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Mother of Kalief Browder, held in solitary confinement for years at Rikers Island, dies

RIKERS ISLAND — It was a sudden heart attack that claimed the life of Venida Browder, the mother of Kalief Browder, but her attorney says she died of a broken heart. She was 63.

Paul Prestia has represented the Browder family since the beginning, when the then 16-year old Kalief Browder was arrested on suspicion of stealing a backpack and was locked up at Rikers Island.

He maintained his innocence, refusing to plead guilty to a crime he says he did not commit. Browder's family could not make the $3,000 bail, so he sat in a jail cell for 3 years, while his trial was postponed again and again. Browder spent more than 800 days in solitary confinement, often thrown into violent fights with correction officers and other inmates which were caught on camera.

Browder was released in 2013 due to "lack of evidence," but the damage was done. He struggled to return to life in society and died by suicide in 2015, while his mom was not far away.

Venida Browder discovered her son's body hanging from the side of their home. From that moment on, she vowed to fight for criminal justice reform.

Just last week, she was able to witness a victory as New York City put an end to solitary confinement for inmates 16 to 21 years old.

Earlier this month, Venida sat next to hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, who is producing a six-part docu-series on Kalief Browder's life.

"I look at Kalief as a prophet," Jay-Z said.

It is a docuseries that will not include the loss of Venida, who died Sunday of an apparent heart attack.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito released this statement on her death:

"Venida Browder was a loving mother who fought tirelessly for justice. Despite the city failing her and Kalief, she firmly believed that we could work to create a more fair and just system. She was a champion of criminal justice reform. Venida was a woman of immense courage and boundless optimism. When you were with her, it was impossible to not feel hopeful about a better future. It is now up to us to continue her work. My deepest condolences to the Browder family."