Korey Wise speaks on prison reform to Birmingham congregation

Nov 27, 2019

  

CBS 42 anchor Art Franklin is on the pulpit of the historic 16

th Street Baptist Church in downtown Birmingham. He’s the moderator for the first stop in the Korey Wise, Wise Up Tour.

“How difficult was it Korey for you to watch When They See Us?” Franklin asks. 

Wise gets choked up and says, “Hard… hard."

The two are sitting in of front hundreds, including public officials. Wise is one of the black teenagers who became known as the Central Park Five. The boys, ranging in age from 14 to 16, were falsely convicted and imprisoned for assault, sexual abuse and riot. Wise is on tour to talk about the impact of the case, not just on him, but on pop culture.

Wise’s story is featured in the critically acclaimed Netflix Series When They See Us. It was directed by Academy Award nominated director, Ava DuVerney. Thirty years later the men are now known as the Exonerated Five.

“Pretty much my journey started from 1989 April 21. I had a fellow brother with me,” Wise said as he began to share his story.

Jharell Jerome is the actor who portrayed Wise in the series When They See Us. He took home this year’s Emmy for best leading dramatic actor in a limited series.


Wise was in Alabama to kick off his Wise Up Tour. He’s spreading the word about criminal justice and criminal justice reform and says that it’s a social justice issue.

Wise was not on a list of people police wanted to question. But his best friend at the time, Yusef Saalam, was. Both are now members of the Exonerated Five. Wise didn’t want his friend to go alone, so he went to the station with him.

“So I went up with him. And I went up. Long story short from that. I ain’t get back till 14 years later,” Wise said.

Even though Wise was not supposed to be questioned, the officers encouraged him to come to the station with his friend. What Wise says he didn’t know at the time was that being a teenage black male matched the type authorities were looking for in connection to the crime.

“Till this very day I will always say I was kidnapped," Wise said. "I wasn’t arrested I was kidnapped.”

Out of all the boys Wise somehow managed to have the longest sentence after being coerced to confess to crimes he did not commit. It was not until 14 years after his wrongful sentencing that the one man who actually committed the crime confessed and passed DNA test to match the DNA found at the crime scene that all of the Exonerated Five failed to match.

In 2013 the five won a lawsuit against the state of New York where their settlement totaled in $41 million. Wise received the most out of the five since his sentence was the longest.

Today, Wise is known as an advocate for criminal justice reform. He works to exonerate other men who have been falsely convicted of crimes they did not commit with the organization the Innocence Project. His tour will continue to make stops nationwide.