Season 1 of Serial, and Season 1 of Undisclosed, examine the case of Adnan Syed, an American of Pakistani origin, who still in prison for a 1999 murder for which a judge has required a new trial–but he can’t get out of jail while the state of Maryland is appealing that ruling. Syed was 17 in 1999. Chaudry is a personal friend of Syed’s, and got the ball rolling with Serial, and then moved on to start her own more detailed podcast about the crime. Season 2 of Undisclosed digs into the case of Joey Watkins, also still in prison for a murder he cannot physically have committed.
In Season 3, after completely drawing me in to the stories of Syed and Watkins, Undisclosed took a brief look at the case of Jamar Huggins, and has now moved on to an extremely deep dive into the globally publicized death of Freddie Gray in police custody.
As most people know, Gray was arrested in January 2015, and never spoke or walked again after his arrest. A highly-publicized trial of six Baltimore City police officers resulted in no convictions. The Undisclosed team reporting on Gray’s arrest and subsequent death are Rabia Chaudry, journalists Justine Barron and Amelia McDonell-Parry, and Dr. Marcia Chatelain (professor of African-American Studies at Georgetown University).
Barron and McDonell-Parry have taken amazing pains to deconstruct what happened to Gray, second by second, based on the Baltimore Police Department’s story, the stories of eye- and earwitnesses (many of whom voluntarily came forward to the police and the press but were never interviewed or testified at trial), the mysteriously convenient cameras which watch the low-income Gilmor Homes neighborhood where Gray lived and will never return (but somehow don’t seem to watch the police), and more.
This series, now five episodes in, is very painful to listen to. When I want to turn it off, I remind myself that Freddie Gray didn’t get to turn it off, and neither did his family, friends, and neighbors. Nor do they still. Besides, if you can hear anything through the pain, it is also fascinating.
The Undisclosed team is among a huge chorus of voices recommending Time: The Kalief Browder Story, a six-episode TV series from SpikeTV, produced by Jay-Z, Harvey Weinstein and David Glasser (viewable online at the link until 7/30/17).
Browder, again as many know, was arrested in 2010, at age 16, for allegedly stealing a backpack. He was never tried, let alone convicted, but he spent three years in New York’s notorious Rikers Island prison, undergoing unspeakable assaults. Jenner Furst, the director of Time, somehow obtained some extremely rare and apparently inexcusable footage of what actually happens at Rikers Island, including documenting the complicity and participation of the prison guards. In addition, Browder spent a substantial portion of his Rikers Island time in solitary confinement (now illegal for inmates under 21).
Browder was released in 2013, and committed suicide in 2015.
I don’t want to watch Time. But, as with the audio of Freddie Gray, I remind myself that Browder didn’t want to and should not have gone through his ordeal. So I will.
For me, listening to and watching these accounts is an act of bearing witness, a way of making myself remember how racist and corrupt the “system” of police/prosecutors/judges/prison guards is, and how relatively protected I am. Spending time in other people’s hells is not for everyone. I understand and support your right to choose your own level of immersion in other people’s pain. If you’re white, if you’re privileged enough to make that choice, knowing that these stories exist, paying as much attention to them as you can afford, is one small piece of committing to a time and place when they can be told as history, and not as news.