Last Words (2017)
Last Words is part of a larger work-in-progress entitled Unseen, a musical composition about Kalief Browder. In 2010, the 16-year-old Browder was accused of stealing a backpack. Unable to post bail, he was held on Rikers Island without trial for three years, spending two of them in solitary confinement. Browder committed suicide in 2015, two years after his release.
Last Words imagines Browder's final hours, on the night of June 5, 2015. The text comes from a conversation that Browder’s mother, Venida, shared with Jennifer Gonnerman of The New Yorker. Gonnerman writes: “his mother explained that the night before [he took his own life], he told her, ‘Ma, I can’t take it anymore.’”
Venida Browder fought relentlessly for her son’s release, and, after his suicide, shared his story in support of criminal justice reform. She died of heart failure in October 2016 at the age of 63. Last Words is dedicated to her memory.
(Audio of Venida Browder courtesy of The Marshall Project; photos by Zach Gross.)