Kalief Browder (1993-2015)

“I’m trying to break out of my shell, but I guess there is no shell. I guess this is just how I am—I’m just quiet and distant…I don’t like being this way, but it’s just natural to me now.” Kalief Browder interview with The New Yorker.

Mom,

I don’t even know where to start. There’s so many things that I want to say, but lately it’s been hard for me to organise my thoughts.

I suppose I should start with “sorry”. Sorry for putting you through this and for disappointing you. When the judge said “10 years”, I’d never heard a sound as heartbreaking as you crying. I’m sorry that I was the cause of that pain.

I remember when I was younger and you’d always tell me how special and clever I was. You told me that if I worked hard enough I’d be a doctor or lawyer. At some point I stopped listening. The voices of the streets were more powerful than the constant affection you showed me. Now, sitting here in this tiny grey cell, I wish I’d listened to you. 10 measly grams of crack isn’t worth my life.

I say all that, but I knew that this was coming. I’d seen so many of my homeboys locked up that I knew that it was just a matter of time before I ended up in Folson. But, you know me, I always thought I was tough. So, I kept running the streets and disrespecting you for no reason. I didn’t even listen to my homeboys when they came back with blank expressions and horror stories. Like an fool, I told myself that they were soft.

Mom now I’m here, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m scared. I don’t want you to worry about me, but there’s no-one else that I can talk to. If I show anyone sign of weakness I’ll lose the little respect that I have in here. But, I can’t keep pretending that the things they do to each other are normal.

I’ve seen grown men rape the weak young guys they throw in here. These  are ‘grown men’ who get visits from their girlfriends, talk about their kids and harass the female guards. Yet 5 of them will take turns sodomising some kid just because they can. No matter how much that poor guy screams and begs for mercy, they won’t stop until they’re done. Then they beat the brakes off the boy, so that he knows not to tell anyone. But, why would he? They’ve already stripped him of his dignity, made it clear that he’s going to be their ‘play thing’ until someone better comes along. How can he admit that to anyone?

I’ve seen 10 dudes jump 1 guy over some pudding. A pudding! They nearly killed him because he wouldn’t share his dessert.

Little things like that, make me think how messed up this system is. In here we’re stripped of every little thing. Even our names are taken away and replaced with numbers. So, we find other ways to earn respect. If that means disfiguring someone to show how hard you, then so be it. Gang bangers don’t think about raping men when they’re on the street. Probably not. But in here, it’s messed up mom.

The only reason they’re not disrespecting me is because my name carries some weight in the streets. But, just because I’m not the one being beaten or raped doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect me.

Even all the things I’ve seen outside, I can’t escape what I’m seeing in here. Day after day I see the same shit and I can’t drink the memories away or take something or see my girl. I’m forced to watch this mess sober. How am I going to forget 10 years of this?

An inmate’s letter

Written by Shaurna Cameron

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