Marked as the Enemy

Central Park Five Members Speak

"Sometimes I don't think about this [case]." I have it in my mind but I move on because I just don't think about a lot of the grim facts and the rough times. Even times when, you know—they say men cry in prison when the lights are off—I don't think about those times because if I [did] I might be a guy who goes crazy."

Salaam and Richardson share stories of lost economic opportunities, and the stigma of having to register as sex offenders under Megan's Law, for this now disputed crime.

"I put in for [a job at] the post office," says Richardson. "I told the truth and I put down that I was convicted. I swear I had the job already, but then after that it seemed like they just totally pushed me off. I was qualified and everything and that crushed me for a minute. They never looked at what I could do, at my qualities and what kind of worker I would be, but they knew that I was Kevin Richardson."

And their names were still newsworthy. "When I first came home," says Salaam, "I was actually working for a construction company. At one point, I had wanted to go back to school, and I told my boss. He said OK, 'I'll see you,' and maybe a day or two later an article ran in the Daily News stating that he fired me."

"I've had a lot of difficulties in securing work," says Salaam. "For the most part people usually say, 'Hey, OK, I appreciate you being honest with me. I see that you've served time.' I always put down that I served time for a crime that I didn't commit. And it always shifts to, 'What were you in prison for?' When they find out, I never get the job."

"I'm working now," says Richardson. "In the beginning I was kind of nervous because it was a good job, and I didn't want to lose it. I didn't know what people would think when they knew it was me. I keep my circle of friends real little. Now, I find more people coming to me, and I don't know if they are genuine or not. It's like they want to jump on the bandwagon a little bit. [The case] made me lose friends, and actually, I think it's better that way for me. I'd rather kind of keep to myself and my family."

"I had gotten out on bail [before the trial]" says Salaam. "I remember a black older woman coming up to me around where my mom lives, and she says: 'Why did you do that to that lady in the park?' And I was like—I mean, it was a black woman—I just felt so bad. I was like, 'I didn't do it,' you know? And there was nothing I could say to this woman to convince her that I didn't do this crime."

Both Salaam and Richardson credit their families with insuring that they were able to cope with the circumstances to which they were subjected. "They did the time with me because they were always there," says Richardson. "The C.O.s [corrections officers], when they see that, they won't mess with you too much. When you don't have anybody, you can get lost in the system."

Although Salaam had the support of the prison Islamic community and served as the spiritual leader at his youth facility, he agrees that family is the greatest support. "There were times [during visits] when I would look over at my mom and I'm like, man, she looks so tired. I was about five miles from Canada and we lived in New York City. It's a very long trip and she would come three times a week.

"One thing that time does, especially when you come home and you have a family and loved ones, that kind of puts a bandage on the wound so it becomes a little easier to breathe, because you know at least that you have your family and friends in your corner."

According to their accounts, the dilemma has strengthened their spirituality and made them stronger people, although for Richardson it seems impossible to look at the world the way he did before the ordeal.

"When you go before the parole board, you're supposed to show remorse for what you did, but how can I do that if I didn't do anything?" says Richardson.

"I think that especially with crimes like the Central Park jogger case, a lot of cases like that are won and lost in the media before they reach the courtroom, but at the same time, I don't feel as bad as most people would," says Salaam. "I don't point the finger like that. For one thing, I look at it and I say to myself, 'These people are just reporting information that they have gathered from another source and they may have been gathering information from a source that tainted the information."

Richardson and Salaam were both able to obtain associate degrees—in liberal arts and applied sciences respectively—while in prison. Salaam, now married with two young children, is studying business with plans of starting his own company. Both look forward to the December 5 court date that will decide whether or not, with Reyes's admission and his confirmed DNA link to the jogger attack, any and all tainted information will disappear.

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