Venida Browder, RIP
Jennifer Gonnerman writes in the New Yorker:
Venida Browder died on Friday, at age sixty-three, after suffering a heart attack at her home, in the Bronx. She had seven children; her youngest, Kalief, was known as Peanut. After he was charged with a robbery at age sixteen, in the spring of 2010, Venida spent the next three years trying to get him out of jail. Every time he was brought to Bronx State Supreme Court to appear before a judge, Venida was there. He had thirty-one court dates before a judge released him and dismissed the charges against him. “You don’t see a mother showing up that many times,” Kalief’s defense attorney told me. He recalled that she always had the same question for him: “She just wanted to know when he could come home.”
Every week, Venida made the trip to Rikers Island to see Kalief. She would bring him books, magazines, and a stack of fresh clothes, and take home his laundry to wash. “There was a lot of hate and animosity I got from other inmates: ‘Oh, your mom always comes to see you,’ ” Kalief told me, when I interviewed him in 2014. “A lot of guys would call me ‘mama’s boy.’ They tried to tease me, make fun of me.” But Kalief knew the other teen-age boys in his jail were jealous. Most had to hand-wash their clothes in a bucket. Some of their mothers wouldn’t pick up the phone when they called home.
“If not for my mom, I don’t think I would’ve made it,” Kalief told me. For most of his time on Rikers, he was held in solitary confinement. “Imagine being in solitary for all that time with no books, no magazines,” he said. “Or walking around with the same clothes on every day, the same T-shirt, same underwear. I’ve seen people like that. They stink.” When Kalief was finally released from Rikers, he moved back into the two-story brick house where he had grown up. Venida could tell that he had changed—he paced around his bedroom, and talked to himself—and she tried to help him the best she could. But his mental-health problems were too severe. On June 6, 2015, he hanged himself at home from a second-floor window.
In the following months, Venida, who was fairly shy, became much more outspoken. Although she had serious health problems, she travelled to Washington, D.C., in July of 2015 to attend a press conference for “Kalief’s Law,” a bill intended to improve the treatment of young people in prison. . .
It’s worth noting that Kalief Browder was never convicted and never went to trial. The government just locked him up for three years, mostly in solitary confinement.