The six-part documentary that is riveting the nation, “Time: The Kalief Browder Story” tells the gut wrenching account of 22-year-old Kalief Browder who took his own life following a three-year stint in the infamous New York prison, Rikers Island without ever being convicted of a crime. Executive Produced by music mogul Shawn “Jay Z” Carter and Weinstein Television, the Spike TV series which premiered on March 1 takes viewers on an in-depth look at the night Browder’s life changed forever.
At the youthful age of sixteen, he was accused of stealing a backpack as he made his way home from a house party. Following his arrest, Browder spent two of the three years that he was incarcerated in solitary confinement as he awaited trial for charges that were eventually dropped. Browder’s story made national headlines as he spoke openly about his atrocious experience and proceeded with a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the city of New York. While it was evident that Browder had an innate strength and bravery to be so candid with the telling of his story, he was still haunted by his experiences and subjugated to unrelenting depositions during the onset of his lawsuit. Browder took his life June 6, 2015 but he left an indelible mark on the world.
“Kalief Browder is a modern day prophet; his story is a failure of the judicial process,” said Jay Z in a statement provided by Spike. “A young man, and I emphasize young man, who lost his life because of a broken system. His tragedy has brought atrocities to light and now we must confront the issues and events that occurred so other young men can have a chance at justice.”
In an exclusive interview with the Sentinel, the documentary’s directors and executive producers Jenner Furst and Nick Sandow as well Kalief’s sister, Nicole Browder, get candid about the traumatic unrelenting effects of solitary confinement, their task of telling Kalief’s story objectively and what their hopes are for the future of the criminal justice system.
LAS: With six one-hour episodes, what didn’t make the cut? What more could we have seen?
Director and Executive Producer Jenner Furst: Our sourcing was vast. We interviewed over 200 people and there’s over one thousand hours of raw footage. So cramming it into six hours is hard. But we feel like we’ve presented the most powerful, concise and provocative amount of material that makes people want to yearn for more information in their own lives after the program ends. There’s a call to action after every episode; go look into the groups that fight for this everyday. We think we’ve struck the perfect balance of something immersive and also something that inspires people to want to find out more.
LAS: Police brutality and issues with the criminal justice system have plagued African Americans for decades with little to no reform. How do you present this narrative in an objective, non-bias way and not as “white saviors”? How do you step outside of your own experiences, which may look nothing like Kalief’s life and tell this poignant story in a way that insights change?
JF: Before Kalief left this world, he left enough of his story in his own words in what he and his family went through that regardless of the storytellers, the story is there. We’re just honored and proud to be the vessel. Despite our race and who we are, we’ve always put the story first, we’ve always put Kalief and the Browder family first. Through sourcing the way we have, the voices of folks who’ve gone through similar experiences, the voice of the Browder’s and of Kalief drives this story. It’s spoken by first person accounts of experts like Michelle Alexander, Van Jones and folks who’ve done this work for years. [We also have] families who’ve actually been to Riker’s island and experienced this. So all we were was a vehicle. This is beyond race, this is a human issue for every American of every color and creed to realize that this is happening in our country and we need to transcend all of the boundaries that people create in their lives everyday to dismiss stories like this. It’s our goal to bring everyone in. We’re proud to be able to tell this story. We care about this with all of our hearts and we want America to care in the same way.
LAS: The documentary shows videos of gross misconduct by prison guards who are seemingly beating and mishandling Kalief and other inmates. What do you believe is the disconnect between prison guards job and their moral compass?
Nicole Browder: It has a lot to do with training. Many of these officers aren’t properly trained so when they get this badge and they become the authority, it’s like a power trip; especially if they’ve come from homes where they were abused. When they see these kids, they reflect back to a time when they couldn’t get away with something similar so with their authority, they take advantage and they slam these children. Some kids unfortunately don’t want to listen to authority but instead of the officers taking matters into their own hands, there should be an outreach program for them to speak with a therapist. Because these are kids that are obviously acting out because they have something on their mind which is why they’re there. Or like Kalief, why was he there to begin with. [He would say] ‘I didn’t do anything but they’re treating me like this.’ It has to do with the officers, the training and a lack of communication. Instead of talking there’s a lot physical force and eventually many of the kids retaliate, which is why we’ve been seeing a lot of attacks on officers because there’s no communication and there’s no boundaries.
Director & Executive Producer, Nick Sandow: We’re asking them to do jobs that are impossible to do. [These officers] show up at their jobs everyday and put in 10-12 hours without the tools or the knowledge to help people because as Nicole said, they haven’t had the training. You have corrections officers working with adolescents who’ve never been around kids. You’re asking them to do something they can’t do so when you give them a job like that, what does it breed? Anger and resentment. We’re not giving them the skills to do their jobs right.
LAS: Can you give insight into the problem with solitary confinement because it seems as if that would be the safest option as opposed to the possible physical and sexual abuse as well as intimidation that often occurs when inmates share a cell. With Obama outlawing solitary confinement for juveniles, what should be the next step in prison reform?
JF: Sometimes a detainee is put in protective custody for their own safety because someone is hurting them. But there’s a problem when you spend 23 hours in a cell that’s eight-by-eight with no stimulus and no human contact, the walls start caving in on you. Whether you’ve been put there to protect you or penalize you, the affect is very damaging and the end result for a lot of these young men and women who end up experiencing solitary confinement is that they have lasting and sometimes permanent mental damage. Whether or not someone thought it was good to put you in there to protect you or punish you, the punishment lasts forever. There’s no striping it out of your brain. And as far as what’s to happen next, we can’t try 16-year-olds as adults, that’s wrong. But Republican leadership and the state of New York has continued to perpetuate this system because prisons put money in people’s pockets. Many town’s job centers are almost solely as guards in correctional facilities. We need to break through this on a national level because this isn’t just happening in New York. Human suffering is a commodity and that’s what we need to call attention to with this project.
“Time: The Kalief Browder Story” airs Wednesday’s at 10pm on Spike TV