20-year-old Kalief Browder may be physically free, but mentally he is still trapped behind bars on Rikers, where every day was a battle to survive.
"It's very hard when you are dealing with dudes that are big and have weapons and shanks and there are gangs," says Browder, "you know if you don't give your phone call up, or you don't give them what they want you know they are going to jump you. And it's very scary."
In May of 2010, Browder was a 16-year-old tenth grader, walking home on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx after a party. "This guy comes out of nowhere and says I robbed him. And the next thing I know they are putting cuffs on me. I don't know this dude. And I do over three years for something I didn't do."
Browder's family couldn't make the $10,000 bail on the robbery charges, and he had a legal aid attorney. Browder is now represented by a civil rights law firm.
"Someone who did not know Kalief Browder, and simply told the police officer, 'Officer I was robbed two weeks ago and that kid did it', that's where it ended. That was the identification," said Browder's attorney, Paul Prestia. Browder said that at the time, the stress was overwhelming, and at some point he tried to commit suicide.
"I mean like every time I go to court, I think I'm, going home, and I go to court, and absolutely nothing happens," adds Browder, "I was feeling so much pain, and it was all balling in my head, and I just had to grab my head and I can't take it."
He missed his sister's wedding, the birth of his nephew, and so many family events. In January, Browder says he was offered a plea deal after 33 Months in jail, which he refused.
"The judge was trying to give me time served, and she is telling me if I am not taking it and I lose at trial I can get 15 years," notes Browder.
Browder went back to jail, and in June, he was freed with no explanation.
"They just dismissed the case and they think it's all right. No apology, no nothing," he says, "they just say 'case dismissed, don't worry about nothing'. What do you mean, don't worry about nothing? You just took 3 years of my life."
Browder is now trying to make up for those three years of high school that he lost by taking courses to get his GED. "I didn't get to go to prom or graduation. Nothing," Browder says, "those are the main years. They are the main years. And I am never going to get those years back. Never. Never."
Browder is trying to move forward. He expects to get his GED by the end of the year, and is desperately trying to find a job.