The Interview: New Yorker’s Jennifer Gonnerman on Rikers
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Kalief Browder didn’t want to talk about it — any of it.
Not about the wee hours of Saturday, May 15, 2010, when his hellish ordeal began with police officers arresting him and another teen in the Bronx, accusing them of stealing a man’s backpack.
Not about the three years of being imprisoned on Rikers Island — including some 800 days in a solitary confinement cell measuring about 7 feet by 12 feet — without ever having been convicted of anything.
Not about his several suicide attempts at Rikers or the jailers beating inmates or the inmates beating one another or the blood on the dayroom floor.
Journalist Jennifer Gonnerman wanted Kalief Browder to talk about it — all of it.
For she felt compelled to tell his story.
She did so — superbly — in the Oct. 6 issue of The New Yorker in a 7,000-word piece headlined “Before the Law: A boy was accused of taking a backpack. The courts took the next three years of his life.”
“I realized that this story almost encapsulated everything wrong with the New York City criminal justice system in a tale of one teenager,” Gonnerman told JJIE in a telephone interview.
Building the trust and rapport necessary to do the reporting behind the piece took time: Over seven months, Gonnerman figures she did maybe 10 interviews with Browder, sometimes for two- or three-hour stretches.
Still, she said: “The very, very first time I met him he was pretty stiff, guarded, uncomfortable, and I don’t think it was just because he was meeting a stranger. As I got to know him better over time, it seemed to be how he was most of the time as he moved into the world, having gone through this whole experience, having spent so many months in solitary confinement. It had left a real impact, a lingering Impact. …READ MORE, please