a former commissioner for the NYC Department of Corrections, explained that teenage inmates were notorious for breaking jaws, fighting, stabbing, slashing, and lighting other inmates on fire while they slept.
Venida Browder, Kalief's mother who passed away last year, said in an interview that her son "learned how to just curl up like a fetus to protect his face and his head. Meanwhile, they're kicking and stomping and beating... and these are kids." At 5-foot-5 and 155 pounds, Kalief's small stature made him an easy target for vicious physical attacks.
Kalief Browder said during his deposition recordings that he spent more than five or six months in solitary confinement. He actually spent about 800 days in the hell inmates call "box days."
After his major brawl with the Young Gunners in October 2010, Kalief says he was sent to "the box" immediately. However, an inmate kicked the door to Kalief's cell open, and he was jumped again. C.O's did little to help Kalief, which prompted Prestia to believe that they were "in cahoots" with the other inmates.
"You can't keep a house safe if you can't keep inmates locked in their cells," says Florence Finkle, a former deputy commissioner of the NYC Department of Corrections.
According to former Rikers social worker, Mary Buser, being stuck in solitary confinement creates more than enough issues for inmates. She described brain "bing," which refers to the sound people hear once the brain experiences prolonged strain. While appearing to hold back tears, Kalief explains that he asked to see a psychiatrist during his time in solitary confinement, but the C.O's did not grant it to him. "They had no mental health issues before they entered solitary, they do now," she said.
Former Commissioner Kerik said that to occupy time in "the box," inmates do activities such as counting items in the room. However, when they've run out of things to do, they begin to lose touch with reality, which results in self-mutilation, babbling incoherently and hallucinating. "It's like dying with your eyes open," he explained.
Rikers' Flawed System
According to the documentary, Rikers' deep-seated issues may have began long ago. The prison bears the name of former chief magistrate of the NYC court systems, Richard Riker. Riker is known for abusing the Fugitive Slave Act, and he intended to steal and sell many New York slaves to southern slave owners, regardless of their age.
Rikers doesn't harbor many white inmates, and if there are any white inmates, they're not there for long. Look at the story of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former chief at IMF who not only left Rikers on a $6 million bail but reportedly had a full wing to himself.
"If you have enough money, you can go home," says political commentator Van Jones. "But if you're poor, you have to sit here until your trial or until you plead ... [black inmates;] crime is that they're poor."
Kalief Browder had a hold on his bail status, so he couldn't leave Rikers Island until his case was resolved.
"There is so much wrong with this system," adds Venida. "This is supposed to be the United States. This is not some third world country. This is how we treat our kids once they're locked up."