Korey Wise is one of the Central Park Five. He was 16 years old when he was arrested in 1989 in connection to the rape of Trisha Meili, known then as the Central Park jogger. Wise was convicted along with Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, and Kevin Richardson. He was the only one to be tried as an adult, and was convicted of assault, sexual abuse and riot. He was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison. He spent over 11 years in prison by the time he was released.
In 2002, Matias Reyes, a serial rapist, admitted his guilt and a DNA test exonerated the five men. Reyes had met Wise in prison, and learned that Wise had been convicted of the crime. Reyes claimed he had a crisis of conscience, which eventually led to his coming forward to admit the crime.
Following the exoneration of the five men, the City of New York agreed to pay them a settlement of $41 million, which was approximately one million for each of their years spent in prison. Per the University of Michigan Law School, Wise was set to receive $12.25 million of that settlement. When They See Us, a four part series on Netflix directed by Ava DuVernay, explores the famous and heartbreaking historical event.
Here’s what you need to know about where Wise is now:
Korey Wise Is an Award-Winning Activist & Public Speaker
Korey Wise, 46, is now an activist, still living in New York. He even received a “Man of Vision” award in March from the NAN NYC Women’s Auxiliary Chapter, per his Instagram. Wise has also worked extensively with The Innocence Project. In 2015, his $190,000 donation to the Innocence Project chapter at the University of Colorado Law School led to the renaming of the chapter, to the Korey Wise Innocence Project at Colorado Law.
Korey Wise was 16 years old when his friend, Yusef Salaam, was taken in for questioning by police related to the jogger case. Wise originally only went with his friend for moral support, and wasn’t a suspect at the time. He was eventually charged in relation to the crime, though, and spent a full 14 years in prison, the longest of any of the Central Park Five.
It was Wise who had a random encounter with Matias Reyes in the prison year of Auburn Correctional Facility in New York in 2001. His conversation with Reyes in prison would eventually lead to Reyes’ conviction in the case, and Wise’s total exoneration.
According to Vanity Fair, Wise spent a portion of his prison time at Rikers Island, and experienced years of violence, solitary confinement, abuse, and rarely received visits from his family. Director DuVernay told the publication that Wise is a “walking miracle,” saying,
I’ve never met anyone like him. Every time I sit with him and every time I talk to him, I think, How are you walking and talking? When you hear, see what he’s gone through, he’s a walking miracle, he really is. And he’s really brilliant. I call him ‘the Prophet,’ because you sit down with Korey for a while and you come away with some gems. I’m lucky that I have that.”
Jharrel Jerome, the actor who plays Wise in the Netflix series, also reiterated how rarely Wise talks about his time in prison. He said, “If he had a story to tell about jail, it was about the one or two friends he would meet. It was about how bad the food actually is. It was about what it was like to play basketball and to work out.”
Jerome added, “I felt like he was trying to make sure that I knew that there’s more than just the pain and the hurt. That he spent all these years fighting to be a better person, even though the world was trying to make him the worst person he could be.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Wise explained what it was like to see his story told again. He said, “This is life after death. I always say that. From now on I know what Biggie was talking about. There’s life after death.” He added, “This series is talking to my pain. I’m enjoying it; at the same time, it hurts. But I guess when it comes down to it — people are going to enjoy it. They’re going to enjoy this summer blockbuster.”
Salaam also talked to the publication about the guilt he felt for being the reason Wise was implicated in the crime to begin with. He said,
When I saw this series, I immediately realized that we were in paradise compared to the hell that Korey was in. His was unrelenting. I went to jail and I was able to get a college degree. He never got an opportunity to breathe, to meditate, to just say, ‘Phew, man, that was really crazy today. Let me kick my feet up a little bit and read this magazine.’ That reality — pain, I think, is a better word — is knowing that he came because of me. Offering an “I’m sorry” doesn’t seem adequate. And I’ve been able to say that to him, but I also realized that that’s not adequate enough to know what he went through, or that he could have been killed in prison. He almost was. It’s not enough. And I have a direct role to play in that.