Awaiting Justice

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Marvin Gaye sang about "The Inner City Blues" best: Make me wanna holler the way they do my life!  If only we could shout out the socio- eco- injustices in America's urban communities, the world would surely be a better place. No one knows this better than The Central Park Five. In 1989, Korey Wise, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson and Antron McCray had their youth snuffed out from them after being wrongly convicted of brutally raping a White female jogger in one of New York's historical landmarks. 

Although it only took 12 to 24 months to imprison these five Black and Latin male teens from Harlem; nearly 14 before the last of them was freed and 23 years to tell their truths in the The Central Park Five documentary (opening in theaters on Friday, Nov. 23), they will finally be heard. Directed by Emmy award-winning documentarian Ken Burns, his daughter Sarah Burns and her husband David McMahon, CP5 highlights the events, misconceptions, media outrage, police coercion, among other things that influenced their case through their personal accounts of their lives before and after their incarceration and exoneration.  

"This film lays out the truth," says Sara, the author of The Central Park Five: A Chronicle of a City Wilding. "We hope it helps to [examine] and change the techniques especially the illegal practices of how all suspects are [interrogated] and convicted." Producer McMahon expresses equal passion about their ultimate mission. "This film is about setting the record straight for those who don't know the whole story and creating an awareness to start a conversation about how this happened and the failures of all these different institutions from {the media to the law]." Four of the CP5 opened up to Blackamericaweb.com about giving back to the community, why they aren't bitter and their pending civil suit.   

Blackamericaweb.com: Thank you for sharing your truth and story in your new doc. How does it feel to finally have your say? 

Korey Wise: All I can say is that our revolution will soon be televised! 

Raymond Santana: After having to wear that negative label on our back for so long it feels like [freedom] all over again. 

Yusef Salaam: We are receiving so much love and I'm simply grateful that we're finally being heard. As Korey said God sent us three angels–Ken, Sara and David. 

Kevin Richardson: It feels great. Before the film we didn't have a voice from 1989 until now because the media coverage was so negative toward us that we were afraid to say anything. Although we always spoke of our innocence and had a few people behind us it's [liberating] to get out and speak to people 23 years later.  

Blackamericaweb.com: We can only imagine. Will you please state your ages and the length of your sentences? 

Wise: 40 and I served 13 1/2 years in an adult facility beginning at age 16. 

Santana: 38 and I served six and a half years.  

Salaam: 38 and I served 5 years in a juvenile facility and 2 in an adult. 

Richardson: 38 and 7 years –roughly 4 1/2 in juvenile and the remainder in an adult prison.  

Blackamericaweb.com: It took 13 years (nearly Korey's entire bid) before Matias Reyes, better known as the Upper East Side Rapist, confessed to committing  the crime that resulted in your imprisonment. Have you ever communicated with him since his confession? 

Wise: My only communication with him was in the beginning of my [sentence] at Riker's island. I was cleaning up and watching TV. I turned the channel to watch [Ralph McDaniel's] "Video Music Box" and [Reyes] came out just as the theme song was playing and turned it. I stopped what I was doing and told him to turn it back on and he stood in front of the TV and said he didn't want to watch it. That was my initial meeting with him. He later apologized and  at the time I thought it was for that incident, but now I believe he was apologizing for [me having to do a bid] for a crime he committed.  

Santana: As far as reaching out to him, it never entered my mind and I decided to let bygones be bygones and move forward. In the beginning you have mixed emotions. I was upset and grateful that he let the cat out of the bag and cleared [our] names.  

Salaam: No. He had been trying to do his time, found God in the midst and bumps back into Korey [in prison]. He and Korey were destined to meet again which started the process of our exoneration because he [grew a conscience] that he committed the perfect crime that caused innocent men to [do his time].  

Richardson: I never wanted to communicate with him, but I'm glad that he found some kind of spiritual connection and told the truth. He really had nothing to lose because he was already serving like 33 years to life. He ran up to Korey in a correctional facility and told someone, "That man, he's in here serving for something I did" and that's how [the truth] came out. The DA's office couldn't believe it because it had been 13 years and [Reyes] told them "if you don't believe me check my DNA evidence"…and there you go.    

Blackamericaweb.com: Your civil lawsuit for $50 million each is still pending. However, authorities have tried to subpoena footage and outtakes from the documentary. Why? 

Wise: They'll do anything not to admit they were wrong. 

Santana: These are stall tactics. 

Salaam: We are still fighting. It's just crazy that we were speedily convicted, but it's such a long, drawn out process to [compensate] us. 

Richardson: Because they are trying to hide something and they are getting revealed. They don't want it all to come out. Until recently no one heard our stories, only the D.A.'s. Now when people see our faces  and  hear us speak they can see the realness. There's nothing rehearsed. [This film] makes them see the pressure and ask "what have we done?"

Blackamericaweb.com: How has the community received you since you were exonerated? 

Wise: They welcomed me with open arms. I had done parole for a few months and  even my parole officer at the time opened his arms to me. There were some people who apologized. I look at it that the community was brainwashed and now it's all about moving forward.  

Santana: Even back then a lot of people believed we were innocent  and then there were some that had that question mark in their heads like, "I think he's innocent but who knows?" I was walking on egg shells, but now I've been vindicated so it makes me more proud that I can say, "I told you we were innocent!"  

Salaam: I was received very well. It's unfortunate but I believe [at some point] people tried to put me in a different category [than the others] because of the lack of a confession. I was the only one who did not give one, but we all were railroaded.    

Richardson: The community was always there for us. There were others who had doubts and then they started to realize and were ashamed that they did. But the media is strong and can persuade people. I say better late than never that people are starting to wake up, follow us and support us.  

Blackamericaweb.com: When it comes to transitioning, have you all continued to receive counseling? 

Wise: My counseling comes from my family and friends. This film has been very  therapeutic. This ordeal broke up my family and caused everybody post traumatic stress disorder. Now I just try to put on blinders and keep it moving.   

Santana: Honestly, I think we're still transitioning. When we came home and part of that counseling is admitting that you did the crime. So there were numerous times we were being threatened to be sent back back  because we wouldn't. There were habits I picked up in prison that I stopped repeating,  like being unable to focus when I'm in a crowded room. It's all a process.  

Salaam: Because we were considered sexual predators we had to receive sex therapy counseling. Eventually each one of us were kicked out because part of the therapy was to admit to the crime and we didn't so that was cut short. At some point I found my own therapist and we talk more about life, but that was something that I should have done when I first came home. Then it would have been a truer therapeutic session. [The counseling] was good, but just not long enough.  

Richardson: Yes and I still talk to many people. My family has been my counsel. I don't know where I'd be without them. They help me keep my sanity. People recognize me, congratulate me and tell me how they respect me for staying focused. It's good to hear from your peers in the community.

Blackamercaweb.com: Are you active in the community by mentoring other young men of color?  

Wise: [My life] has been an example for my mankind overall. Actions speak louder than words. Once upon a time I was involved in the Innocence Project, teaching and learning from my peers. When kids see me and how I live after all I've been through they know that how they live their lives is entirely up to them.  

Santana: Even before the film, we were active and talking to kids. Now that this film has been released it's putting a bigger spotlight on us. The demand might increase and I will continue to be active and move forward with the Innocence Project. 

Salaam: One of the things I always said to myself is that I don't believe I went through this without a reason. Part of the reason was to give back to the community. I get the opportunity to go speak with young people and it's such a heartfelt and warming experience.  

Richardson: I've been active and starting to speak. Everyone will definitely be hearing more of me. For a while, I was shy but now it's a different purpose and it's in my favor. It's positive and we need to be seen to share our stories.   

Blackamericaweb.com: Despite the injustice you endured, how have you managed to stay positive and smile in the face of adversity? 

Wise: It might be hard to believe that I'm saying this, but it's better late than never. I'm  hurt that I had to go from being a baby at age 16 to completing  an adult bid, but even when we don't understand, things happen for a reason. Again, I'm thankful to be able to move forward with my life.  

Santana: Those are years that can't be given back to us and we are trying to live life and this film happens to be one of the processes that brings a lot of healing  and gives us a chance to speak.  

Salaam: We were children and came home as adults, but we knew that there was this gap that we can't get back that doesn't necessarily allow us to function as adults function, but we functioned in spite of what happened to us. When you're bitter or angry, it's like a cancer and if you let it mestatisize, you might become that person they tried to make you out to be. I used to listen to Bob Marley all the time and he had a song that said "they are making me want to go bomb a church." Although it's more understanding to be angry and upset, it's even more beautiful to take those lemons and make lemonade and that's what we've done by putting our story in such a beautiful light.  

Richardson: I just keep believing there's a light at the end of the tunnel. We've been through worse and now it's all about being uplifting and moving forward. We lost our youth but now as men we can share what we know now and help the next generation. 

Blackamericaweb.com: After all is said and done what do you hope your legacy will be? 

Wise: My kids and my family are my legacy. Again, I hope that my overall actions speak louder than my words about the life I lived. 

Santana: Everything I do is for my eight-year-old daughter and family because I want her to look back and think highly of her father and understand what I stood for.  

Salaam: I was asked by someone who am I and I answered "Yusef." He said, "I know who you are, but who are you?" That's when I began devouring philosophical documents and scriptures and realized that the crime of Joseph (my name is also Yusef) in the Bible was also rape and for me that [spiritual] connection was made. I truly believe everything happens for a reason. I still remember when I was behind bars doing an interview with ["60 Minutes"] Mike Wallace and he asked why I thought this had happened to me. I told him I believed God was testing me and he mocked me. My only crime on April 19, 1989 was that I hopped the train. In the end, I hope to be counted as one of those who stood and maintained in spite of the system.  

Richardson: As a man where I came from and where I'm going, I realize that [the five of us] have a purpose. Even as a kid, I always wanted to help people and do things for people that were less fortunate than me.  I want to be known as the man that never gave up hope and always believed in the right thing and went through harsh times and is still a positive Black man moving forward in life. To think that we were once ashamed of being known as the CP5, but now it's a [badge of honor] that we carry proudly.   

 

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