In When They See Us, Jharrel Jerome of Moonlight portrays Korey Wise (formerly Kharey Wise) as he served more than 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Luckily, in 2019 Korey Wise is free now, but he has stated that watching Netflix’s miniseries about this part of his life is difficult to watch. Still, he and the other members of the "Central Park Five" — Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, and Yusef Salaam — worked with Ava DuVernay to tell their devastating story. And recently, Wise has been helping others who may find themselves in a similar position.
As The New York Times reported in its coverage of When They See Us, McCray, Richardson, Santana, Salaam, and Wise were all arrested in 1989 for the rape and assault of a female jogger in Central Park. Although he wasn’t even initially a suspect, the 16-year-old Wise accompanied his friend Salaam to the police station where he was charged for this brutal crime as well. In 1990, The New York Times reported that Wise was found guilty of sexual abuse and assault. As the oldest of the Central Park Five, Wise was the only one tried as an adult and he faced up to five to 15 years in prison, according to the Los Angeles Times. Upon leaving the courtroom, Wise reportedly told prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer, "You’re going to pay for this. Jesus is going to get you. You made this … up."
As the 2012 Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon documentary The Central Park Five showed, Wise was the only one still serving time for this crime when convicted criminal Matias Reyes confessed to raping and beating Trish Meili on his own. Reyes’ confession came in 2002 — 13 years after the crime had been committed — and he was actually moved to tell the truth due to an encounter with Wise. Per New American Media via Highbrow Magazine, Wise recounted his interaction with Reyes while participating on a panel on wrongful imprisonment in 2013.
As Wise told it, he and Reyes had gotten in an altercation over a TV at Riker’s Island back when Wise was first imprisoned. Thirteen years later at Auburn Correctional Facility, Wise and Reyes met up again. Reyes had recently discovered religion and evidently felt guilty that Wise was still serving time for a crime he had committed, so Reyes confessed. DNA evidence confirmed Reyes’ story and in December 2002, the Central Park Five were exonerated.
In 2014, the city of New York gave the five men a $40 million settlement — approximately $1 million each for every year they were wrongfully incarcerated. At the time of the settlement, Wise told New York Daily News, "I feel good. Things are good."
Wise used some of his settlement money to help others who might face injustice as well. In 2015, he gave $190,000 to the Innocence Project at the University of Colorado Law School. The school went on to name this arm of the Innocence Project after him. "Korey is very happy to be able to give back to the community; it is something that he has always wanted to do," Wise’s lawyer Jane Fisher-Byrialsen said of his donation.
Before contributing to DuVernay’s When They See Us, Wise also participated in the Burns documentary. He noted how although he was 16 at the time of his arrest, he had only felt like he was 12. He also discussed how his father had died while he was in prison. "You can forgive, but you won’t forget. You won’t forget what you lost. No money could bring that time back. No money could bring the life that was missing or the time that was taken away," Wise said.
As the paper AM New York reported, Wise is the only one of the Central Park Five to still live in New York City. He publicly speaks about his experience to raise awareness about criminal justice reform and he continues to be recognized for his advocacy efforts. As Wise shared on his Instagram account, he was given the Man of Vision Award by the NYC branch of Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in March 2019.
Still, the 46-year-old Wise must live with the fact that he was imprisoned for nearly a quarter of his life for something he didn’t do. In his New York Times interview about the Netflix miniseries, Wise said, "This series is talking to my pain. I’m enjoying it; at the same time, it hurts."
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