Meet The Former Inmate Turned Activist On A Mission To Close Rikers Island
"Kalief Browder gave his life for a reason."
Glenn E. Martin was 16-year-old when he entered New York’s infamous Riker’s Island. By his second day at the facility, the the then teenager was stabbed four times, as corrections officers laughed and discouraged him from seeking medical attention.
It wasn’t until after he was transferred to a state prison that Martin recognized that issues within Rikers were unique to the facility that caused 22-year-old Kalief Browder to commit suicide.
“At a time when young people are trying to figure out their identity and who they are in this world, New York City sends them a strong message about their lack of value,” the former inmate and criminal justice reform advocate told the Huffington Post.
Martin, who earned a liberal arts degree behind bars, was released from state prison in 2000, describes Rikers as a place where “people are being tortured on a remote island 200 feet from La Gaurdia [Airport].” And he wants the facility to permanently close its doors.
“Kalief Browder gave his life for a reason,” said Martin, who is close with Browder’s brother, Akeem, and sat on a panel with his mother, Venita, before her death. “His mother said that what she really wants for her child is justice ... I think that keeping his story alive, keeping his sacrifice alive, helps us all to be reminded of why we need to be more urgent in our efforts to move toward a fairer criminal justice system.”
In 2016, he launched the #CLOSERikers campaign, and continues to do whatever necessary to “remind” New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio that Rikers is an issue that deserves urgent attention.
“There’s something about approaching Rikers and that penal colony that sucks the oxygen out of a person’s chest,” Martin explained. “Think of everything that makes [you] unhappy and think of all those things being applied simultaneously. It feels like a merging in all of the worst things this world has to offer and that human beings have to offer.”
Three years ago, Martin founded the JustLeadershipUSA an organization aimed at “cutting the US correctional population in half by 2030,” and empowering those affected by incarceration to help “drive policy reform.”