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Born: September 2, 1973
London, England, UK
Isaac Wright Jr.
Birthplace: New Jersey, USA
Renamed Aaron Wallace in the Series
Born: October 18, 1974
The Bronx, New York, USA
Born: June 5
Birthplace: New York City, New York, USA
Renamed Marie Wallace in the Series
Born: January 23, 1962
Cobleskill, New York, USA
Nicholas Bissell Jr.
Born: January 14, 1947
Birthplace: New Jersey, USA
Death: November 27, 1996, Laughlin, Nevada, USA (death by gunshot to avoid capture)
Born: June 12, 1957
Lansing, Michigan, USA
Born: March 1, 1942
Yes. The For Life true story reveals that the real inmate who became a lawyer was Isaac Wright Jr. His name was changed to Aaron Wallace for the ABC TV show. This mainly appears to be due to the fact that the series is only loosely based on his story. Other names were changed as well and in some cases genders.
Yes. As stated above, he had been married to his wife, Sunshine Wright, before entering prison. In researching the true story behind For Life, we discovered that they indeed went through a divorce. In the ABC series, his wife is portrayed by Joy Bryant and her name is changed to Marie.
Yes. The charges against the character on the TV show are similar to the charges against Isaac Wright Jr. in real life, but they seem to have been trimmed down a little for the show. In real life, he was charged with 18 counts, including leading a drug trafficking network, maintaining or operating a narcotics production facility, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, and conspiracy to distribute cocaine. At the time of his arrest, the authorities had alleged that Wright was making $30,000 a day from dealing cocaine to residents of Central Jersey.
Instead of paying for a lawyer, he had decided to represent himself at his trial. With only a high school diploma at the time, it's a decision that he now calls "insane." "I wasn't going to pay somebody to send me to prison," he told Esquire. In researching the For Life fact vs. fiction, we learned that he was convicted of all 18 charges and given life in prison for the drug kingpin charge. As part of his sentence, Wright would only become eligible for parole after serving 30 years.
No. We found no evidence that Indira Varma's character, the reform-minded warden, Safiya Masry, or her wife, district attorney candidate Anya (Mary Stuart Masterson), are based on real people. However, it is true that the real Aaron Wallace, whose real name is Isaac Wright Jr., had a close connection with the real-life warden.
No. This is one of the more significant differences between the ABC For Life TV show and the true story. The real Aaron Wallace, whose name was actually Isaac Wright Jr., didn't begin his formal education until after he was released from prison. This was around the fall of 1998. It was then that he began attending Thomas Edison State University in Trenton for four years as an undergraduate. "I graduated from college in 2002, and then I went to law school at St. Thomas University in Miami in 2004," he told the New York Post.
Yes, like the character on the ABC TV show, Isaac Wright Jr. had a daughter. A For Life fact-check reveals that she was five years old when he entered prison. "A little girl growing up without a father can be very challenging for a young lady," Wright told CBS New York. "She came up into a time when she needed her father, 'cause, ya know, I wasn't there for seven-and-a-half years. And so, she began to reach her young teenage years while I was there, and she needed her dad."
Yes. In answering the question, "How accurate is the ABC For Life TV show?" we learned that this happened during a 1996 evidentiary hearing. Wright cross-examined Detective James Dugan and was able to get him to admit to misconduct in his case. Dugan's admission of guilt lifted the veil on the broad level of corruption in Wright's case, in addition to the efforts to cover it up. The disgraced detective pled guilty to official misconduct so that he could avoid prison time.
Immediately, it became clear that Somerset County's head prosecutor, Nicholas L. Bissell Jr., was the orchestrator of the misconduct. His former Chief of Detectives, Richard Thornburg, confessed to being involved in the illegal seizure of cocaine and became the government's key witness against Bissell. By that time, Bissell's other crimes had already been exposed. -The Courier-News
In 1996, the chief prosecutor on Wright's case, Nicholas Bissell Jr., was accused of trying to frame a judge who'd upset him. In addition, he was convicted of tax fraud, embezzlement, and other felonies. He had threatened to plant cocaine in the car of a business associate with whom he co-owned a gas station. "This wasn't just a rogue cop," Wright explained in an Esquire article. "This was the chief law enforcement officer threatening to plant cocaine."
After Wright got Detective James Dugan to confess to participating in misconduct orchestrated by his boss, Nicholas Bissell Jr., the prosecutor was tried and found guilty on 30 counts, including abuse of power, perjury, and obstruction of justice. Two days before his sentencing, Bissell cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet and went on the run. Eight days later, U.S. Marshalls found him holed up in a cheap motel in Nevada. As officers broke down his door, he stuck a gun in his mouth and committed suicide instead of turning himself in and facing a six-to-eight-year sentence.
The For Life true story is a bit murkier on this matter than the TV series. On the ABC show, the main character's disreputable friend hides drugs at his club. When the police raid the club, they assume the drugs belong to him and not his friend. The TV version of Wright finds himself convicted of drug trafficking and he's given a sentence of life in prison for the drug kingpin charge. We root for him because we know he's an innocent man who was wrongfully convicted.
In a 2020 interview with CBS New York, the real-life Wright was asked specifically how he wound up facing drug charges. He avoided the question by talking about the various ways that the prosecutor on his case, Nicholas L. Bissell Jr., emerged as being corrupt. He reasoned that the prosecutor's corruption created an environment that led to him being wrongfully condemned as a drug kingpin, which is true. However, we found no interviews where Wright actually denies dealing or being involved with drugs. He only denies being a kingpin. Drug evidence was seized without a warrant from Wright's co-defendant, and Bissell's colleagues never reported the seizure. Wright has never clarified if all of the 17 remaining counts that he was convicted on were false.
News reports at the time of his release state that Wright may have been a drug dealer as prosecutors and police claimed, but what is certain is that he wasn't given a fair trial. This might also explain why the New Jersey Bar Association's Committee on Character investigated him for nine years before granting him a license to practice law. In the end, Wright's conviction was indeed a miscarriage of justice, but in real life, Wright has neither confirmed or denied if he was actually guilty of any of the lesser charges levied against him. On the show, his innocence is clear.
Isaac Wright Jr. is licensed to practice law in the state of New Jersey, and (as of 2020) he is currently a general practitioner with the law firm Hunt, Hamlin, and Ridley, where he specializes in criminal law. "I went to law school for one reason and one reason only," says Wright. "To slay giants for a price. And if the giant is big enough and the cause is important enough, I’ll do it for free, especially when it involves helping those who cannot help themselves."
Expand your knowledge of the For Life fact vs. fiction by watching the Isaac Wright Jr. interview below. He's accompanied by actor Nicholas Pinnock, who portrays a character inspired by him on the ABC TV show.