For Life: What Happens When It’s Guilty Until Proven Innocent

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ABC released a new legal drama titled For Life, which aired on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020. Produced by Rebecca Moline, this story is a fictional rendition inspired by the true life events of Isaac Wright Jr., an innocent inmate-turned-lawyer. Aaron Wallace, played by Nicholas Pinnock, is the main character of For Life and is loosely based off of Wright. The legal drama exposes the truth behind Wright’s wrongful conviction while showing the constant hardships and setbacks faced by all parties involved.

Although the show does not correctly interpret Isaac Wright Jr.’s experiences within the criminal justice system, the show accurately describes the struggles of inmates, whether they are innocent or guilty.”

In the late 1980s, prior to his conviction, Wright and his wife decided to move to New Jersey. As chief county prosecutor, Nicholas Bissell aimed to take down drug dealers during the height of the crack epidemic that lasted from the early 1980s to the early 1990s. Wright claimed he hung around the wrong crowd, which led the cops investigating the case to believe that Wright was an accomplice. He was charged in 1989 and convicted in 1991. Wright was given a life sentence and expected to spend at least thirty years in jail; however, he was released in 1996 after proving his and over 20 of his inmates’ innocence. That was the same year it was brought to light that Nicholas Bissell was corrupt and falsified reports and testimonies that led to Wright’s arrest, which later helped Wright when proving his own innocence.

Wallace begins the pilot episode by expressing the fact that he used to be a normal person and was not always, or ever, a criminal: “I used to be just like you. I had a wife I loved. I had a family and a home. I owned a business. I paid my taxes. I had my friends” (Season 1, Ep. 1; 0:02-0:23). After that, Wallace is seen returning to the same courthouse where he was wrongfully given a life sentence for a drug-related crime nine years earlier. This time, he was there as the defense counsel, helping his fellow inmate, Jose Rodriguez, prove that he did not buy the drugs that caused his ex-girlfriend to overdose six years prior. ADA Dez O’Reilly, who Wallace described as “one of the bastards that put [him] away,” was opposing Wallace in court during this retrial (Season 1, Ep. 1; 2:54-2:56). 

Wright was given a life sentence and expected to spend at least thirty years in jail; however, he was released in 1996 after proving his and over 20 of his inmates’ innocence.”

Aaron Wallace has a wife, Marie, and a child, Jasmine that are trying to move on while their husband and father sits in jail. Marie has moved on romantically, to help with the house, Jasmine, and life in general. However, Jasmine still believes there is hope for her dad and that one day he could get out. She resents her mother’s new relationship, as it is with her dad’s supposed “best friend.” This hardship led Jasmine through a dark hole, that ended her up getting pregnant while in high school. When Aaron found out, he promised to be with her as much as he could.

Although the show does not correctly interpret Isaac Wright Jr.’s experiences within the criminal justice system, the show accurately describes the struggles of inmates, whether they are innocent or guilty. It exposes the complications with cops: some try to get as many “criminals” off the street as they can, unaware that some may be as innocent as they say they are. Although our criminal justice system states that you are innocent until proven guilty, people like Isaac Wright Jr. and Aaron Wallace never had a chance to be innocent before they were guilty. 

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