In the days since his death, Kalief Browder’s story has spread to the farthest corners of the Internet, with articles touching on every aspect of his ordeal — from the issue of pre-trial detention and the psychological torture of solitary confinement on the young mind to the general hell that is Rikers Island — and the overall, comprehensive need for criminal justice reform.
Many people are particularly touched by Browder’s story because, following the 2014 New Yorker profile and the subsequent onslaught of news coverage, they felt that they knew him. Yet much of this coverage did not highlight his life so much as it inadvertently revealed how he was used as a symbol to advance other ends. In jail, he was just a number in the system; after his release, he was paraded around by advocates of reform as an example of the failures of the justice system.
As the world weighs in on Browder’s story, there are many thousands more names and narratives we may never get to hear. Because the chance to tell one’s own story is vital, and often a life-or-death matter, we offer our readers information about a few arts and mentoring programs that encourage currently and formerly incarcerated youth and adults to share their stories:
- InsideOUT Writers: Publishes In Depth, a quarterly literary journal
- PEN Prison Writing Program: Produces a handbook for writers in prisons and hosts an annual literary competition
- The Prison Creative Arts Project: Hosts one of the largest prisoner art exhibitions in the world and publishes The Michigan Review of Prisoner Creative Writing, a literary journal
Please also visit the Prison Arts Coalition for a comprehensive list of practical resources and creative works by current and former prisoners, and those who work in prison systems. Some of these organizations provide ongoing opportunities to volunteer or mentor; all welcome donations and attention to the stories that make their work necessary.
If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of distress or is at risk for suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.