The new legal drama from ABC, For Life, is different than others on the air in that it’s based on a true story. While the show is fictionalized, the main character, Aaron Wallace, is inspired by the life of a real man named Isaac Wright Jr.
In the show, Aaron Wallace is an imprisoned man who becomes a lawyer while in prison, litigating cases for other inmates while also trying to get his own sentence overturned.
The series description says that Aaron’s “quest for freedom is driven by his desparate desire to get back to the family he loves – his estranged wife and daughter – and reclaim the life that was stolen from him.”
The series will also examine flaws in the US penal and legal systems.
The Sentencing and Lawsuits of Isaac Wright Jr.
Before Wright was arrested, he was an entrepreneur and had never been part of the legal system before. He had faith during his trial that he wouldn’t be convicted and the legal system would do its job. He told Esquire, however, that he knew early on that he’d be going to prison for life.
“I knew early on that I was going to prison for the rest of my life and that there was nothing no one was going to be able to do to help me,” he said. “Even on the witness stand at trial, there were people up there and I had no clue who they were. I had never seen them a day in my life and they were pointing the finger at me saying that I was their boss.”
In August 1989, Wright was indicted and charged with leading a drug trafficking network. He was also charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, maintaining or operating a narcotics production facility and conspiracy to distribute cocaine. After representing himself at trial even though he only had a high school degree and no legal experience, Wright was found guilty in 1991 and sentenced to an aggregate term of life in prison with a thirty-year period of parole ineligibility.
How Did He Get Out of Prison?
Beginning in the late 1980s, New Jersey was home to Nicholas Bissell, a chief county prosecutor who said he was hard on crime and drug trafficking while also acting like a crime lord himself.
By the mid-1990s, Bissel was convicted of multiple felonies and confined under house arrest. After going on the run, he died by suicide to avoid going to prison.
Because Bissell had been essential in Wright’s prosecution, a judge ordered Wright to receive a new trial. The new prosecutor chose to delay his retrial indefinitely, so after making bail Wright was free after spending more than seven years behind bars.
What Did Wright Do After Prison?
After his time spent in prison, Wright completed his college coursework and went on to law school, passing the bar exam in 2017.
He now works with New Jersey law firm Hunt, Hamlin and Ridley as a general practitioner who specializes in criminal law.
A few years ago, Wright met 50 Cent after being contacted by an illegal fight club in the Bronx where rappers often performed in between fights. 50 Cent wouldn’t take the stage until that club got its license, so they contacted Wright to make it happen, and he did.
Wright was able to tell his story to the rapper, and they contacted the right people to get For Life made. Wright told Esquire he’s grateful that his story is getting so much attention now if only to bring attention to the fact that prosecutors control so much in the criminal justice system.
“The moment an arrest is made, they put out a press release to the media and the media follows that narrative,” he said. “They do that to control the destiny of the person they’re going to be prosecuting.”
In 2017, Wright returned to the same courtroom where his trial was held, but this time as an attorney. He told Medium why he decided to help.
“I went to law school for one reason and one reason only,” says Wright. “To slay giants for a price. And if the giant is big enough and the cause is important enough, I’ll do it for free, especially when it involves helping those who cannot help themselves.”
For Life premieres tonight, Feb 11, 2020, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.