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In America, a 16-year-old spent 3 years in jail without a trial for a crime he didn't commit.

Have you heard of Kalief Browder? If you haven't, you really need to.

In America, a 16-year-old spent 3 years in jail without a trial for a crime he didn't commit.
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Open Society Foundations

Imagine being put in jail for three years without a trial for a crime you didn't commit. At the age of 16.

You're a 16-year-old kid, a sophomore in high school, coming home from a party.

You're a 16-year-old kid. Some officers stop you and accuse you of stealing a backpack from a stranger. They arrest you with no evidence. They have no backpack, no fingerprints, and you have an alibi. They take you to Rikers Island.


You're a 16-year-old kid. You can't afford $10,000 in bail and neither can your family. You sit in Rikers Island prison. Waiting for a trial date. During your entire sophomore year of high school.

You're a 16-year-old kid. You are in a high security prison. You are abused by guards and inmates alike. Without a trial date. For almost three years.

You don't have to imagine it. Many kids have gone through this.

On May 14, 2010, 16-year-old Kalief Browder was picked up, and he was held, without trial, for 33 months in one of the most dangerous prisons in America without evidence.

GIF via ABC 7 News interview with Kalief Browder.

He was then released without charges — after five-six suicide attempts, after spending over 800 days in solitary confinement, and after The New Yorker exposed brutal beatings at the hands of the prison guards and prisoners.

For Kalief, leaving prison didn't make things better.

On June 6, 2015, after struggling from trauma and mental health issues stemming from three years locked up in a hole for a crime he didn't commit, Kalief died by suicide. He hung himself out his home's second-story window using the cord from an air conditioner. Make no mistake, the system broke him. And he's not the only victim.

There are over 400 others just like Kalief currently trapped on Rikers Island without justice.


According to a powerful (and disturbing) New York Times story, something that should be illegal in America has become the norm:

So how the hell do we prevent this from happening in the future?

In Kalief's case, there was no evidence of him stealing a backpack. There was no risk that he would harm anyone. He shouldn't have had to live in a 7-by-12 cell without a trial for three years simply because he couldn't afford bail. He was 16 years old when New York upended his life. A kid.

The Pretrial Justice Institute is fighting to prevent more stories like Kalief's. The first step, which has been successful in Washington, D.C., is to overhaul bail.


Most of the people in jail haven't had a trial yet and many are too poor to afford bail.

Jail, which is used for sentences under a year and for people awaiting trial, is actually mostly used for people who haven't had their day in court yet. This is different from prison, which is where people go for extended periods of time after they've been sentenced. It's unfair to the accused and an expensive waste of taxpayer money.

Being poor, statistically, puts you at much greater risk of going away for a long time.

Being in jail for a crime you haven't yet been convicted of can take a toll on your life.

At Rikers Island, some people can wait years for a trial. They get so desperate they plead guilty just to get out sooner.

But! There's a better way to handle this. Replace bail with something called "pretrial risk assessment."

It works like this:

People are evaluated on their risk factors. Those who are deemed a threat stay behind bars. Those who aren't likely to commit a crime while awaiting their court date are sent home with supervision.

Using supervision rather than jail is much less expensive for taxpayers and much more humane.

Here's how much it costs per day:

Risk Assessment is already working in Washington, D.C.

In 2011, only 20% of defendants were held in jail. 88% never missed a single court date. Only 12% had another arrest while awaiting trial. And only 1% of those released committed a violent crime while waiting for trial.

Imagine a world where people of all income levels were treated fairly in the court of law.

You don't have to imagine actually. You can learn more by watching John Oliver's segment on bail. And, more importantly, check out how you can help by visiting the folks who made this infographic:

They have a petition for the end of cash bail that you could sign that will be heading to Governor Cuomo's office.

Let's make sure we never see a 16-year-old kid have to say these words again:

GIF via ABC 7 News interview with Kalief Browder

You can watch an in-depth interview with Kalief prior to his death here, and you can learn more about Kalief's life and death from the reporter who covered his story. And you can also read The New Yorker's powerful obituary for Kalief.


Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."