A Poetic & Artistic Tribute to Kalief Browder

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Kalief Browder

Kalief Browder

 

 

Kalief Browder was a young man who committed suicide after spending three years incarcerated on Riker’s Island at 17-years-old without being charged with a crime. He did not commit a crime and suffered from depression as a result of being put into solitary confinement and enduring many painful moments during his imprisonment.

Poet Brad Walrond and artist Shanna T. Melton present a moving tribute to Kalief Browder inspired by investigative reporter Jennifer Gonnerman’s Before The Law published in the New Yorker. The poem will be presented in two installments. Here is the first. Readers who are not familiar with Kalief’s heartbreaking story can learn more from the links at the end of our poetic tribute — there is article written by Kalief on solitary confinement.

Click here for bios on Brad and Shanna.

 

They Crowned Him

by Brad Walrond

 

 

1.

For all Kalief Browder knew he was born of the Virgin Mary

circa 1993 state wrapped him up in swaddlin’ clothes

delivered him down river to momma’s two-story brick house

across the street from the Bronx Zoo

 

momma nicked his name: Peanut—

tiny hardly fragile took to roast

on concrete playgrounds

asphalt baked slow-brown and street wise

flint by the Bronx River sun

momma nicked his name: Peanut—

tiny hardly fragile took to roast

on concrete playgrounds

asphalt baked slow-brown and street wise

flint by the Bronx River sun

Peanut. by age 6

he was an eight-pack callisthenic

stood up straight and happy

inside his big brother’s shadow.

 

by sophomore year @ New Day Academy 2010

the year he was took

Peanut developed signature flavors—

smelt his own salts in and out of shell

 

Teachers tell us he was equal parts

sly : smart : and not too studious.

 

seem like i—he said—

left home one day went to a party

night fall found me and my boy a blues band

on the road. runnin’

 

we was arrested May 10th 2010 on 186th

Bronx County four-eight precinct Belmont Section

 

Charted our regression line

Through Arthur Ave. on our way back to da crib

lights. camera. Action!

da Barrio talent scouts

rolled up on us

put us up on stage

made me take off my cap

gave me a new identity.

Crowned me with too many..

 

Flash! my whole body

squandered evidence

inside assault and battery

 

Flip! Teen ager

youth offender

upside down

Negative charge on top:

felony 2nd degree some Body some Where?

say I stole back pack stock full of alleged credit card

digital camera ipod touch $700 dollars

 

Little bag a Peanuts

sang his Self some Blues

Mr. Charlie! Mr. Charlie!

The bars in this song too heavy

My tenor got no business

playin’ the bass Mr. Charlie!

for this Riker’s Island Band

When can I go home?

When can I go home?

 

Bronx-County Bookies wear navy blue

jockey their bets on my survival.

Rode me hard often like any good game of chance

in these here Belmont Stakes

May be he done it May be not

May be he win it May be not—

 

Race don’t run without the horses!

 

Got my off shore account @ Central Booking

belly buoy full of knots above deck

bus cast anchor over to Riker’s;

One nerve I had left wept!

Innocent! knuckles white as snow

 

Regardless—

New York City Department of Corrections

gots they own shows to produce

outs yonder on that Middle East River

Gethsemane got 4000 acres of production space

nestled between boroughs of borrowed time

 

Discovered. a falling star

writ a leading role—

speaking part @ children’s table

never heard the one-line avowal

incarcerated at the back of my throat

i swallowed whole chased Hail Mary

with one everlasting plea:

 

I am not guilty I am

Not guilty I am

not guilty I

Am not

guilty

God Father!

All Jehovah’s witness

know I am

not!

 

2.

 

Kalief Browder’s bail was set @ $10,000

momma knew she could not attend to that asset class

family’s only defense had to be the United States Constitution:

Sixth Amendment guarantees right to a speedy and public trial

 

Except in the shower

@Robert N. Davoren Center

Department of Corrections

where there are no cameras.

Bronx County Halls of Justice a crematory

Incensed! Law’s best intentions wear sackcloth and ash

6th sense séance 6th Amendment haints

undead tell us in ever more furtive voices :

 

felony case must be brought to trial within 6 months of arraignment

felony case must be brought to trial within 6 months of arraignment

 

In da Bronx,

the District Attorney’s office

marks time with sapling stick

etched in Orchard Beach sandstorm

Judge just a Whip

going. through. the motions

 

state ain’t ready

to try its case

Judge robe

black magic

wand whipped

space-time

adjourned

to black hole

until the next court date

 

Well! inside

legal limits

of Kalief’s six months of struggle

3 and ½ years perished—built for us

a wailing wall in those 1,110 days—

Three whole Memorial Day WeekEnds

made it to they Resurrection;

Each end of May did not never pass go

would not get out of jail free.

Hope deferred 31 times below the event horizon

800 Nights of Solitude

 

Get it?

The Law takes practice

Blood sport and wager fill the seats

pay all the bills purchase Yankee Stadium season tickets

flood lights are epic @ this Grand Concourse court jester bazaar

 

Gethsemane’s Poor ill-afforded circus

transmogrify into currency

every Body else gets paid;

Kalief’s Public Defender earns $75 an hour at least

to crush Peanut into an oil—

make him slow and impermeable;

smooth him like butter into his trouble

make the charges stick:

Guilty. Plea! Please! Goddammit

 

This. Way. every one goes home happy—eventually

Only. Way. Any one gets delivered from this ectopic pregnancy.

3.

 

How do you say Desaparecidos?

in a New York Yankee accent

My whole adolescence gutted

All my teen age organs entrail:

friends switch to zone defense

after a while I become

Jurassic trip to the zoo

basket balls leave the paint high dry

video games asphyxiate in haggard air

pockets. stripped. mauled for any all contraband

fine girls and black-light parties

prom night high school graduation

all. disappeared on my very first trip abroad.

 

In the Middle of that East River

Peanut has no easy allies

repressed canisters of testosterone splay everywhere

The hormone imbalance rots the air

with a latent gang-bang adolescent spunk

C.O. tribunals prefer torture to interrogation.

 

Alas! There is no peace in Jerusalem for boys like Peanut.

Boys who believe Justice is a whole food

and Truth lives in Zion

They fed him Ramadan

in his teen age sanctuary

God had to tell him:

Solitary has no plea for Freedom

 

Peanut listened.

 

Buried—like all the other inmates—

his life’s achievements inside

a white plastic bucket furnished by the state

this jailhouse safety deposit box stayed on his person

worked for him over time

did double triple duty:

interstitial talisman

pillow weapon

accomplice friend

 

Otherwise! Peanut denied the state

their right to make him invisible

By now C.O.s had to have borne witness

to that scant hopeful stitch woven into Peanut’s brow

a mutant shallow flame hung at the base of his throat

they heard its treble when ever he spoke up on his own behalf

 

bitter steel reinforced

concrete womb

Difference.

outcast. with indifference.

Insist! Any biblical notion of Justice

be contracted out!

 

4.

 

12 foot by 7

Peanut walks the plank

in the Central Punitive Segregation Unit

human cells show no signs of differentiation

the stasis metastasize into a need for palliative care.

 

on the mainland the Judges play God

state-sponsored motions move like terror

all clocks stop except the one on Peanut’s ticking time bomb

motion after motion accrue for themselves a movement

each successive step an immolation

Plank. left. less and less room for error.

 

A world of trouble lived heavy hard inside Peanut’s head

crushed his whole heart into a cell

until he craved nothing but the cross

had. to. Be. nothing! but the Blood for me

impetuous land of milk and honey Promised

the guileless find rest in eternity

Going Up Yonder Innocent!

will be a longer word than Infinity

 

5.

Were you there? When they crucified my Lord

Were you there? What if I told you grandiose delusion

is narrative non-fiction in our Universe.

They shoot stars like me

no body doubles

graphic novels grow palate

for animation

all my stunts. are. real. magic.

When I told the doctors @ Harlem Hospital’s mental health unit:

I am Jesus Christ!

I told them the Truth!

I over threw the money-changers table

because they peoples was watching me

on my brand new 27” flat screen TV

 

I wonder. if my ‘acting’ ‘out’ be worth they trouble?

had i trashed an older model box TV

 

Did you see? the video up on the New Yorker website

Didn’t nobody believe me!

when I was pitchin’ my stories.

had no abstract on hand

I took them to da spot

word for word blow by blow

still for still the money-changers thought

my story board had a special flare for the dramatic

 

Please! Beat! Me! Peanut cried

Body blows make me feel the Jesus in my marrow

He. Helped. Me.

Endure the cast away pupil I become

when they look at me

Look! I am bleeding now

from every pore right here in Gethsemane

what else? Have I to believe.

Jesus become my only theory for Being.

Didn’t He? save the whole world with his story

what if? they woulda caught the Resurrection on video

How many more would believe?

 

Mr. Charlie! Mr. Charlie!

Beat! Me! until I am blue just like you

Peanut cried his self to sleep 1000 times

hungry with the weight of withheld rations

so many subtractions add up after a while

Down this Villa de la Rosa

Hades won trespass to Paradise

 

cuffs and hands turn bruise into sorrow

the cadres of toy soldiers

throngs of brown boys come over

with they own troubles

Confess! They confess they sins to me!

see the spittle on my face!

Pontius Pilate let them all have their way with me

until my whole body was a cross I could not bear

the help i begged earned me vinegar for my trouble

internal bleeding be damned They

would not give me the emergency dilation and curettage

  1. needed. they. all. just sent me back

to my 800 day ectopic pregnancy.

 

Kalief’s blood boiled over

six times in side Gethsemane

strange thing: infinity manufactures an opt-out option!

Kalief pulled his six times in side that Riker Island Well

He. fashioned himself a bed sheet lasso

Tied it to the only light he could find

Roped it round his trouble

lamb go good with Peanuts

sacrifice is for the living

me? I goes back to my New Day Academy in Heaven

 

6.

After 961 days Kalief’s 8th judge

that last wonder of the world

Judge Patricia M. Dimango

made him her lowest offer:

plea guilty—she said—to two misdemeanors

go home right now with time served.

 

my final offer! only time i swore:

tell the truth the whole truth so help me God!

Up against 15 years I will make trial my error!

Only plea I have is Heaven and bound

up in a calcified will home sick with trauma

I will not abdicate the only throne I’ve been given

Jesus survived because he believed

others could never keep his secrets

 

I will abstain from false confession

Nothing else! Let the whole world know Peanut stayed true

saw my black wrist bleed out

white plastic bucket is all I have left

who? am i to resist its surgical ambitions

 

according to Bronx County Law

embryos are not babies

black brown teen agers are turtles

best they stay in they shell and crack

Put the sharpest edge on my bucket list

we will slash my wrist

before I gash my tongue

cross my own conscience

 

7.

I seen Peanut on TV.

Seen him in a five minute clip with Marc Lamont Hill

that little bag a Peanut made a guest appearance—how ever so briefly—

in that Interview with his new lawyer Paul Prestia

 

Oh! He’s on it! New Mister Lawyer man ain’t he?

Kalief gon’ get his Self some money.

 

saw Peanut’s cheeks sit up high for just a breath

blush with evidence Peanut was still in there somewhere

wow! such an easy smile

light and open like hearts

of mother-loved boys.

 

smiles do not always speak of happiness

lips part. teeth flash. Confess

struggle tongue can not yet twist into words

stowed bruise sits on bleeding stool

some pains do not flush well behind closed doors

A Holocaust is present and unaccounted for

 

Kalief had stumbled upon the sins of the whole wide world

in between boroughs he still had to tread water

weight full of fisticuffs against his skull

He tried God knows he tried!

balance infarct against percussion

squared off wild inside his head

won’t you? Peanut

support your wildest ambition

suicidal ideation con and cuss

the Hollywood hopes of Rosie O’Donnell and Jay Z!

Thank you Rosie! Thank you Jiiga and Hova! For trying

Alas! even in 2015 [CELEBRITY] is not a panacea

My end of days was a regression

Each independent variable depends

my day be a round-trip back to momma’s

two-story house on 186th street

Home. From school

Home. From the job

Home. From meetings with New Yorker reporter

Home. From class @Bronx Community College

Home. From Hufffingpost.com interview

Back. Home. become a room inside my head

smell of mommy’s homemade rice and chili

remembers itself as a trauma

you know how good food smell

when you can’t get any?

 

State had to rest its case

Let me go free

 

No Justice

No trial

No peace

Emptied me

full of no sense

a heart entombed

flailing at sea

far from purpose

All that time in Gethsemane

for this?

 

My life. A Well!

I already knew

what that was

Had to think prospectively

I am the Resurrection And the Life

See after I’m gone

They will tell my story

Holy Ghost will not leave you

Alone! in Solitary

I am the last prophet to a nation

at Mass Incarceration

No grave shall hold my body down.

 

truth. here. lies.

my body broken for you

Peanut rested his case June 7, 2015

Lost his cool cast anchor off A.C. wire

momma momma tell Mary not to weep

We finally mades it out Gethsemane: Alive!

Jehovah’s witness will rise with the ashes

Salvation cometh momma

to all those who dare to believe in Me!

 

© 2015 Poem by Brad Walrond, Art by Shanna T. Melton.

 

ARTICLES ON KALIEF BROWDER

Before the Law

A Closer Look at Solitary Confinement by Kalief Browder

Kalief Browder’s brother discusses his suicide

1 Comments

  1. Wow. Such a supreme injustice. Thank you for shedding light on this oft-ignored matters. Reading this young man’s life through this piece was moving, thought provokingly heartbreaking. My condolences to the family.

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