One year ago, Kalief Browder killed himself after facing depression, and being held on Riker's Island for three years -- without being convicted.
When I picked up on Browder's story Tuesday evening, I had just finished watching a movie on the Stanford Prison Experiment. The experiment was conducted by Dr. Phillip Zimbardo and he selected 18 out of 24 students to participate in a simulation of prison. Some students were prisoners, some were guards, but each participant had to treat the experiment as if it were reality for the next two weeks.
In only six days of this experiment, Zimbardo was pressured by his then girlfriend (now the couple are married) to end the test. According to the results, guards subjected the prisoners to humiliation, psychological, and verbal abuse, and harsh tactics to assert their authoritative position. Some prisoners left before the six days, other that endured the cruelty to the end said that they've endured some short term psychological stress, including loss of identity, and self-blame.
It is worth noting that majority of the participants were middle class, white, and male. At the beginning of the experiment, they were deemed mentally and physically fit.
Fast forward to modern day, and the Stanford prison experiment is not just an experiment, but a systemic way to "rehabilitate" the majority of the prison population: Black men.
The story of Kalief Browder sounds like a Stanford Prison Experiment gone horribly wrong. Kalief Browder was picked up after police identified him as a suspect in a robbery case. He was sent to Riker's Island awaiting trial -- for three years.
Kalief Browder's family couldn't afford the $10,000 bail, thus he had to stay at Rikers while awaiting his trial.
For three years, Browder was subjected to abuse by prison guards, and prisoners alike. He was humiliated, and sent to solitary confinement for two years. In an interview with Marc Lamont Hill, Kalief recounts many of the difficulties, and challenges he encountered while being imprisoned.
"[The implimentation of the current prison system] relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism" - Angela Y. Davis, activist, professor, former Black Panther
In the video, Kalief talked about being starved for a prolonged period of time. He talked about the cognitive dissonance he suffered as a result of being unsure of why he was imprisoned, the real psychological toll one suffers when in solitary confinement, and the hopelessness he suffered.
Thinking of the Browder case in context of the Stanford Prison experiment is both disturbing, and laughable.
Laughable because in 1977, you have "prisoners" who couldn't survive the first 36 hours. Dr. Zimbardo documented participants who had displayed real psychological distress and rage.
The faux prison was so overwhelmingly real for the participants that even when new prisoners had replaced those that were sent home, "old timer" prisoners warned them about what they would eventually endure. Yet here you have a young man, who was 16 at the time of the arrest, who saw firsthand what ACTUAL prison is like.
He was beaten up, and abused by the correction officers, given the run around by his public defender, and tormented for three years before he was let go. The DA's office even went as far as trying to get Browder to plea to something that the NYPD didn't do a thorough investigation on.
It's truly disturbing.
At least those that participated in the prison experiment got to leave, after just six days. Browder, and many other men in the prison system in the United States have to spend years enduring this brutality. And to think that some of them haven't been convicted, are falsely imprisoned, or just to think that some are minor offenders compared to rapist, pedophiles, serial murderers, repeating offenders, etc.
To be Black means to be strong, especially if you are a man who is required to perform masculine behavior. But at what point do we take into account the humanity of Black men? While the prisoners' tears in the Stanford prison experiment spoke to some of the researchers, who is listening, and truly caring when Black men are cracking under these conditions in prison?
READ MORE: NY State Assembly Passes Kalief's Law In Honor Of Wrongfully-Imprisoned Black Teen - Essence.com