Netflix's new series When They See Us is a dramatized account of a devastating real story. The show is based on the real arrest, conviction, and later exoneration of five young men of color who were falsely accused of rape and lost years of their teenage lives to prison because of it. Directed by Ava Duvernay, When They See Us is already being praised for its nuanced retelling, and it covers the lives of the men after their arrests, imprisonment, and releases in the late '90s.
As for where the "Central Park Five" are now, they're still trying to get justice for themselves and others who are wrongfully convicted. Here's what you need to know about the real case that inspired the series, and the men who had their lives ripped away because of it.
In 1989, a woman was raped and badly beaten in Central Park. According to the Village Voice, five boys were arrested on suspicion of the crime as well as other events that had taken place in the park that night, including alleged "assault, riot, and robbery." Four of the boys were black, and one was hispanic. They ranged in age from 14 to 16.
The show seeks to tell the boys' stories beyond the sensational headlines that accused them of something they didn't do, in a case that had no physical evidence other than the false confessions given by teenagers who had been interrogated for 14 to 30 hours, according to the New York Times. Per the Village Voice, the boys all retracted their statements later, claiming to have been intimidated and coerced into confessing. ABC News reported that the city denies any police or prosecutor misconduct in the case.
Despite the lack of physical evidence, all five boys were convicted based solely on their (false) confession tapes. According to the New York Daily News, Kevin Richardson was convicted of attempted murder and rape. Korey Wise was convicted of sexual abuse, assault, and riot. Another New York Times article reported that Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Raymond Santana were all convicted of rape, assault, robbery and riot.
Because McCray, Salaam, Santana, and Richardson were all minors at the time of the crime, they were sentenced to five to 10 years in a juvenile facility, according to AMNY. Wise was tried as an adult (he was 16 at the time of the crime) and sentenced to five to 15 years in prison. According to another New York Times article, the boys all served seven to 13 years before completing their sentences and re-entering society. They were required to register as sex offenders. CBS reported that the four minors at the time did seven years and Wise did 13.
The Real Culprit Comes Forward
The New York Daily News reported that, in 2002, another man came forward to claim he raped the woman that night in the park. Matias Reyes was already in prison for other rapes and a murder when he confessed. "I know it's hard for people to understand, after 12 years why a person would actually come forward to take responsibility for a crime," Reyes said at the time, per the Daily News. "At first, I was afraid, but at the end of the day I felt it was definitely the right thing to do."
His DNA matched that found in 1989. The above NYT article reported that, after Reyes' confession and DNA confirmation, the Central Park Five had their convictions vacated and their names removed from the sex offenders registry in 2002.
Where They Are Now
Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, and Raymond Santana were given honorary diplomas at a graduation ceremony at their former high school in 2017, according to the New York Times. By then, they'd already earned their G.E.D.s and associates degrees in prison, but having the ceremony was special moment for them. Salaam called it a "blessing" and Santana said it was "emotional" for him.
The three are also heavily involved in advocacy work in the criminal justice sector, according to Pix 11. The outlet reported that they worked to get legislation passed to require that suspects are video recorded during the entire length of their interrogation and that prosecutors are held accountable for possible misconduct.
Santana now lives in Georgia with his teenage daughter and is a fashion designer, according to the New York Daily News.
The final episode of the Netflix series reported that McCray also lives Georgia with his six children, and that he was the first to leave NYC and its bad memories behind.
Kevin Richardson lives in New Jersey now, per the series as well. He resides there with his wife and daughters. He also travels around to speak on his experience and his hope for change in the system.
Wise lives in New York still. He also helped launch the Korey Wise Innocence Project. It operates in conjunction with the University of Colorado, Boulder law department. According to their site, the organization helps wrongfully convicted people without lawyers seek justice
No amount of money or goodwill can undo what happened to these five men, but it is inspiring to see that they've gone on to live fulfilling lives despite all that was taken from them. Now the public gets a chance to see and hear their stories through the hauntingly sad, but necessary When They See Us.