Civil Rights Lawsuit
Kalief’s lawyer Paul Prestia's goal was to get a lawsuit against New York City, the New York Police Department and the Department of Corrections for false arrest, malicious prosecution, denial of a right to a fair and speedy trial and torture. Prestia was able to file a civil rights lawsuit on Kalief’s behalf with damages listed at $20 million. The first deposition in the case was on December 5, 2014, after news of Kalief’s case garnered national media attention. However, he was not “all there” during his depositions, as Prestia describes in the series.
In fall 2013, Kalief’s story began to spread on New York City news stations. He was also interviewed by Marc Lamont Hill on HuffPostLive, and also Jennifer Gonnerman for The New Yorker.
In October 2014, her piece on Kalief, "Before The Law,” gained national attention, and some big names were interested in meeting with the young man. Jay Z (executive producer of Time) said he read the article and told Kalief he was "proud" of him and his strength. Rosie O’Donnell invited Kalief on The View in November 2014, and recounted her meeting with Kalief.
“You survived the unsurvivable,” she tearily remembers telling him backstage in the show. “You found it within you to say ‘no.’” To help with his schooling, she gifted Kalief with a MacBook Air. Venida Browder, Kalief’s mother, also showed some of the letters Kalief got from people across the country, where they thanked him for sharing his story and for being so perseverant.
Kalief was not a fan of the attention he was getting. His counselor Mark Bodrick said what he wanted was justice.
Mental Effects Of Rikers' Aftermath
"I was so glad to see him, he had been away for so long," said Venida of her son’s initial return from Rikers. However, she says that he was more or less a stranger to her and his siblings. "The torture came home with him."
Members of Kalief’s family said that he didn’t trust anybody, sometimes not even them, and that he worried that people would come after him. He would also walk around the driveway, but just in four corners, since he was used to the small confines of his solitary cell at Rikers. He became discouraged with not being able to find a job, and he was getting worried that people were judging him because he would talk to himself.
"I didn’t have problems like this [before Rikers]," he explained in a clip. "Sometimes I talk to myself and it’s actually embarrassing. ‘You’re really crazy, you really talk to yourself.’ I feel like I lost my childhood, I lost a lot of proms, I lost a lot of celebrations with my family,” he continued. “The transition [from Rikers to normalcy] is crazy."
Kalief’s brother Kamal said that the family tried to do everything they could to make Kalief feel at home, such as inviting friends over to the house for get-togethers. However, Kalief didn't talk to anyone and stayed to himself. His brother Deion said that he would come home, go to his room and shut all the blinds.
What he was yearning for was a way to escape his thoughts. “Going somewhere getting some air … an escape would be a reliever to me,” he said.
Medication And Psychotic Breaks
After leaving Rikers, Kalief’s mental stability was questionable. Emergency dispatchers were called to Kalief’s house one night after his sister Nicole became worried he would try to kill himself. She said he was “peeing on the floor,” and was talking to bottles that he had lined up. He was admitted to St. Barnabas Hospital in December 2013 for a psychiatric evaluation after a suicide attempt. Kalief was then prescribed Risperidone, a drug he was prescribed to take while in solitary confinement at Rikers. This medication is typically prescribed to patients who suffer from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Its effects include anxiety, depression, aggression, delirium and suicidal behavior. Kalief said that the medication made him feel “spaced-out.”
After garnering unwanted media attention, the wrong people began to confront Kalief because they thought he had money. During an altercation in late 2014, Kalief was shot point blank in the abdomen. He sustained a flesh wound and was released three days before Christmas. While Christmas shopping, something triggered a psychotic break, and he started having an episode in public about “cops and the Internet.” He spent his Christmas at the psych ward at Harlem Hospital that year, just days after leaving the hospital for his bullet wound.
Despite struggling with his mental health, Kalief knew that taking his medication and working to defeat his demons was something he needed to do. “It just woke me up, I wanted to live,” he said of his at-home suicide attempt. He realized that he worked too hard to persevere at Rikers to try and kill himself. He wanted to push through the pain and encourage a change in the system.
Renewed Sense Of Purpose
“I wanted more for myself, I deserve more,” Kalief said of his determination to turn his life around. He went back to school to get his G.E.D in 2014, and he passed on his first try. He enrolled at Bronx Community College as a business management major. Venida said that the students and faculty at the school "became his family." He was determined to make something of himself, and he rode his bike every day to school. By 2015’s spring semester, Kalief had a 3.56 GPA at BCC.
While at Rikers, he read a lot of books, such as Organized Crime And American Power by Michael Woodiwiss and House Of Bush, House Of Saud by Craig Unger. He wanted to have a better outlook on life, and his grades steadily improved through hard work.
His school counselors and advisors had nothing but positive things to say about Kalief as a student and person. Frida Marte said that he was “curious” and “bright,” and that “he wanted to feel normal, in control and empowered.” Advisor Elizabeth Payamps admired his determination to get things done and to be successful. She recalled a story about Kalief, in which he won first place in a five-mile race at the school. Even though he was exhausted, he said he’d finish, and he did. Counselor Mark Bodrick said that Kalief was a “humble soul” who was “very dedicated" and just needed to “find himself.”
Kalief also wanted to travel to expand his horizons. He interviewed with Jesse Spiegel, the founder of Rewilding, a program dedicated to providing new experiences for formerly incarcerated people.
“Maybe I can let it out [my frustrations] and leave it there,” Kalief said while being interviewed for the program. He had a desire to explore and to learn about nature, and had fun climbing rocks, swimming and making tents. However, the trip he was hoping to go on wasn’t for six to eight more months, and he wanted immediate relief from his troubles.
“I want to grow,” he said of his dreams of going places. “I’m not gonna be able to do this stuff. Sometimes I think like that.”
Events Leading To Suicide
According to Prestia, Kalief believed that he was cursed. He was stabbed in the head by a person in his neighborhood who wanted to know about Rikers, a request that Kalief turned down. His family was also tormented by people who wanted things from Kalief. His brother Kamal was attacked by people who wanted money from his brother.
As a result of a fight that broke out between Kalief and the attackers, both he and his brother were taken to the precinct and were charged with resisting arrest. Kamal said that his brother was “freaking out” about being back in the precinct that sent him to Rikers. Prestia picked them both up, but they had a court hearing on June 10, 2015 for the fight, where Kalief’s “whole soul dropped” according to Bodrick.
The civil rights case was also at a stand-still. Prestia said that they were dragging out the case, and it didn’t seem like they had any intentions of settling anytime soon. Prestia believes that the courts were trying to make it seem like Kalief was lying about everything from the backpack robbery to the conditions in Rikers to his suicide attempts while there. The attorney assigned to question Kalief during the deposition can be heard in the documentary asking him specifics about his suicide attempts, seemingly implying that he was lying about them. “When can I move on from this?” Prestia said Kalief often asked him.
Venida described that on June 6, 2015, she made breakfast, but Kalief didn’t want to eat, which she said was out of character for him. Kamal also said that before he went to orientation for his new job, his brother thanked him for being his brother and for "doing something with [your] life." He thought that his behavior was a little strange. Venida said that Kalief asked her if she was okay before going upstairs to his room. She heard sounds and movement upstairs before hearing a loud thud. She opened the back door and saw Kalief’s body hanging out the window. Through tears, she recalled that before the ambulance took Kalief’s lifeless body away, she asked to kiss him one last time. She gave his "swollen" cheek a kiss, and said goodbye to her son.