The Gift of Innocence

I live in New York City, and I see (in)famous people everywhere, from A-List movie stars to that guy who played a corpse on a 1998 episode of Law & Order. (Why, oh why, can't I commodify this "talent"?!) Just a few days ago, in one 24-hour span, I saw Brooke Shields, Ethan Hawke, and Paul Giamatti, all while going about my daily life. When I first moved here six years ago, I would mention in passing to friends that I had seen this or that person, and they'd invariably say something along the lines of "C'mon, really? Where do you see all these people?" And my standard response is, "They're everywhere in NYC, like roaches." (Sorry for that comparison, celebrities.) On occasion, I still get excited, but I guess time and exposure has jaded me somewhat, until one night last week.

Last Thursday, December 17th, I was riding the 3 train home from work, as I had stayed a little later than usual, when I spotted Korey Wise seated a few feet away from me. "Who?" You might ask. Korey Wise is one of the "Central Park Five" - one of five men, who as boys, were accused of attacking and raping a 28 year old woman jogging in Central Park. Some falsely confessed, and they were all wrongly convicted. They were all eventually exonerated with help from The Innocence Project. Korey Wise was imprisoned for almost 13 years. It was a truly polarizing case in New York City. The five men, Korey Wise, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana Jr., Kevin Richardson, and Yusef Salaam received an unprecedented, and hotly debated, financial settlement from the city. The documentary The Central Park Five remains one of the most moving and hard-to-watch films I've ever seen. I remember sitting by myself in the movie theater with my breath caught in my chest, my whole body tense, for the duration of the film.

When I got above ground I looked up Korey Wise online to double-check that the man on the train was who I thought he was. Indeed, he was. The search results also revealed that it was announced on December 14th that he had officially donated $190,000 to the University of Colorado's Innocence Project, which is now named the Korey Wise Innocence Project. The very first paragraph on the organization's web site states:

The American criminal justice system contains many features designed to guard against convicting an innocent person. But we are humans and, due to honest mistake and otherwise, there are innocent people in prison. We'll never have a perfect system, but the Korey Wise Innocence Project (KWIP) is dedicated to doing what it can to fix as many mistakes as possible.

Even after all the bad that has come his way in life, Mr. Wise still finds room in his heart to help other people, and I think this is a true holiday message.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Korey Wise...