This part should be relabeled The Tragedy of Korey Wise by Ava DuVenary. This episode is Shakespearean. Everything from its rhetoric, to its depiction of Korey Wise’s story reveals so much. It is the saga of the last of the exonerated 5. The eldest and the only one not on the list. The story of a boy who became a man while in prison. The story of a boy who experienced horrors no one should face. Convicted of a crime he did not commit, he spent 14 years in prison. From Rikers to Attica to Wendy. Korey went through the entire private prison system. And Ava Duvenary captures every waking moment of this tragedy.
From the beginning, you can feel the magnitude of the episode. Korey’s fear is captured brilliantly as he is thrown into the prison system and doomed to live a life of torture physically and mentally.
This episode reveals the horrors of the US private prison system. Korey spent 14 years in a variety of prisons. Starting with Rikers (aka Gilligan’s) Island, Korey is immediately introduced to the corruption and coercion that prison guards use to abuse their inmates.
Ava DuVernay’s direction in this film highlights how inmates are treated with vehement terror, such terrors that no man should be able to endure. Watching Korey get assaulted by two inmates and look directly at those supposed to assist him in terror as they do nothing is the exact problem with this system.
Korey has seen this before. Where cops, the very people that swore to protect and serve him tortured and coerced him into making a false confession. Now in order to survive, he must obey a corrupt corrections officer and bribe him with crunch bars for protection.
A powerful scene and a heartbreaking one was when Korey tried to confide in and plead for help from the nurse, and she helplessly couldn’t give him any assistance because she feared she may lose her job. These opening moments in this episode set the tone fast. Korey knows he has no help. He’s on his own. A child, no parents. No friends. Just him. A survivor of the system designed to destroy and reel back in.
When Korey learns that he can request a transfer he hops onto the task immediately. I find this to be a gem in the episode. Korey is a simple man. And it shows here. It is one of the most profound traits of his character. When he learned about the transfer you could see the joy in his eyes. And then he gets transferred to Attica.
Attica is another maximum-security prison. Far away from NYC. Far from his mother.
In this segment, we get to see how Korey has grown and become accustomed to being in the prison system. He still is adjusting. As any innocent man would. However, his maturity has shown slightly. We also get to see the good in people. The relationship between Korey and the correctional officer at Attica is beautiful. It shows that there are people with compassion. Something Korey needed severely. His mother can’t visit him often. So this officer’s grace was a highlight in an otherwise gloomy and tear-jerking episode. In solitary confinement, the officer often would bring books and magazines for Korey to read.
And on one occasion brought him a chia pet. We all grew up wanting one. It was a craze that all of us as kids loved when it was revealed in commercials. I felt the joy in Korey when he was gifted one, I think this was the first time I cried tears of joy.
These moments, even though short-lived was a positive way to capture how the prison system works. Through all the horrors that inmates go through. Such as Korey getting attacked since people knew who he was in both Attica and Rikers. To people looking out for him. Making sure he eats. Giving him sanity and stability.
Speaking of sanity. Ava’s portrayal of Korey falling into the confines of his mind was awe-inspiring. Korey spent a great deal of his time in solitary confinement. And at this time he spent a lot of it hallucinating. Dreaming. Wishing. Korey has a dream about his trans sister. He had a recollection of her reminding him to go to school.
This was either before or after she had passed. His connection to his sister was powerful. And finding about her passing tore him apart.
Something worth highlighting was that when Korey broke down the same officer that showed him compassion was there. And he consoles him when Korey breaks down. The emotions and ride we go through in this scene is an amazing rendition of what inmates go through while being away from those that they love.
He had no connection to the priest who tried to hug him and he shrugged him off in a violent and mortified rage. But when the officer grabbed him he hugged him, everything changed. And although Korey resisted at first he eventually embraced and cried in his arms.
This is another example of how well the director initiated the pain and struggles inmates suffer from. Moment after moment you feel for Korey, in joy, and in pain. As he endures the violent and harsh life of prison, you watch him grow and experience the hardships of prison life.
My favorite part of the episode was when the air conditioner finally turned on. The sheer joy Korey presented was one, a direct representation of that simple and enjoyable character he is. Secondly, it is a reminder of how much we must appreciate the little things. Such as cool air. Korey was so happy when he got the ac on, I almost felt like the AC was turned on for me with how good it looked like it felt.
The most painful moments of this entire episode came from Korey’s hallucinations. First his sister, this one touched me in different ways. I loved this addition. Then there was his mother, then his girlfriend. Each one symbolized something different to Korey. And each one hurt more and more when he thought about them.
I loved the dream he had about his girl and choosing not to go with Yusef into the park. The loss of innocence was at that moment. And In his dream, he chose his innocence. His regret to think if he had just stayed with his girl he wouldn’t be in this moment.
Sidebar, I had previously seen a post about listening to your woman and a woman’s intuition. No, that is toxic rhetoric that should not be spilled at this moment. first and foremost, Korey wasn’t on the list. He went to help Yusef and got dragged into the situation accidentally. Secondly, whether he listened to his girlfriend or not, it didn’t change what occurred or what could have occurred. This happened because there is a system that is designed to break black men and women and takes advantage of them. There is no causality that connects the events of Korey’s girl to him being coerced and sent to prison for 14 years. Please do not continue this rhetoric.
Part four of When they See Us is a tragic story of how one man survived the trials of the US prison system. An innocent child became a rugged and cautious man. We watched how the system is designed to break people. And we watched what so many innocent Americans go through and endure each and every day. When they see us they don’t see human beings. They see a means to exploit, they see extortion, they see money. This is When They See Us part 4.