For Life: How Aaron’s Freedom-Clinching Transfer Differed From That of His Actual-Life Counterpart

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For Life‘s wrongfully incarcerated Aaron Wallace is now a free man, thanks to some smooth moves that he, friends and frenemies made during the ABC drama’s Season 2 premiere.

At the close of Season 1, after Wallace (played by Nicholas Pinnock) as his own lawyer successfully argued for a retrial, arch nemesis Glen Maskins (Boris McGiver) privately urged the convict to drop any further legal action. In trade, the newly minted Attorney General would assure Wallace’s release from prison (though with a felony record and thus the inability to practice law), drop the charges against prison pal Jamal, and not pursue criminal charges against Aaron’s HIPAA-violating wife Marie.

Aarron, though, didn’t just want to be out, and certainly not with a criminal record dogging him. No, he wanted Maskins gone. To that end, he set in motion a series of events that chronicled the prosecutor’s aforementioned prison gym threat and proved he conspired to have said surveillance cam footage deleted. That, combined with other incriminating evidence of extra-legal actions, led AG Burke to squelch Maskins’ assumption of his office. Instead, the former DA sheepishly announced he was stepping down to “spend more time with (his) family” instead.

The events leading to Wallace’s prison release differed significantly from how the character’s real-life inspiration, prisoner-turned-lawyer Isaac Wright Jr., secured his own freedom in 1996 after five unwarranted years behind bars.

“There were so many wonderful scenes where I wish it would have happened that way,” Wright Jr. said at a recent press event, evaluating ABC’s For Life thus far. Recalling the smoking gun that got him sprung in 1996, he said, “I had to get out by a police officer actually confessing on the stand — so that burden, that challenge, that mountain was a lot higher to climb.”

Even so, Wright Jr. had nothing but praise for his TV counterpart’s legal savviness, saying “the brilliance of how Aaron flipped on Maskins and on the system was just incredible.” With a chuckle, he added: “I wish I had been able to do it that way instead of the way I actually did!”

Series creator Hank Steinberg, discussing Aaron’s chosen exit strategy, says, “There are lots of ways to skin the cat on how he was going to get liberated, and how it was going to be ultimately really satisfying.” And one thing Steinberg decided to avoid was the actual retrial.

“We all got together and said, ‘OK, how are we going to handle this? How will we find a way to get him out in a dramatic and unexpected way?’ And we ended up making a decision to do something where it’s actually not about going back to court,” says the EP. “We had a big, climactic moment at the end of Season 1 where he wins his retrial, and we didn’t want to replicate something like that. What we landed on is having Aaron use his cunning and street smarts, and combining that with his legal skills he had learned, combined with his connections with Roswell (Timothy Busfield) and Safiyah (Indira Varma) on the outside, to orchestrate this incredible jujitsu move on the Powers That Be that were trying to keep him down.”

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