The Mother of a Rikers Detainee on Her Torment

“I miss my son. I miss him so much.”

The Mother of a Rikers Detainee on Her Torment

Coming in November: RIKERS, a new documentary from Bill Moyers, features former detainees at Rikers Island sharing their experiences in New York City’s largest and most notorious jail. The film focuses on the culture of systemic violence that has plagued the jail for decades.

In this post from The Marshall Project, we hear from Venida Browder, the mother of a former detainee whose story is just one of the estimated 77,000 people who cycle through the jail each year. Browder passed away last week at the age of 63.

“She died of a broken heart,” reported the New York Daily News, a bit of poetic license that felt just about right. Venida Browder, 63, the mother of a young man whose Dickensian ordeal drew shocked attention to New York’s justice system, died last Friday from complications of a heart attack. Her son Kalief, 16, was accused of stealing a backpack, arrested and, unable to make $3,000 bail, spent three years confined on Rikers Island, enduring beatings and more than 700 days in solitary. He hanged himself in June 2015 — two years after charges were dropped.

The Marshall Project interviewed Venida Browder last March as part of an upcoming video series called We Are Witnesses — short encounters with Americans whose lives have been entangled with the criminal justice system.

The infuriating New Yorker magazine account of Kalief’s ordeal is online. And here is The Marshall Project’s previous coverage of the case, including an interview in which Venida Browder recounts her family’s pain and her hope for the future of Rikers Island.



RIKERS premieres at DOC NYC Nov. 12 and on THIRTEEN New York Nov. 15. Learn more about the film at the official website. Follow #RikersFilm on Facebook and Twitter.

The Marshall Project

The Marshall Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the US criminal justice system. It achieves this through award-winning journalism, partnerships with other news outlets and public forums. In all of its work, The Marshall Project strives to educate and enlarge the audience of people who care about the state of criminal justice. Follow The Marshall Project on Twitter: @marshallproj.