THE BLOG

If I Could Talk to Kalief Browder

06/09/2015 04:50 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2016
Dan Bannister via Getty Images

Dear Kalief,

The news of your death is heartbreaking. It has stirred my soul and inspired me to action. It is soul stirring because I refuse to let your death be in vain. I cannot, shall not and will not allow your story to go quietly away. In fact I will shout from every mountain top, to awaken the world to the barbaric nature of solitary confinement. I ensure that the world will know we have a system that is designed to crush the life, light and hope out of men, women and children who get arrested. The world will know that on any given day hundreds if not thousands of men and women are being starved, beaten and chained to beds as punishment in solitary confinement.

As long as I have breath in my lungs I will tell your story, because your story is my story, and my story is the story of 80,000 men and women serving time in solitary confinement. Kalief I know what its like to be pushed to the breaking point, to be starved, abandoned and abused by officers.

I know what its like to be treated as if you don't matter, are unworthy of humane treatment, and undeserving of compassion. I know because I served seven years in solitary confinement, and its this reason that makes me wish I could have talked to you on June 6, 2015.

If I could have talked to you, I would have told you that I understand how alone, vulnerable and hurt you were feeling. I would have told you that I know what its like for an officer to refuse to feed you and your pleas for counseling to fall on death years. I would have told that I understand what its like to watch mental illness criminalized and men dehumanized.

If we could have sat for just an hour I would have told you that I understand what it is like to be caged in 23 hours a day and denied the right to take a shower. If we could have sat for awhile I would have told you that I understand what its like to be slammed to the ground while handcuffed and beaten for no reason. I would have told you all of these things, so that you would have known that I was there to really listen, because I know that's all you really needed was someone to just listen.

I would have listened as you told me what it was like for you to be denied the right to trial. I would have listened as you told me what it was like to lay curled on your bed clutching your stomach because the guards refused to feed you. I would have listened as you told me how much courage it took for you to not plead guilty to a crime you didn't do, even though it would have meant being released with time served. I would have listened as you told me what it was like to fight for your sanity in an environment where insanity is the norm.

I would have put my arm around your shoulder and listened as you told me how afraid you were that you weren't going to make it out alive after a guard slammed you to the ground without provocation. I would have listened as you told me how you were robbed of three years that could never be replaced. I would have listened as you shared with me what it was like to live around angry and oftentimes violent young men who attack those perceived as vulnerable. I would have listened, because I know you had something to tell me-to tell us about what all is wrong with the criminal justice system. I would have listened for as long as you needed me to and then I would have said this.

Kalief lets change the system to make sure that no one has to go through what we have gone through ever again. Together let's be the voices to shed light on the darkness that is solitary confinement. I would have said I have your back and you can always count on me to tell our truths. Yeah that's what I would have said If I could have talked to you.