Over the course of our lives, we collect scars — inside and out; the ones we cannot see sometimes do the most damage. For 22-year-old Kalief Browder, the scars inflicted during an unjust three-year prison sentence simply became too much. No longer able to cope with the traumatic events of his time in jail, he took his own life.

 

Browder was incarcerated in 2010 at Rikers Island, a penitentiary in New York, for allegedly stealing a backpack at age 16. He spent three years enduring physical and mental abuse at the hands of prison guards as well as from other inmates. This abuse included two years in solitary confinement.

 

Footage of one of these incidents can be viewed below:

 

Browder continuously maintained his innocence regarding the charges. Unfortunately, due to his family’s inability to pay his $3,500 bail, he remained a prisoner. After his three-year stint in prison, authorities dropped the charges and sent him home. Upon his release, Browder spoke to The New Yorker about his post-incarceration mental state:

“I’m messed up. I know that I might see some money from this case, but that’s not going to help me mentally. I’m mentally scarred right now. That’s how I feel. Because there are certain things that changed about me and they might not go back.”

Browder represents the latest in a long string of incidents that call for comprehensive prison reform. Earlier this year, John Legend launched his “Free America” campaign to address the issue of systemic mass incarceration in America. This campaign addresses the fact that at least 17 states currently maintain prison populations beyond maximum capacity; many of the inmates who populate these prisons are non-violent offenders and lower-class minorities who could not make bail.

 

Presidential candidate Rand Paul has also spoken about the need for reform against the racist, classist bypass of the prison system:

“Am I saying they did nothing wrong and it’s all racism? No… what I am telling you is that white kids don’t get the same justice.”

Screen shot of footage captured of Kalief Browder being abused while in prison.

Kalief Browder was wrongfully incarcerated for three years and committed suicide after his traumatic stay in prison.(abcnews.go.com)

Whether or not Browder committed the crime, what authorities accused him of is irrelevant. He never received a sentence, and therefore spent three years of his life wrongfully incarcerated, only to have the charges dropped. Essentially, his only way out of jail would have been to admit guilt by plea bargaining, regardless of whether or not he actually did it. This opens up other issues, such as having a record of being a convicted criminal, which could potentially make tasks like jobs and housing even more difficult to attain. This systematic cycle of unpayable bail and plea bargains keeps the lower class in prison, while wealthier criminals get to go free until trial.

 

To combat this problem, New York may set up a tax-funded bail fund for minor offenders, but this still represents only a small solution to a nationwide problem.

 

What do you think of Kalief’s story? How many other stories like this go untold? Comment below or tweet @connerws to tell us what you think!