At what cost ?
Pain and trauma are complex issues; no one quick-fix solution works for everyone, people deal with them in different ways. This is why individuals who have gone through horrific life-changing experiences must be treated with certain levels of care and caution. Khalief Browder, the young African-American youth from the Bronx is an example, he has dealt with severe pain and trauma. Khalief may have left the hell that was Rikers. Yet, the trauma he experienced there never left him. Browder was a teenager who dealt with distress and disturbances he never signed up for. It was considered that Browder’s story would set a precedent and prevent similar happenings to other individuals. However, those retelling his story should have considered how Browder never wanted to end up one himself. Browder was burdened with the lifelong memory of Rikers. To make matters worse, the overwhelming attention his story brought also became an affliction in his life. Although Jay Z’s intentions were pure by shining a light on systemic racism and brutality in prison, he may have overlooked the effect it was having on Browder to share his difficult story.
Jay Z felt this docuseries would create change and believed it would positively affect Khalief. This was illustrated when Jay Z refers to Browder as a prophet; he viewed him as a person who had a higher cause to bring a message to society. Browder’s message for justice was successful at causing a transformation; the system that failed him began to change, but not before torturing and costing him a normal life. Jay Z felt the docuseries would allow for Browder and his story to be a catalyst for a better tomorrow. Growing up, Jay Z described how going to Rikers was a badge of honour. He felt it was backward and explains why he felt the need to expose the horrific reality of Rikers, with the help of Browder. Jay Z empathized with Browder on their shared feeling of loneliness growing up, he comes from a similar situation that Browder grew up with a fractured relationship with his father. How that feeling of being alone led him to hang with the wrong crowd, Jay Z had used his personal experiences to influence his music, so it was likely he cared about and felt connected to Browder. He was never the same after seeing the ugly side of the American criminal justice system. He felt paranoia and he could not bear the thought of having to go back to a place that scarred him for life. In the docuseries, viewers see the despicable treatment of Browder, how it brought him to his breaking point. Prison pushed him towards attempting to take his life multiple times. The filmmakers and Jay Z having him relive these traumatic experiences, was more than he could handle.
It is clear that Jay Z cared for Browder, but his ethics of care for systemic racism and brutality in the prison system outweighed care for Khalief. Jay Z thought allowing Khalief to share his story to the world would ease his pain, and allow change to take place. Browder’s story led to him become more than a statistic, it led to then-President Obama to ban solitary confinement of juveniles in federal prisons. Browder’s life from the instant he was wrongfully accused of stealing a backpack was never the same. During his time in Rikers, Browder fought against a toxic environment where an unsaid program ruled over the inmates, how other inmates and even officers would beat him. Khalief may have made it out of there alive, but a part of him had died in there. He stated how he felt like he aged rapidly, being in his twenties, but feeling like he was in his forties. Jay Z and the other filmmakers felt letting Browder share his story would allow for him to get justice, and ensure this never happened to any young man again. Though they were successful, it came at a heavy cost. Khalief no longer being able to bear the burden of living in paranoia, took his own life.