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Raymond Santana Jr. of ‘Central Park Five’ talks about healing at CSN

Updated February 28, 2020 - 10:58 pm

When he was released from prison, Raymond Santana Jr. did not sit down with therapists to sort through the trauma that came with being wrongly convicted, at 14, of a rape that had nothing to do with him.

Telling his story, Santana said Friday, is what helps him heal. It’s part of his process today, nearly two decades after he was exonerated in the legal saga that labeled Santana and four other men the “Central Park Five.”

“Sometimes that reality has to be put in our face for us to see it and recognize it, and try to think of some type of solutions,” Santana said.

On Friday night, Santana sat down before an auditorium full of people for a talk with his cousin, Natalie Nelson, the diversity initiatives coordinator for the office of inclusive learning and engagement at the College of Southern Nevada. The college hosted the Georgia resident at its North Las Vegas campus.

Santana and four other teens from Harlem were sentenced to prison in the 1990s after authorities in New York coerced them into false confessions for the 1989 sexual assault of a woman jogging in Central Park. After an imprisoned man confessed in 2002 to raping the woman, the five were exonerated.

Santana, now in his 40s, spoke Friday about the need for black and brown people to “occupy your spaces” — to think and act creatively and honestly toward bringing about needed changes — amid a criminal justice system that he said works against them.

“The system is playing chess while we’re playing checkers,” he said.

The story of the Central Park Five most recently played out in the form of a Netflix series, “When They See Us,” after Santana in 2015 reached out to director Ava DuVernay, who would become the show’s director.

When the five men sat down to watch the final product, Santana said, they learned more about each other, particularly about Korey Wise, who, unlike the others, was tried as an adult and served nearly 12 years in prison.

“Here it was, we thought we knew everything about each other, and then we find out we really didn’t know everything,” Santana said. “Korey was more open to talking to us and telling us how he felt.”

After watching Wise’s story, Santana said he and the other men thought more about how to help Wise work through his trauma.

“That’s what the series did for us,” Santana said.

Nelson, the talk’s moderator, was one of several people who remarked Friday night about how heart-wrenching it was for them to watch the entire series.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to make movies like this,” Santana said, “but it’s a part of our reality.”

Contact Dalton LaFerney at dlaferney@reviewjournal.com or at 702-383-0288. Follow @daltonlaferney on Twitter.

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