Who Inspires Me: Korey Wise

Yes, I am aware that this must sound a little bit odd. Some of you might not even know who Korey Wise is. Some others probably have already watched Netflix limited series: When They See Us, and are wondering why I’m talking about only one of the central park five. I admire all of them. What they went through is something I won’t ever wish on my worst enemy. But I must admit, from all five boys, Korey Wise is the one that, at least for me, deserves to be on my “Who Inspires Me” section. So let me tell you a little bit about Korey’s story.

Back in 1989 there was a horrific crime committed in Central Park: one night, a young woman was brutally attacked, raped and left there to die. She survived, but she lost her sense of smell, she was left with some disabilities related to balance and loss of vision and she had no memory of the attack. The same night that this all happened, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana were at the park; they weren’t near the crime scene. Still, police arrested them and interrogated them, without the presence of a legal guardian or a lawyer even though they were still under 16. They built a case without any physical evidence against these kids. They were sent to juvenile facilities and  they served their time. Korey Wise wasn’t even a suspect. He went down to the police station to support his best friend Yusef, one of the suspects. However, when police realized they needed one more person to glue all the pieces to their broken puzzle, they decided to interrogate Korey. He had just turned 16 years old, which meant he didn’t need to have a legal guardian with him, and if he wanted a lawyer he had to ask for one. In her book “The Central Park Five”, Sarah Burns describes how Korey was especially vulnerable because of his “learning disability” and “hearing problems”. Korey was thrown into adult facilities at age 16. An innocent, sweet boy that was being nothing but a loyal friend, was sent to violent prisons, where he was abused physically and psychologically by other inmates and abusive guards. And as if this was taken out of some kind of novel where the author tries to write a killer plot twist, Korey encountered the real rapist in prison. Matias Reyes decided to confess to the crime after meeting Korey; later on was confirmed through DNA that Reyes was guilty. He had acted alone. Korey was released from prison and all five guys were exonerated.

Korey and the other four boys were manipulated and forced to confess on tape to a crime they didn’t commit

I don’t talk much about religion, because I’m still learning as I go. But one of the things I do believe is that we choose the life we are given before coming to earth. We choose the lives we’re going to live according to the lessons we need to learn. That way, we all have a purpose in life, but we have to figure out what it is as we navigate through the ups and downs of this human experience. That’s why some say that “God gives the hardest battles to his strongest soldiers”. I think that Korey was part of it all because he was strong enough to take it. Not that he deserved it or that it was all part of a divine intervention; this was an unforgivable mistake made by those that are supposed to be here to protect us. Korey Wise wasn’t a suspect. He was only trying to support his friend and ended up getting the longest, hardest sentence. As every other boy got out of prison, he was still in. And at the end, he was the reason why they were all exonerated. He was the reason why the truth came out.

Korey Wise and Ava DuVernay, creator of When They See Us. She said the other four boys wanted to make sure Korey’s story was heard, which is why they dedicated an entire episode to him

What he (and the other four boys) went through, was not fair. It was a lot more than an injustice. In Ava’s words (she is the writer and director of the series), this story is here to show us that the justice system is not broken; the justice system we have was built this way. It was built to protect some and oppress others. Some of the best detectives in New York at the time dared to interrogate and force a gentle, loving boy to confess a crime he didn’t commit. They took advantage of someone’s ignorance and disabilities and pinned a horrendous crime on them. They made the other four boys walk around for years with the word “rapist” written on their foreheads; society rejected them even after serving their time, for a crime they did not commit. Police had Reyes already under custody for four other rapes in NY, how come they never made the connection between those other rapes and the one in Central Park? Why were they so convinced that those five guys were “guilty”, even when the DNA in the semen, on the victim’s nails, on the blood on her clothes didn’t match any of the boys? Is it possible that they were all racists or was there something else?

NEW YORK, NY – MAY 20:(L-R) Kevin Richardson, Antron Mccray, Raymond Santana Jr., Korey Wise, and Yusef Salaam, collectively known as the “Central Park Five”, attend the World Premiere of Netflix’s “When They See Us” at the Apollo Theater on May 20, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)

Korey was deprived from so many things. He never had the chance to spend more time with his sister, who was murder while he was in prison. He lost his entire youth. His innocence was ripped away from him. But he still came out and made the best of it. He started the Korey Wise Innocence Project by giving a huge donation to an already existing program at the University of Colorado Law School.

Korey at the University of Colorado Law School

“The KWIP receives requests for help from people who believe they have been convicted despite being innocent of any offense, and evaluates these claims to see if there are factual and legal grounds to get back into court with the claims. When the KWIP learns of a case that appears deserving of further investigation, the case is referred for further evaluation to volunteer lawyers, who may be assisted by Colorado Law students.”

I think that, more than just feeling furious, offended and even disgusted, Korey’s story is here to teach us a different lesson. That no matter what life throws at you, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. That the next time you’re complaining about something as insignificant as not being where you want to be yet, remember that there is always someone out there having it a lot worse. We take things for granted all the time; things as simple yet so vital for human beings, as freedom. We forget that those simple things can be taken away from us in a split second. We live stuck in the past or worrying about the future, instead of living in the present. The home we have, the people we love and the ones that love us back. We, as human beings, can so easily sink in a pool of regrets, hate, pointing fingers and blaming the world. But we also have the power to turn a bad situation into something bigger than us.

Actor Jharrel Jerome (who played Korey on the Netflix show) posted this sweet message for Korey on Instagram: “The strongest man in the world. My brother, my inspiration, my teacher. I love you Korey.With all my heart and soul. Our bond and our connection could never be broken and it never will. You spent 14 birthdays in prison. 14 birthdays not getting to blow out your candle and make your wish, Now, today is the first time you get to celebrate your birthday with the entire world at your corner, cheering you on. They see you now King…

In my eyes, Korey Wise is a hero. He has my respect and admiration, and I think he deserves all the love in the world. He also inspires me to be a better person. I can’t wait for the day I can use the career I chose to help others and get involved in projects like the Korey Wise Innocence Project.

There will always be evil in the world; we all come equally from darkness and light; it’s our job to decide which one we want to bring out to the world. The fact that someone has been to hell, has experienced evil at its most powerful figure, and yet comes out giving light to the world gives me hope. And encourages me to bring out my own light too.

Thank you Korey Wise for not giving up. Thank you for showing us that we are so much more than just the bad things that happen to us. Thank you for being a lot more than what they did to you. For not letting them break you and for never allowing them to take your light. We see you now…

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”

Martin Luther King
Watch When They See us on Netflix. Here is the official trailer
You can also watch Oprah’s interview with the five exonerated on Netflix. Here’s a sneak peek
You can also follow Korey Wise on Instagram as @koreykingwise

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