Jenner Furst’s documentary, Time: The Kalief Browder Story (executive produced by Jay-Z), is a powerful representation of how the criminal justice system can be cruel and unfair to young minorities.
Shown as a six-episode miniseries, the documentary focuses on how sixteen-year-old Kalief Browder was sent to prison for allegedly stealing a backpack. Although there was no evidence that Browder committed the crime, he ended up spending three years in prison.
When Browder was released from prison, he decided to sue the Bronx District Attorney and the New York Police Department. During this time, he suffered from mental health issues, which resulted in him committing suicide at twenty-two years old.
Furst demonstrates how the Bronx District Attorney and the New York Police Department were unjust in delaying a fair trial for Browder. Since Browder’s family could not afford to pay the $3,000 bail, he was forced to stay in solitary confinement on Riker’s Island for two years.
The images of solitary confinement in the documentary are disturbing as it showcases multiple inmates trapped in dirty, small cages without any human interaction for twenty-four hours a day. These clips feature men smashing their head and screaming while banging on their glass doors. Browder reveals that his time in solitary confinement caused him to hallucinate and feel paranoid, which led to him becoming depressed.
You will feel for Browder when he reflects on his depression because he did not deserve to be trapped in solitary confinement at a young age. During his late teenage years, he should have been surrounded by his family and friends, people who actually cared for him. Instead, he is placed in an uncomfortable environment that treats him as if he were a caged animal.
The camera work and interviews in the documentary are resourceful as they expose how the criminal justice system dehumanized Browder during his time in prison and solitary confinement. The interviewers are comprised of many civil rights attorneys, activists and former incarcerated prisoners.
You will become enraged when Browder reveals how the correctional officers would constantly taunt him, stating that he was never leaving solitary confinement. The fact that these correctional officers refused to give Browder food on several occasions, along with denying his request to shower for weeks, shows how they enjoyed being malicious because they felt a sense of power.
It was devastating to learn that Browder attempted to commit suicide multiple times when he was in solitary confinement. During one of his suicide attempts, these correctional officers encouraged him to hang himself by saying: “Go ahead and jump.”. These scenes reveal how some correctional officers can display ruthless qualities, showing how do not treat the inmates as humans.
The documentary presents Browder as a courageous and inspirational hero that had a positive impact on society. During his time in prison, he was offered a plea bargain that would allow him to become free if he stated that he was guilty.
However, Browder refused to take the plea because he wanted to stand up for his innocence: “I didn’t do the crime. I’m being mistreated in here and you want me to plead guilty for something I didn’t do? You’re not gonna make me say I did something just so I could go home. If I gotta stay here to prove that I’m innocent, then so be it.”. Browder’s actions display his fearlessness as he attempts to show the court system that they need to be fair.
When he became released from prison after the court decided to dismiss his case, many people looked up to him, including celebrities such as Jay-Z and Rosie O’Donnell, who ended up meeting Browder in person. These clips are heartwarming and will make you feel happy that there are many people who decided to support Browder as he tried to achieve justice.
The scenes featuring Browder’s family are heartbreaking as they express how Kalief’s time before and after prison negatively affected them. Venida Browder was sick throughout her son’s time in prison. Despite her health issues, she still traveled to visit him over one-hundred and fifty times while he was in Riker’s Island.
Venida, along with her other children, noticed a difference in Kalief’s personality when he became released. Venida states: “Physically, he’ll be right in front of you. Mentally, he’s not there. I’m his mom, I can see when there’s a difference. It’s like he’s in and out.”. These scenes are emotional because they will make you think about how Kalief missed out on spending time with his family for many years. Venida will make you root for her as she fights for Kalief to receive justice until her death.
The clips of Venida preaching to many communities about how the criminal justice system failed her son are moving, showing that she is not afraid to stand up to the system. Venida’s presence in the documentary is powerful because she, along with her son, both symbolize human dignity and justice.
Time: The Kalief Browder Story demonstrates how it’s important that people should stand up for their innocence. Browder’s actions prove that people can have the ability to further conversations of criminal and racial justice.
While many people would have pleaded guilty in order to receive freedom, Browder proved that he was a valiant leader who wanted the criminal justice system to change their ways. Although Browder has passed, his legacy will never be forgotten because he has inspired many communities to become involved in standing up for human equality.
Justin Coloyan is a blogger for CSUITEMUSIC.
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