The Incredible True Story Behind For Life, 50 Cent's New Show About a Falsely Accused Inmate
The rapper is the executive producer of For Life, a new legal drama created by Hank Steinberg that premieres Tuesday on ABC. The show stars Nicholas Pinnock as Aaron Wallace, a prisoner who becomes a lawyer litigating cases for other inmates while fighting to overturn his own life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit.
The fictionalized series is inspired by the true story of Isaac Wright Jr., a former New Jersey inmate who got his wrongful conviction overturned and became a licensed attorney.
In August 1989, Wright was indicted and charged in New Jersey with leading a drug trafficking network, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, maintaining or operating a narcotics production facility, and conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
Prior to his arrest, he’d been an entrepreneur, he recently told Esquire. Though he’d “never been through the system before,” he had little faith in it from get-go.
“I knew early on that I was going to prison for the rest of my life and that there was nothing that no one was going to be able to do to help me,” he told the magazine. “Even on the witness stand at trial, there were people up there and I had no clue who they were. I had never seen them a day in my life and they were pointing the finger at me saying that I was their boss.”
He only had a high school diploma, but Wright decided to represent himself at trial.
“I wasn’t going to pay somebody to send me to prison,” he told the magazine. “I might as well strap up the boots and put on the gloves and get into the fight myself.”
In 1991, he was found guilty by a jury of all charges. He received a life sentence and was ordered to serve at least 30 years before becoming eligible for parole.
That same year, Wright and his wife filed a civil lawsuit against the state and several law enforcement agencies and employees, including the Somerset County Prosecutor, Nicholas Bissell, who had developed a national reputation for his aggressive assault on drug dealers. Wright argued that he was a victim of prosecutorial misconduct by Bissell and some of his detectives.
After he was convicted, Wright was sent to the maximum security New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, where he began working as a paralegal on other inmates’ cases, per Esquire. He told the magazine he got “over 20 people out of prison.”
“The act of representing these other prisoners who were also wronged was a part of me fighting them back and getting them back for what they had done to me,” he said.
Wright continued working on his own case — while Bissell’s story took a sharp turn. In May 1996, the former prosecutor was convicted on 30 felony counts, including tax fraud, embezzlement and other charges.
Two days before he was supposed to be sentenced, Bissell, who was under house arrest, cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet and went on the run. When authorities found him in a Nevada hotel room, he died by suicide.
Bissell’s downfall and exposed corruption shined a new light on Wright’s case. At a hearing in the fall of 1996, Wright and his lawyer “proved that his 1991 conviction was based in part on an illegal seizure of cocaine by Mr. Bissell’s detective squad and on perjured testimony by three co-defendants who had been offered leniency by Mr. Bissell,” The New York Times reported at the time. During the hearing, all three recanted their testimony against Wright.
The judge ordered a new trial for Wright, and the new prosecutor decided to delay his retrial “indefinitely.” Wright was freed on bail on Dec. 17, 1996, for the first time in seven years.
In 1997, the court reversed Wright’s remaining convictions, and the indictment against him was dismissed without prejudice.
According to Esquire, after his release, Wright completed college and then law school. Today, he reportedly works with New Jersey law firm Hunt, Hamlin and Ridley as a general practitioner who specializes in criminal law.
After he and 50 Cent crossed paths by chance, a TV show was born.
“[His story] blew me away,” the rapper, 44, said on Good Morning America on Tuesday. “I was Googling it at the same time that he was talking to me because I couldn’t believe it was true.”
“I was like, ‘This belongs on television,'” he continued. “Initially his idea was to create a feature film, but it would be only two hours to tell the story. And it requires more time to explain that journey.”
Added Pinnock, 46, “Isaac’s an incredible man.”
“When we had the table read for the first episode, I took him into a room for 45 minutes and we just talked and talked and talked,” recalled the actor. “He was very gracious, he opened up — any question I had for him, he answered.”
“It was just a really great way of getting an essence of who he was, so I could introduce that to the show,” he added.
For Life premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET on ABC.