It’s been thirty years since Yusef Salaam, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise, and Kevin Richardson became known as The Central Park Five.
As teenagers, they were falsely accused of violently raping a jogger in Central Park. Even though the men have been fully exonerated and received a hefty settlement, the horrific memories have not left them.
In a sit-down interview with CBS News, the men opened up about their experience daily.
"It's everyday. Constantly." Salaam told CBS News. "[It’s] probably my second or third thought."
"Probably, like, my fourth thought," McCray chimed in. "Even our conversations is different. It's not normal. Our conversations would be about prison, how we had to survive in prison."
In April 1989, Salaam, McCray, Santana, Wise, and Richardson—who were all between 14 and 16 at the time—were accused of brutally attacking 28-year-old Trisha Meili while she jogged in Central Park.
The police zeroed in on a group of Black and brown teens who were in the park that night. The Central Park Five were subsequently vilified by the entire city and coerced into confessing and blaming each other for a crime none of them committed.
"Soon as we get in, they separate us and they start working on us. And I'm hearing Korey being physically beaten in the next room. And I'm immediately beyond afraid,” Salaam told CBS News.
Richardson added, "At the time, my mom, she suffered from a stroke, she had diabetes and she left. And that was their time to get on me."
McCray said he was interrogated for more than 10 hours and even lost the support of his father.
"I just kept telling the truth at first. They asked to speak to my father. My father left the room with them. Came back in the room, he just changed. Cursing, yelling at me. And he said, 'Tell these people what they wanna hear so you go home.' I'm like, 'Dad, but I didn't do anything.' The police is yelling at me. My father yelling at me. And I just like, 'All right. I did it.' And I looked up to my father. He is my hero. But he gave up on me. You know, I was telling the truth and he just told me to lie,” McCray told CBS News.
When asked if he ever made peace with his father, McCray responded, "No. Didn't want to. My life was ruined. Why should I? He's a coward."
In the end, Salaam, McCray, Richardson, Wise, and Santana were all found guilty and spent between 6 and 13 years in prison. Only Wise spent time in an adult prison system.
During his 13th year in prison, Wise miraculously ran into the man who actually raped Trisha Meili.
The Central Park Five were exonerated in 2002 when Matias Reyes, who was already incarcerated on a different charge, confessed to the crime. One year later, the men sued New York City in 2003 and won a $41 million settlement in 2014.
Now, their story is being revisited in Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries "When They See Us."
"My goal was to humanize boys, and now men, who are widely regarded as criminals," said DuVernay. "And in doing that, to invite the audience to re-interrogate everyone that they define as a criminal."
Richardson says the upcoming series will hopefully shed light on the pain they endured on the night they were arrested.
“I think it’ll open up doors and conversation for people to see exactly what happened to us,” Richardson told NBC News. “And everything that we went through and are still going through to this day.”
Even with a series about their life and the large settlement, the men still don’t feel any better about the conviction.
"We were able to relocate, put our children in better situations," Santana told CBS. "But besides that, no."
Salaam added, "No amount of money could have given us our time back."
The one thing they’ve gained from the experience is the invaluable life lesson that the truth outweighs all.
"I preach to my kids, 'Just tell the truth. Be true to who you are.' Honestly, the last time I lied, got me seven-and-a-half years for something I didn't do,” McCray said.
(Photo: CBS News)