Kalief Browder, then 16, was arrested in 2010 for allegedly stealing a backpack. Video surveillance from his three years behind bars—without ever being convicted of the crime—showed prison guards brutally beating him on multiple occasions.
During that time, he endured about two years in solitary confinement, where he attempted to end his life several times. Once, in February, 2012, he ripped his bedsheet into strips, tied them together to create a noose, and tried to hang himself from the light fixture in his cell.
In November of 2013, six months after he left Rikers, Browder attempted suicide again. This time, he tried to hang himself at home, from a bannister, and he was taken to the psychiatric ward at St. Barnabas Hospital, not far from his home in the Bronx. When I met him, in the spring of 2014, he appeared to be more stable.
After a third hospitalization in January, things seemed to be on track for Browder—according to the New Yorker, an anonymous donor had just offered to pay Browder’s college tuition and he seemed to be thriving. Until last week:
Last Monday, Prestia, who had filed a lawsuit on Browder’s behalf against the city, noticed that Browder had put up a couple of odd posts on Facebook. When Prestia sent him a text message, asking what was going on, Browder insisted he was O.K. “Are you sure everything is cool?” Prestia wrote. Browder replied: “Yea I’m alright thanks man.” The two spoke on Wednesday, and Browder did seem fine. On Saturday afternoon, Prestia got a call from Browder’s mother: he had committed suicide.
He was found dead hanging from a hole in the wall intended for an air condition unit, the New Yorker reports.
“I think what caused the suicide was his incarceration and those hundreds and hundreds of nights in solitary confinement, where there were mice crawling up his sheets in that little cell,” Prestia told the LA Times. “Being starved, and not being taken to the shower for two weeks at a time … those were direct contributing factors.… That was the pain and sadness that he had to deal with every day, and I think it was too much for him.”