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THE best US series in what might be a season cut short by the coronavirus is For Life, a combination of prison and courtroom drama about an innocent African-American inmate sentenced to life imprisonment for being a drug kingpin.
The series is based on the true story of wrongly imprisoned promoter Isaac Wright Jnr, who used his time in prison to become a legal counsellor and claimed to have freed 20 unlawfully jailed prisoners.
In For Life, he becomes Aaron Wallace, jailed by ambitious and corrupt Illinois prosecutor Glen Maskins, who is running for Chicago District Attorney.
To free himself, Wallace studies to become a lawyer, takes the bar and becomes the legal representative for inmates.
Attempting to prove a pattern of faulty convictions, he begins an aggressive campaign against the would-be DA.
The series is a brand-new slant on the courtroom drama genre.
By crossing it with the prison series format, it emphasises the unfairness of the legal system and the ways African-Americans, Hispanics and poor whites are caught in the crosshairs of a system that presumes them guilty from the start.
This is a system where tainted evidence and lack of investigation characterise the actions of both prejudiced police and politically ambitious prosecutors.
It is stirring to watch Wallace (Nicholas Pinnock), who changes each week out of his orange prison jumpsuit into the tailored suit of a lawyer, appearing before a judge to masterfully argue his cases.
By being in prison and having access to the stories of inmates, and through his own interaction with the law, he is able to bring a perspective on the legal system the lawyers on the opposite side of the courtroom do not have.
In his defence of the inmates, he’s also accused of cutting corners himself, and when questioned about it by a sympathetic liberal female warden, he responds that with all the obstacles against him, it is up to him where to draw the line.
And, when reprimanded by a black cop who he asks to illegally obtain his police file which he is barred from seeing, Wallace protests that the procedure is unfair.
“You should have thought of that before…” the cop says.
But Aaron interrupts him with: “Before what, I decided to be black in America?”
The cop folds under this logic and grants Aaron his request.
While having its protagonist still in prison and battling to get out, most crucially For Life ups the ante by adding the element of that most incarcerated class of inmate, black men.
Their imprisonment is often not based on guilt or innocence but on a systemic need to discipline a recalcitrant and rebellious population and to fill the jail cells of a multibillion-dollar industry that has become a boondoggle for private enterprise.
In the Bible, Aaron is the older brother of Moses, who leads the Israelites out of their bondage in Egypt and to freedom.
Each week, Wallace attempts the same for a large ethnic group within the US working class, banged up no reasons other than prejudice and profit.
For Life is available on Hulu and YouTube.
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