700,000 souls are released from correctional facilities in the US each year. One son’s mother begs us to care about undoing the torture happening behind bars before another life is lost.
“I want my baby back and he’s never going to come back. Every morning when I go take a shower, I still peek in his room. I left his room exactly the way he left it. I know he’s not there, but I still peek in his room… I will be in hell until the day I die because I found my son hanging. It’s a whole system that destroyed my son.” ~ Venida Browder, mother of the late Khalief Browder
I have never met Mrs. Browder, yet her pain, her helplessness, and the depth of her grief reverberates through my soul. Her words are chilling and forever etched in my mind. Maybe it’s the “code”—the “code” of empty spaces between her every word that allows me…forces me…to see her waking up every morning, walking to her son’s empty room, opening the door and peeking in. When she opens the door, she knows what she will find. She knows he is not there…will not be there…yet she still looks for her son. Her pain …her helplessness…her loss is everyone’s pain…everyone’s helplessness. Kalief was our child. And Kalief’s story is so important on a number of levels.
Don’t believe those stories you may have heard that characterize going to prison as nothing more than being “a ride down and a walk back.” Nothing could be further from the truth. What is prison like? Prison is pure unadulterated hell. And a child—the “heart and soul’ of the village—Kalief—sent to prison at age 16, experienced pure unadulterated hell—every day—for three excruciating years. Now, Kalief, Our Son, uttered cries of help to the village as he slipped deeper and deeper into the dark abyss of depression while he was incarcerated and after his release. He was desperately seeking a “life line.” I understand what drove this young man—Our Son—who had so much promise to commit suicide.
Listen to his words:
“It’s like hell on earth… Sometimes I went back to my cell and I cried myself to sleep because it’s like I want to go home and they’re not letting me go home.”
But let’s take this one step further. Let’s multiply Kalief, Our Son, by 700,000. Why 700,000? Every year, 700,000 souls are released from correctional facilities throughout the United States. These 700,000 souls return to our families and our communities every year. Shouldn’t we wonder about the horrific nightmarish experiences that these 700,000 souls may have endured or witnessed during their incarceration? Every year, we have 700,000 “Kaliefs” coming back to our communities who have experienced “hell on earth” for five, 10, 15, 20, 30, or even 36 years.
- They return to us with broken spirits and shattered souls, masking and hiding their “brokenness.”
- They feel misunderstood and cannot fathom that someone who has not walked where they have walked would ever care about, want to know about, or even comprehend the “hell on earth” they lived through behind bars.
- Their “brokenness” manifests itself in bravado or emotional detachment.
On the surface, the 700,000 “Kaliefs” that walk and talk among us appear oblivious to the emotional and spiritual pain that the horrific nightmare of life behind the wall has inflicted upon them. They come back to us—emotionally, physically and spiritually toxic—frantically searching for a life line—a “life line” of forgiveness, acceptance, patience and unconditional love—that will help heal them and make them whole. We have 700,000 “Kaliefs”, who may have spent five, 10, 15, 20, 30, or 36 years institutionalized, whom we have to teach how to love again and trust again.
We must save and make whole the “Kaliefs” in our midst with all deliberate speed.
Photo credit: Getty Images