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ABC's 'For Life' Sheds A Light on Inequities in the Criminal Justice System

Gettyimages | Steven Ferdman
By Shadress Denise

ABC’s newest show, ‘For Life’ has aired and is a breath of fresh air. Created by Hank Steinberg, the anticipated show was first announced in spring 2019, by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson who is also one of the show’s executive producers. For Life also stars lead actor, Nicholas Pinnock (who plays Aaron Wallace), Indira Varma (Luther, Carnival Row), Mary Stuart Masterson (The Insurgents), Tyla Harris and Joy Bryant—who previously partnered with Jackson in his acting-debut film, ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’.

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The heavily promoted drama with tons of issues to unpack sheds a light on the real-life story of Isaac Wright Jr. Wright, 45, an inmate turned lawyer, was charged and wrongfully convicted in New Jersey. Prior to his run-in with the law, Wright was an entrepreneur and was involved with the music industry. In 1989, Wright was arrested and charged with drug trafficking cocaine. During his trial and even afterwards, Wright consistently proclaimed his innocence and insisted he was being railroaded by the criminal justice system.

“This wasn't just a rogue cop. This was the chief law enforcement officer threatening to plant cocaine,” Wright said about Bissell to Esquire during an interview. “So there was just this air of criminality going on in the prosecutor's office before I even moved to New Jersey. And then I ultimately got snared up in that.”

Wright’s pleas were ignored when he was convicted in 1991 under New Jersey’s Kingpin statute but were later revisited once the lead prosecutor committed suicide. At the forefront of his prosecution was former Chief County prosecutor Nicholas Bissell. Bissell was later convicted on several other felony charges. In the show, Bissell’s character is named Glen Maskins, and is played by Boris McGiver who is running for Attorney General. Like in his real life, Maskins is dead set against freeing Wallace and continues his corrupt cover-up so the wrongfully accused never uncovers the truth or sees the light of day.

The show’s many layers mirrors what many black and brown people in America face daily regarding the racial inequities and bias they encounter when dealing with the criminal justice system. Everything from racial profiling, evidence planting/tampering, false witness testimonies, wrongful arrest, prosecutorial and judicial misconduct, corruption to over sentencing—minorities are railroaded by the very system that should be protecting them. While in prison, Wallace finds a way to obtain his law license, so he can fight and hopefully, free himself.

Gettyimages | Barcroft Media

While trying to prove his innocence, Wallace manages to get other prisoner’s sentences vacated. In real-life, Wright was able to help over twenty prisoners get out of prison and/or have their sentences reduced. The show’s background is set in a prison in New York City. Although only two episodes have aired, viewers can take a glimpse into inmate life and the continued mistreatment and injustices many of them are confronted with while behind bars.

The compelling story line surface layers are entertaining while its depths showcase how prisoners are entangled in politics before and after they enter the prison gates. At its nucleus, “For Life’ naturally shifts focus on a long-standing issue that has not only been abused but swept under the rug. As each episode airs it lays the groundwork needed to have a conversation on the immediate need for criminal justice and prison reform.

The show airs on Tuesdays at 9 PM EST on ABC.

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