There was a time when Kalief Browder was given a choice: Admit to a crime he didn’t commit and leave prison after already spending three years there, or maintain his innocence and potentially face 15 years behind bars.

Browder chose innocence.

“I felt like I had to fight, I had to fight,” Browder told HuffPost Live in 2013.

Browder was just 16 years old when he was picked up by police, accused of stealing a backpack and sent to Rikers Island without a trial or a conviction. There, life was a never-ending cycle of violence, hunger and fear perpetrated by his fellow inmates and wardens.

“It was like hell on Earth,” Browder told ABC News. “We were beaten, stomped by the correction officers. Hit with weapons.”

Browder’s court date kept getting pushed back indefinitely. The entire time, he insisted on his innocence.

His case never went to trial. The charges were eventually dismissed.

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By Abby Phillip June 8, 2015