On May 15, 2010, a 16-year-old from the Bronx named Kalief Browder was approached by police while walking home with a friend from a party. What was a normal day for Kalief ended with him in handcuffs, accused of stealing a backpack full of valuables. Coming from a poor family, Kalief couldn’t post his $3,000 bail and so he sat in Rikers Island, one of the most infamously dangerous and brutal prisons in the United States, for three years.
Spike partnered with Shawn “Jay Z” Carter and The Weinstein Company to dive deeper into the conditions and what happened the night Kalief was arrested, what happened to him at Rikers, and how the police and judicial system botched the handling of his case in the docu-series TIME: The Kalief Browder Story. The exploration of Kalief’s story is one similar to the one portrayed in HBO’s The Night Of, which examines a fictional character’s evolution (or devolution) in Rikers and what it takes to survive there. It also it has a sense of Serial’s — the podcast that took the nation by storm a few years ago — examination of Adnan Syed’s case: he was arrested and convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend despite the lack of evidence. In Kalief’s case, the police neglected to correctly do their job and investigate thoroughly whether he could’ve stolen the backpack or had it in his possession, the victim changed his story several times only to later disappear to Mexico, and the judicial system failed to uphold his right to a fair and speedy trial.
Despite spending approximately 800 of the 1,000 days he was in Rikers in solitary confinement — with his longest stint being 17 months — Kalief maintained his innocence and denied 13 plea deals in two years.
It wasn’t uncommon for Kalief to be abused by correction officers, often caught on camera, by physical abuse, starvation and neglecting his requests to take care of hygiene. He admitted to feeling suicidal and requested therapy but was ignored — Kalief tried to commit suicide several times and each time was sent back to solitary confinement and received no mental help. The more light that shines on the dark corners of the judicial system, the more heartbreaking Kalief’s story is — there was so many times and so many people that could’ve changed the outcome of Kalief’s life if they had just done their jobs correctly.
In six hour-long episodes filled with testimonies from Kalief’s mother, his attorney, his legal aid, fellow inmates, The New Yorker journalists who originally made the case widely known, Jay Z, Van Jones, and Kalief himself, as well as disturbing surveillance videos from Rikers that show some of the brutality he went through from other inmates and correctional officers alike. It truly is a gripping and disturbing story with an equally upsetting ending, highlighting important issues around our judicial system and the aid inmates receive for their mental health while in and out of prison.
The Weinstein Company and Jay Z have announced their next project will be breaking down what happened the infamous night Trayvon Martin was gunned down by George Zimmerman for looking “suspicious”, which inadvertently brought to mainstream media the severity of racial profiling that trickled into bringing racial corruption in police departments across the country to forefront.
TIME: The Kalief Browder Story is now available to binge on Spike on-demand.