A man arrested at 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack, then held at Rikers Island for three years—two of which he spent in solitary confinement—until his case was dismissed in 2013, committed suicide on Saturday. He was 22. Kalief Browder was starved and beaten by officers and inmates while in prison and attempted suicide several times, including after he left. His experience helped reform the municipal court system. "I'm mentally scarred right now," he told the New Yorker last year. "There are certain things that changed about me and they might not go back." He hanged himself out of a hole in an upstairs wall, meant to hold an air conditioner, in the home he shared with his parents. His mother heard a noise but found nothing upstairs. "It wasn't until she went outside to the backyard and looked up that she realized that her youngest child had hanged himself," reports the New Yorker.
"Ma, I can't take it anymore," Browder had told her a day earlier. "Kalief, you've got a lot of people in your corner," she told him. Among them were Jay Z and Rosie O'Donnell, who once invited Browder to dinner and gave him a MacBook Air. "I think what caused the suicide was his incarceration and those hundreds and hundreds of nights in solitary confinement, where there were mice crawling up his sheets in that little cell," Browder’s lawyer, Paul Prestia, tells the Los Angeles Times. "Being starved, and not being taken to the shower for two weeks at a time ... those were direct contributing factors." Prestia, who had filed a lawsuit against New York City on Browder's behalf, says the case was nearing a settlement. "He didn't get tortured in some prison camp in another country," he adds. "It was right here!" As of March, some 400 people had spent at least two years in prison in the city without a conviction, the New York Times reports. Six at Rikers had been waiting at least six years on pending cases.