MetroFocus: May 26, 2021

CHASING THE DREAM: “BETTER, NOT BITTER”

ONE OF THE FALSELY ACCUSED CENTRAL PARK FIVE TELLS HIS STORY

Yusef Salaam was one of The Central Park Five. At only 15 years old in 1989, he and four other children, Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise, were falsely accused of the brutal rape of a Central Park jogger. The Central Park Five did not become the Exonerated Five until their convictions were overturned in 2002, after Korey Wise encountered the actual rapist in prison and persuaded him to come forward. Salaam was incarcerated for seven years before being released and returned to society, forced to bear the label “parolee” rather than “innocent” man. Now the prison reform activist is telling his story, in his own words, from growing up Black in central Harlem in the ’80s to being raised by a strong mother and grandmother, through his years of incarceration, reentry, and exoneration. Tonight, as a part of our Chasing The Dream initiative, Salaam joins us with his inspirational memoir “Better, Not Bitter: Living on Purpose in the Pursuit of Racial Justice” to share the lessons and principles he learned that gave him the power to survive through the worst of life’s experiences.

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Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.

TRANSCRIPT

> THIS IS 'METROFOCUS.'

IT'S MADE POSSIBLE BY -- SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III SYLVIA A. AND SIMON B. POYTA PROGRAMMING ENDOWMENT TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM THE PETER G. PETER SEN FUND BERNARD AND IRENE SCHWARTZ BARBARA HOPE ZUCKERBERG AND BY JANETH PRINGLE PSYCH LER, JODIE AND JOHN ANHOLD.

JUDY AND JOSH WESTON.

DR. ROBERT SEE AND TINA SEWN FOUNDATION, THE JPG FOUNDATION.

GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME.

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

MORE THAN 30 YEARS AGO, NEW YORKERS LEARNED OF THE HORRIFIC TIME FOR THE FIRST TIME.

A FEMALE JOGGER HAD BEEN SEXUALLY ASSAULTED AND BRUTALLY BEATEN IN CENTRAL PARK.

A GROUP OF TEENAGERS WERE ARRESTED, CHARGED AND EVENTUALLY CONVICTED.

THEY BECAME KNOWN AS THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE.

THEY WERE ALSO VICTIMS OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.

IT WOULD TAKE OVER A DECADE TO UNCOVER WHAT AUTHORITIES SAY WAS THE REAL PERPETRATOR, YEARS, THE EXONERATED FIVE, AS THEY'RE CALLED, WOULD NEVER GET BACK.

ONE WRONGLY SPENT SEVEN YEARS BEHIND BARS AND TODAY HE'S A MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER AND PRISON REFORM ACTIVIST AND HE'S SHARING HIS STORY IN THE MEMOIR 'BETTER, NOT BITTER: LIVING ON PURPOSE IN PURSUIT OF RACIAL JUSTICE.'

FOR MORE ON HIS FIGHT, IT'S OUR PLEASURE TO WELCOME HIM TO THE PROGRAM.

HE JOINS US AS PART OF OUR ONGOING CHASING THE DREAM INITIATIVE ON POVERTY, JUSTICE, AND ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY IN AMERICA.

WEL WELCOME.

THANK YOU, JENNA, FOR HAVING ME.

MY PLEASURE.

ABSOLUTELY.

I WANT TO START OUR CONVERSATION OFF WITH THE WORDS THAT YOU START YOUR STORY WITH, AND THAT IS, OF COURSE, WE THEY DIDN'T KNOW WHO THEY HAD.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO BEGIN YOUR STORY THAT WAY AND WHAT DID YOU MEAN WITH THOSE SPECIFIC WORDS?

YOU KNOW WHAT, I FOUND QUITE OFTEN THAT LIFE TENDS TO KNOCK YOU DOWN, RUN YOU OVER, AND LEAVE YOU FOR DEAD.

FOR THE MOST PART, MOST PEOPLE PSYCHOSOCIALLY, THEY DON'T KNOW THEY MATTER, DON'T BELIEVE THEY MATTER BECAUSE OF ALL OF LIFE'S EXPERIENCES IS TEACHING THEM AND TELLING THEM THEY AREN'T WORTH ANYTHING AND THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER IS YOU ARE WORTH EVERYTHING.

THE FUTURE RELIES ON YOU TO BE YOUR BEST SELF, NOT YOUR WORST SELF.

THE ANCESTORS FROM YEARS GONE PAST ARE LOOKING AT YOU TO BE THEIR WILDEST DREAMS AND NOT THEIR WILDEST NIGHTMARES.

THE FACT THAT YOU WERE BORN, ONE OF OVER 400 MILLION OPTIONS, YOU MADE IT.

THE FACT YOU WERE BORN MEANS YOU WERE BORN ON PURPOSE, YOU ARE A WALKING MIRACLE.

AND PART OF THE -- PART OF THE -- WHAT AM I THINKING ABOUT, THE OPTIONS THAT WE HAVE TO GROW THROUGH IN LIFE IS TO TRY TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THAT PURPOSE IS.

THE GREATEST QUESTION MOST OF US HAVE HAD PLACED IN FRONT OF SULS WHY AM I HERE?

WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE DOING WITH MY LIFE?

NOT KNOWING WHO YOU ARE, NOT KNOWING WHO THEY HAVE, AND MORE IMPORTANTLY NOT KNOWING WHOSE YOU ARE IS A QUESTION THAT ONCE IT'S ANSWERED WILL REVEAL ALL OF LIFE'S SECRETS TO YOU.

THAT'S SO FASCINATING.

VERY INTERESTING I THINK ESPECIALLY TO HEAR YOU SAY THAT.

I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE MIGHT BE INSPIRED, EVEN SURPRISED JUSTS BY THE TONE AND TENOR OF THE BOOK WHICH YOU SET WITH THE TITLE, 'BETTER NOT BITTER.'

THE EXPERIENCE YOU WENT THROUGH, I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO HADN'T WALKED IN YOUR SHOES, THEIR INITIAL RESPONSE FROM LOOKING FROM THE OUTSIDE WOULD SAY BITTER MAKES PERFECT SENSE.

WHY WOULD YOU NOT BE BITTER?

TAKE US THROUGH HOW YOU CAME TO THE PLACE YOU ARE NOW GIVEN THE HORRIFIC EXPERIENCE YOU WENT THROUGH THAT SO MANY OTHER PEOPLE WILL LUCKILY EVER HAVE TO GO THROUGH.

ABSOLUTELY.

I THINK ABOUT MY LIFE.

I HAD THE AWESOME OPPORTUNITY TO HEAR THE WORDS OF NELSON MANDELA.

HE SAID LEAVE ANGER AND BITTERNESS INSIDE THE PRISON BECAUSE IF HE TOOK IT OUTSIDE WITH HIM, IT WOULD DESTROY HIM.

HE WENT ON TO SAY BEING BITTER IS LIKE DRINKING POISON AND EXPECTING YOUR ENEMY TO DIE.

I KNEW THAT I DIDN'T QUITE UNDERSTAND WHAT THAT MEANT, BUT I HEARD THE WORDS OF DR. MAYA ANGELOU WHO SAID YOU SHOULD BE ANGRY, YOU MUST NOT BE BITTER.

SHE SAID BITTERNESS IS LIKE A CANCER.

IT EATS UPON THE HOST.

IT DOESN'T DO ANYTHING TO THE OBJECT OF ITS DISPLEASURE.

THEN SHE TEACHES US THE ALCHEMY OF LIFE.

HE SAYS USE THAT ANGER, DANCE IT, MARCH IT, VOTE IT, DO EVERYTHING ABOUT IT, SHE SAYS, AND NEVER STOP TALKING IT.

IF YOU ALLOW LIFE, WHICH IS LOVING, KIND, OFTENTIMES NOT AS GENTLE AS YOU WOULD LIKE IT TO BE, YOU NEVER REALIZE THAT LIFE IS CREATING A SURVIVOR, IT IS CREATING A DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH.

IT'S ALLOWING YOU TO BE CHISELED AND SHAPED TO BE ABLE TO SHOW UP IN A TIME WHERE YOU NEED A STRONG BACKBONE TO LOOK AT YOUR OPPRESSORS, ESPECIALLY IF THEY HAVE THEIR KNEE ON YOUR NECK.

IMAGINE MY CASE, ONE OF FIVE INDIVIDUALS KNOWN AS THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE, 400 ARTICLES WERE WRITTEN ABOUT US.

IT WAS A TSUNAMI THAT WE WERE INTRODUCED TO THE WORLD WITH.

MOST PEOPLE DON'T SURVIVE TSUNAMIS.

IN THOSE ARTICLES WAS ONE OF THE MOST DEVASTATING, WHICH WAS THE AD THAT DONALD TRUMP PAID FOR IN 1989, TWO WEEKS AFTER WE WERE ACCUSED.

AND I WANT TO MAKE THAT PARTICULAR POINT SPECIFICALLY BECAUSE WE LIVE IN A COUNTRY THAT SAYS THEY'RE NOT DIVIDED BUT WE ARE THE UNITED STATES.

WE LIVE IN A COUNTRY THAT SAYS THERE ARE NOT TWO JUSTICE SYSTEMS BUT ONE.

BUT IN THE BLACK AND BROWN COMMUNITY, YOU ARE SEEN AS GUILTY HAVING TO PROVE YOURSELF INNOCENT.

THE SYSTEM SAYS THE EXACT OPPOSITE.

WE'VE SEEN COUNTLESS TIMES OVER AND OVER AGAIN, AT LEAST THE ONES WE'VE CAUGHT ON TAPE, THAT WE ARE THE ONES WHO ARE LOOKED AT AS A CRIME, AND WE ARE NOT A CRIME.

AND SO BEING BETTER AND NOT BITTER ALLOWS YOU TO TAKE THOSE LIMITS THAT LIFE GAVE YOU AND MAKE SOME LEMONADE.

IT ALLOWS YOU TO LOOK AT LIFE FROM A DIFFERENT VANTAGE POINT AND LOOK AT IT SAYING I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE HIT SO I COULD DEVELOP PERIPHERAL DIVISION, I CAN TEACH MY FAMILY OF THE DNA, THE BATON I'M PLACING BACK TO THEM HOW THEY CAN BREAK GENERATIONAL CURSES STARTING WITH ME.

IT'S IMPORTANT BECAUSE LIKE I SAID ALL OF LIFE IS TRYING TO RELEGATE YOU INTO THIS SPACE IN LIFE CALLED THE MARGINS.

AND YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE LIVING A FULL LIFE TO DIE EMPTY, NOT LIVING ON AISLAND SAYING SOMEDAY I'LL GET TO THIS OR THAT.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO WITH YOUR LIFE IS TAKE IT BY THE HORNS, FALL DOWN, I SAY IN MY LIFE, CARDI B SAYS KNOCK ME DOWN NINE TIMES I'LL GET UP TEN AND IT'S NOT IF YOU FALL, WHEN YOU FALL, LAND ON YOUR BACK BECAUSE IF YOU CAN LOOK UP, YOU CAN GET UP.

WOW.

I DO WANT TO BUILD ON A POINT THAT YOU MADE, AND THAT WAS OF COURSE ABOUT THE FORMER PRESIDENT, PRESIDENT TRUMP, TOOK OUT IN THE NEWSPAPER AND YOU SAID THAT WAS WHEN YOU WERE ACCUSED.

I'M WONDERING FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, DOING THAT, DO YOU BELIEVE THAT CHANGED THE TRAJECTORY OF THE CASE AND THE TREATMENT YOU RECEIVED AND HOW SO DO YOU BELIEVE THAT THAT ALTERED THINGS OR CHANGED THEM PERHAPS?

SO, IT'S DIFFICULT TO ANSWER THAT IN THE CONTEXT OF MY CASE.

I REALLY CAN'T ANSWER IT JUST IN THE CONTEXT OF MY CASE.

BUT IF WE DO A HISTORY LESSON, JUST WALK DOWN THE PATH BACKWARDS AND WE REALIZE THAT EVEN IN THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES WE READ THE WORDS, 'WE, THE PEOPLE,' AND THEN WHEN WE REALLY STEP BACK FOR A SECOND AND ANALYZE WHAT WAS GOING ON AND WHAT WAS HAPPENING IN THOSE TIMES, BLACK AND BROWN BODIES WERE NOT CONSIDERED FULL HUMAN BEINGS.

WE WERE CONSIDERED THREE-FIFTHS OF A PERSON.

THEY NEVER WENT BACK TO RATIFY THAT OR CHANGE THAT, I SHOULD SAY, NOT RATIFY IT, BUT NEVER WENT BACK TO REFORM THAT, BUT AS THEY WERE RATIFYING THE DOCUMENT, THEY MADE ALL OF THESE THINGS AND PUT ALL THESE OTHER THINGS IN IT.

WHEN YOU LOOK AT THINGS LIKE THE 13th AMENDMENT, A BEAUTIFUL FILM WAS DEVELOPED CALLED 'THE APRIL 13.'

MICHELLE ALEXANDER'S BOOK, WE LEARN THAT THIS IS THE MODERN-DAY COTTON FIELDS.

THE WORD SLAVERY IS IN THE 13th AMENDMENT, BECAUSE, WHAT, THEY ABOLISHED SLAVERY BUT THEN THEY ALLOWED IT TO CONTINUE BY ANOTHER NAME.

CONGRESS SHALL HAVE THE CAPACITY TO ENFORCE LAWS THAT ALLOWS THIS TO BE SO.

AND WE LOOK AT BLACK AND BROWN BODIES, WE SAY TO OURSELVES, WHERE ARE THE MEN?

I GOT TO PRISON AND HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO LOOK AROUND.

REALIZING THIS IS WHERE THEY DISAPPEARED US TO.

I LOOK AT DONALD TRUMP'S AD NOT IN THE CONTEXT OF MY CASE BUT AS A SYSTEMIC ISSUE THAT HAS ALWAYS PERMEATED SOCIETY, THIS IDEA THAT WE DON'T HAVE TO WAIT TO FIGURE OUT WHETHER THESE INDIVIDUALS ARE GUILTY OR INNOCENT.

THEY HAVE TO BE GUILTY BECAUSE OF THE COLOR OF THEIR SKIN.

WE JUDGE THEM BY THE COLOR OF THEIR SKIN AND NOT THE CONTENT OF THEIR CHARACTER.

THAT'S THE MOST UNFOERNL GNAT THING.

AS A YOUNG CHILD GROWING UP IN AMERICA, I NEEDED TO BE ABLE TO SEE AND UNDERSTAND WHAT MY MOTHER WAS TELLING ME, SHE WAS RAISED IN THE JIM CROW SOUTH.

TO BE AWAKENED IN THE WAY I WAS AWAKENED IS ONE OF THE MOST UNFORTUNATE THINGS.

BUT I WAS ABLE TO BE YOUNG ENOUGH TO BOUNCE BACK IN A WAY THAT WAS MEANINGFUL, BECAUSE NOW I HAVE A GLOBAL PLATFORM.

I LOOK AT WHAT DONALD TRUMP AS BEING THE NAILS THAT SEALED US IN THE COFFIN.

AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THAT, THEY PUBLISHED OUR NAMES, OUR ADDRESSES AND PHONE NUMBERS IN THE NEW YORK CITY NEWSPAPERS PEP WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT DONALD TRUMP'S AD, IT WAS A WHISPER INTO SOCIETY TO HAVE SOMEONE COME TO OUR HOMES TO DRAG US FROM OUR BEDS, AND TO DO TO US WHAT THEY HAD DONE TO EMMETT TILL.

PAT BUCHANAN WRITES ABOUT THIS IN IF PAPERS SAYING WE SHOULD TAKE THE ELDEST ONE AND HANG THEM FROM A TREE IN SPARQ AND WE SHOULD DO THIS BY JUNE 1st OF 1989.

THIS WAS THE CLIMATE.

I MEAN, I DON'T THINK IT HAD -- IT HAD EVERYTHING TO DO WITH MY CASE BUT NOTHING TO DO WITH MY CASE.

BUT EVERYTHING TO DO WITH THE RACISM AND OPPRESSION AND WHITE SUPREMACY AND WHITE MALE DOMINANCE THAT HAS ALWAYS EXISTED ON THESE SHORES.

WELL, FIRST OF ALL, THAT WAS INCREDIBLY POWERFUL.

AND JUST, AGAIN, THE WAY THAT YOU ARE ABLE TO RECALL AND SPEAK ABOUT THAT TIME PERIOD IN YOUR LIFE IS BREATHTAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL, ESPECIALLY UL CONSIDERING WHAT HAPPENED.

BUT I DO WANT TO TALK A LITTLE BIT BECAUSE YOU SPOKE ABOUT THE HUMANITY OF BLACK AND BROWN BODIES.

AND SO OFTEN WITH CASES LIKE YOURS, WE ONLY -- THE PUBLIC, I SHOULD SAY, ONLY REALLY MEETS THESE YOUNG MEN, THESE BLACK AND BROWN BODIES, AT THIS INFLECTION POINT OF THE ACCUSATION OF A CRIME.

CAN YOU TAKE ME BACK TO 1980s HARLEM AND TELL ME WHAT YOUR TEEN YEARS, HARLEM WAS LIKE AT THAT TIME?

WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR YOU?

YOU KNOW, THEY HAVE A NARRATIVE THAT STARTS OUT THAT SAYS SOMETHING LIKE IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES, AND IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES.

AND I THINK HARLEM IS REALLY A PLACE THAT THAT IS THE MOST TRUE.

THE HARLEMS OF THE WORLD ARE THE GHETTOS THAT PEOPLE HAVE RELEGATED BLACK AND BROWN BODIES TO.

IT IS THE REDLINING THAT HAS BEEN CREATED BY A SYSTEM THAT SAYS WE'RE GOING TO HAVE A CLASS SYSTEM THAT SAYS THESE ARE THE HAVES AND THESE ARE THE HAVE-NOTES.

BUT IT WAS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE BECAUSE WE DIDN'T KNOW ANYTHING MORE.

GROWING UP AND GOING OUTSIDE AND STEPPING OVER THE CRACKED BOWS THAT HAD BEEN PLACED INTO YOUR COMMUNITY BY THE GOVERNMENT, WHICH YOU DIDN'T KNOW, IT JUST LOOKED LIKE SKITTLES ALL OVER THE GROUND, AND GOING INTO THE ABANDONED LOTS, BUILDINGS THAT WERE DILAPIDATED AND FLIPPING ON MATTRESSES THAT HAD EXPOSED RUSTED COILS, THINGS WERE MOST CHERISHED BECAUSE IT WAS OUR PLACE.

DRINKING OUT OF JOHNNY PUMPS THAT HAD RUST ON THEM.

WE DIDN'T THINK ANYTHING BAD ABOUT THAT.

WE WOULD CLIMB UP THE TREES AND HAVE GREAT RUN AND RIDE SKATEBOARDS IF WE HAD THE MONEY TO AFFORD OR RIDE BICYCLES.

WHEN WE GOT THE OPPORTUNITY TO GO ACROSS THE STREET TO CENTRAL PARK, THAT BECAME OUR BACKYARD, ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACES IN NEW YORK BUT ONE OF THE MOST SACRED PLACES FOR ESTABLISHED NEW YORKERS.

WHEN THAT AD WAS IN NEW YORK CITY'S NEWSPAPERS, IT WAS ALMOST AS IF WE WEREN'T SUPPOSED TO BE DENIED CENTRAL PARK, THIS WAS NOT A PLACE WE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE ABLE TO COME TO.

EVEN THE CENTRAL PARK OF THE '80s, IF YOU LOOK AT SOME OF THE OLD PICTURES, YOU LOOK AT THE MIRROR THAT'S RIGHT THERE, AND THAT MIRROR WAS SMELLY, DISGUSTING, DEAD FISH FLOATING ON TOP, ALGAE THROUGHOUT THE WATERS, BUT WE WALKED AROUND THAT LAKE, AT LEAST IT FELT LIKE A LAKE TO US, YOU KNOW, TRYING TO BE ROMANTIC IN YOUR YOUTH, HOLDING HANDS AND THINGS OF THAT NATURE, THINKING ABOUT IF FUTURE OF THIS WEEKEND, I'M GOING TO RIDE MY SKATEBOARD AND DO THESE TRICKS I'VE BEEN SEEING PEOPLE DO.

IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST BREATHTAKING AND STILL IS THE MOST BREATH TAKING PLACE IN NEW YORK.

PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT HARLEM, THE WHOLE WORLDWIDE.

TO WALK ON 125th STREET, THEY CALL IT THE CROSSROADS OF THE WORLD, AND FOR ME IT'S HOME.

IT'S ALWAYS BEEN HOME.

YOU KNOW, WE MADE THOSE LEMONS MAKE LEMONADE AND MADE IT BEAUTIFUL AND, YOU KNOW, WE PLANTED ROSES IN THE CONCRETE, YOU KNOW?

WE BEAUTIFIED THE NEIGHBORHOOD IN ORDER FOR IT TO BE SOMETHING FOR US EVEN THOUGH THAT WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE WHAT IT WAS CREATED FOR.

WELL, YOU KNOW, WHEN YOU MENTIONED WHEN YOU FIRST GOT TO PRISON AND YOU SAW THE NUMBERS OF BLACK AND BROWN YOUNG MEN WHO WERE DISAPPEARED AS YOU SAID, THIS IS WHERE THE PEOPLE WERE DISAPPEARED TO, IF YOU WILL, A LOT OF TIMES WHEN WE DO STORIES ABOUT THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM, ONE THING THAT PEOPLE ALWAYS TRY TO PRESS UPON US IS THAT IT'S NOT JUST THE INDIVIDUAL DOING TIME.

IT'S ALSO THEIR FAMILY AND THEIR COMMUNITY.

I KNOW IN YOUR BOOK, YOU TALK VERY PASSIONATELY ABOUT THE WOMEN IN YOUR LIFE WHO KEPT YOU TOGETHER, WHO HELD YOU UP, AND WERE THERE THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE EXPERIENCE.

YEAH.

YOU KNOW, HAVING -- HAVING PEOPLE THAT CARE FOR YOU DEEPLY GO THROUGH EXPERIENCE WITH YOU ALLOWS ITS TO BE A MUCH MORE SOFTER BLOW.

BUT THE INDICATIONS THAT I REALIZED OF WHERE I WAS DIDN'T REALLY COME UNTIL I WAS IN CLINTON.

A MAXIMUM SECURITY FACILITY 15 MILES FROM CANADA.

ONE OF THE ELDERS WALKS UP TO ME AND ASKS ME THAT QUESTION.

I TALK ABOUT THAT IN THE BOOK.

HE SAYS DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR NAME MEANS?

IMAGINE EVERY DAY WAKING UP YOU HEAR THE WORDS, ON THE BEAT, ON THE COUNT.

YOU HAVE TO SAY YOUR NAME AND NUMBER AND YOU CAN GO BACK TO WHAT IT WAS YOU WERE DOING.

THE ELDER SAID THE NUMBER IS THE YEAR, TIME OF YEAR AND YOUR POSITION IN LINE.

IT'S A SHOCK TO UNDERSTAND THAT I WAS THE 1,113th PERSON TO ENTER THE DOOR.

AND NOW I LOOKED AROUND BECAUSE THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THAT NUMBER IS THAT- FEBRUARY 27th.

AT THAT PARTICULAR POINT IN TIME 1,112 PEOPLE HAD WALKED THROUGH THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX IN NEW YORK STATE PRIOR TO ME.

AND I'M FLOORED BY THAT BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, THE INDICATIONS IS THAT AS YOU PULL AT THE FABRIC OF THE FIBER OF COMMUNITY OF LIFE, OF HUMANITY, YOU LEVER YOUR HOMES.

IN MY CASE, HERE YOU HAVE BROKEN FAMILIES AND YOU HAVE PEOPLE TRYING TO MOVE FORWARD IN THEIR BROKENNESS.

MY MOTHER STILL ENCOURAGING MY SISTER AND BROTHER TO MAKE THE MOST OF THEMSELVES, AND THEY DID JUST THAT.

WERE ABLE TO GO TO COLLEGE AND COLLEGE DEGREES, BOTH OF THEM.

I THINK WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT THE -- THE UNKNOWNS, RIGHT, THE UNKNOWNS OF THE PEOPLE WHO ARE WOVEN INTO THE TAPESTRY IN THE BACK OF THE TAPESTRY, IT'S THE FAMILY MEMBERS.

QUITE OFTEN YOU SEE PEOPLE GOING TO COURT, COMING FROM COURT, BEING PARADED IN FRONT OF YOU, BUT YOU NEVER THINK ABOUT THE FAMILIES THAT HAVE BEEN HARMED BY THAT.

I'M NOT TALKING ABOUT THE PEOPLE THAT HAVE DONE CRIME, RIGHT.

WE LIVE IN A PLACE IN AMERICA WHERE, YOU KNOW, EVEN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM, WHEN IT'S WORKING, ISN'T REALLY WORKING, BECAUSE PEOPLE AREN'T AFFORDED THE OPPORTUNITY TO PAY FOR THEIR CRIME BY DOING THE TIME.

THEY'RE OFTEN PENALIZED OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

BUT FOR BLACK AND BROWN FOLKS, THOSE OF US WHO THEY CALL AFRICAN-AMERICANS, IT IS JUST WHAT JAMES BALDWIN SAID, BECAUSE HERE WE ARE IN AMERICA AND WE HAVE BEEN DENIED ANY TRUE HISTORY OF OURSELF, THAT WE ARE AFRICAN WITHOUT MEMORY AND AMERICAN WITHOUT PRIVILEGE.

WOW.

I ALSO WANTED TO ASK, BECAUSE YOU MENTIONED EARLIER ABOUT THE PROFOUND NATURE OF THE 13th DOCUMENTARY ON NETFLIX, AND I'M WONDERING, YOU MENTIONED -- YOU TALK ABOUT THE ROLE THAT THE SUBSEQUENT DOCUMENTARY, 'WHEN THEY SEE US,' WHICH CHRONICLES WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU AT THAT POINT IN TIME, WHERE DO YOU SEE THAT FILM FALLING INTO YOUR NARRATIVE FOR HEALING?

BECAUSE I UNDERSTAND IT WAS A VERY CATHARTIC EXPERIENCE TO BE PART OF MAKING AND TO SEE THAT SCREENED.

SO HERE WE ARE, FIVE INDIVIDUALS, FIVE PERSONALITIES, FIVE, YOU KNOW, SEPARATE AND DISTINCT PEOPLE.

AND WE GET THE OPPORTUNITY TO SHARE THIS REALLY HORRIBLE EXPERIENCE TOGETHER.

THAT EXPERIENCE CREATED A BROTHERHOOD THAT WE COULD HAVE NEVER IMAGINED.

SOME OF US DIDN'T KNOW EACH OTHER.

PERHAPS MOST OF US DIDN'T KNOW EACH OTHER GOING INTO IT.

WE BECAME A BROTHERHOOD.

COMING OUT OF IT, WE FOR THE MOST PART HAD ALREADY RELEGATED OUR LIVES TO HAVE THIS NASTY INDELIBLE SCAR THAT WE WOULD NEVER BE ABLE TO ERASE.

THE ONLY PERSON THAT WAS STILL LANGUISHING IN PRISON WHEN WE CAME HOME WAS CORY WISE AND WE RELEGATED OURSELVES TO THAT REALITY AND TRIED TO MOVE FORWARD BY PIECING OUR LIVES BACK TOGETHER, WANTING TO HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT.

IT WASN'T UNTIL CORY BUMPED INTO MATIAS THE SECOND TIME.

HIS SPECIALNESS HAS TO BE UNDERSTOOD.

HE COULD HAVE AT ANY MOMENT IN TIME KILLED HIMSELF TO GET OUT OF IT, LIED SO HE COULD COME HOME SOONER, OR ANY NUMBER OF THINGS.

BUT HE CHOSE TO KEEP WALKING THROUGH.

THEY SAY THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN GET THROUGH HELL IS KEEP WALKING.

HE BUMPS INTO MATEUS REYES AND HE TELLS THE TRUTH THAT HE DID THIS CRIME.

HE HAD PROOF NOT JUST BY HIS WORDS BUT HIS DNA PROVED THAT HE WAS THE ONE WHO DID IT.

YOU KNOW, IT HAD BEEN CREATED FOR US.

THE BOOKS THAT HAVE BEEN WRITTEN ABOUT US.

I'M THINKING ABOUT 'SALVE ANL PORTRAYALS' BY NATALIE BUYFIELD.

'THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE' BY SARA BURNS, WHICH TURNED INTO THE DOCUMENTARY 'THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE.

'I TELL YOU, IT'S ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL THINGS TO BE ABLE SO SEE YOURSELF CELEBRATED IN LIFE, TO BE ABLE TO SMELL THE ROSES.

BUT THE THING WE NEEDED WAS 'WHEN THEY SEE US.'

IT'S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL FILM BECAUSE EVEN THE TITLE ITS, YOU REALIZE IT'S PLAY ON WORDS.

YOU REALIZE THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT NOT ONLY THE FIVE OF US BUT WHEN THEY SEE US, THE GEORGE FLOYDS OF THE WORLD, THE BREONNA TAYLORS OF THE WORLD, THE SHONN BELLS, TRAYVON MARTINS, RIGHT?

THESE ARE JUST SOME OF THE NAMES.

'WHEN THEY SEE US' WAS CREATED AND THEN WE GOT THE OPPORTUNITY TO SIT IN THE ROOM WITH AVA DUVERNAY TO WATCH THE FINAL PRODUCT.

AS I DESCRIBE IN MY BOOK, WE WATCHED IT WITH GREAT ENTHUSIASM.

THEN ALL OF A SUDDEN WE STARTED HEARING SNIFFLES, AND THOSE SNIFFLES PROBABLY WERE ME SNIFFLING INITIALLY.

AND THEN WE STARTED CRYING.

AND WE HAD THIS MACHISMO THAT I KNEW I HAD, I CAME INTO THE ROOM WITH, WHERE, I'M, LIKE, I'M NOT GOING TO CRY, I'M A MAN, WHATEVER THAT MEANS.

ALL OF A SUDDEN I'M CRYING.

AND WE WERE BROKEN DOWN.

LIKE THE WHOLE OF US ARE BROKEN DOWN AND BUILT BACK UP AGAIN.

THEN THE CREDITS ROLLED AND THAT WAS PART ONE.

THEN PART TWO CAME ON AND WE WERE ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT THAT AS WELL.

AND THE SAME THING HAPPENED.

BROKEN DOWN AND BUILT BACK UP AGAIN.

THE SACREDNESS THAT WAS GOING ON IN THAT SPACE, THAT SACRED SPACE, WAS PROFOUND AND WAS NECESSARY BECAUSE BY PART FOUR WE WERE ASKED -- TOLD, RATHER, THAT THIS WAS A PART THAT WE COULDN'T WALK OUT OF THE ROOM, COULDN'T GET A BATHROOM BREAK, IF WE'RE GOING TO EAT SNACKS, GET THE SNACKS, BUT DO NOT LEAVE.

AND WE WATCHED PART FOUR.

AND PART FOUR WAS MORE THAN JUST US CRYING AND SOBBING AND BEING BROKEN DOWN AND BUILT UP AGAIN.

PART FOUR WAS THE NECESSITY WE NEEDED TO UNDERSTAND THE PAIN BEHIND CORY'S EYES, THAT THAT BECAME WHY WE WERE A SACRED BROTHERHOOD, THE THANKFULNESS WE HAVE TO OFFER FOR CORY WISE, FOR SURVIVING IN A WAY THAT WE COULDN'T HAVE IMAGINED.

YOU KNOW, WE HAD GONE THROUGH THIS HORRIBLE THING TOGETHER.

BUT LIFE WAS SOFTER FOR US THAN IT WAS FOR HIM.

WE HAD NONE OF THE HORROR STORIES THAT HE COULD TELL.

AND IT WAS IMPORTANT I THINK FOR US TO BE ABLE TO SEE THAT, FOR THE CITY TO UNDERSTAND THAT IT WAS BECAUSE OF THEIR MISTAKE THAT LIVES WERE FOREVER ALTERED, AND BECAUSE THEY CONTINUE TO GET IT WRONG -- SOMETIMES THEY GET IT RIGHT, BUT ONE PERSON IN PRISON IS ONE PERSON TOO MANY.

I SIT ON THE BOARD OF THE INNOCENCE PROJECT AND A LOT OF THE WORK WE DO IS TO FREE PEOPLE, NOT BECAUSE OF MISTAKE BASE THE COURT BUT BECAUSE OF THE DNA WE ARE FINDING THAT PROVES THAT INDIVIDUALS ARE ACTUALLY INNOCENT OF THESE CRIMES.

YOU LOOK AT THE CASE OF THE CENTRAL PARK JOGGER, BECAUSE THEY GOT IT WRONG, IT ALLOWED FOR THE REAL PERP RAY OR THE TO BE OUT THERE CONTINUING TO DO MORE CRIME,. A LOT OF THE OTHER CASES, BECAUSE THEY GET IT WRONG, SOME OF THESE INDIVIDUALS HAVE BEEN IN PRISON FOR UPWARDS OF 40 YEARS, AND THEN IT'S FOUND THEY HADN'T DONE THIS CRIME THAT THEY WERE CONVICTED OF.

SOMEONE ELSE'S TIME THEY WERE DOING.

THEY LOST THEIR WHOLE LIVES BEHIND THE PROCESS.

YOU KNOW, AND WE HAVE TO HAVE A BETTER JUSTICE SYSTEM.

I THINK WHAT WE'RE SEEING IN THE STREETS AND IN THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF PEOPLE IS THAT WE ARE ACTUALLY NOW THE PEOPLE.

IT'S TIME FOR REFORM OF THE WHOLE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.

ABOLITION, LIKE, DEFUND, ALL OF THOSE WORDS HAVE MEANINGS BEHIND THEM THAT HAVE BEEN CO-OPTED BY THE SYSTEM THAT WANTS YOU TO BE AFRAID OF EVERYTHING THAT CHANGE USHERS IN.

THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER IS WE ARE THE KALEIDOSCOPE OF THE HUMAN FAMILY, AND THOSE OF US WHO HAPPEN TO BE CHILDREN OF FORMER SLAVES OR SLAVE OWNERS WANT BETTER FOR THE FUTURE FOR ALL OF US.

SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III SYLVIA A. AND SIMON B. POYTA PROGRAMMING ENDOWMENT TO FIGHT ANTI-SEMITISM THE PETER G. PETERSEN FUND BERNARD AND IRENE SCHWARTZ BARBARA HOPE ZUCKERBERG THE AMBROSE FOUNDATION AND BY JANETH PRINGLE PSYCH LER, JODIE AND JOHN ANHOLD.

SHERYL AND PHILLIP MILSTEIN FAMILY JUDY AND JOSH WESTON.

DR. ROBERT SEE AND TINA SEWN FOUNDATION, THE JPG FOUNDATION.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, The Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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