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Raymond Santana in Courageous Conversations

On Feb. 18, 2021, Augusta University hosted a Courageous Conversations event with Raymond Santana.  

At 15 years old, Santana was tried and convicted of rape and assault alongside four other boys. Though now referred to as the Exonerated Five, he and the boys were named the Central Park Five. Santana served five years in prison before Matias Reyes, the real perpetrator, later came forward and confessed to the crime. 

“For me, five years felt like forever. It felt like an eternity,” said Santana. 

While incarcerated, he obtained a GED and Associates degree. Santana shared how he spent his time in prison. 

“I mostly stayed active. I played basketball… but the most important part for me was the education,” he said. 

Santana expressed the impact of a teacher he had in prison named Professor Islam who encouraged him to keep going. 

“He was teaching a Black studies class…and it was at that point when I read those books that my mind started to expand…” he said.  “I started to realize who I am and what I’ve been through… and it becomes a pivotal point for me because it becomes a changing point in my life when I start to see things with a clear lens,” he continued. 

Santana spoke of issues within the criminal justice system and mentioned changes that could be made through education. 

“The system needs to go back to more of a rehabilitation standpoint,” Santana said. “If we’re going to bring back rehabilitation, then you have got to bring back education,” he added. 

He explained to students that by occupying positions where impactful change can derive, they could make changes they would like to see. 

“Students…this is a pivotal moment in your life…whatever your passion is, and if it involves criminal justice, go for it,” Santana stated. “Every idea matters,” he said. 

During the conversation, it was mentioned that former President Donald Trump had a newspaper advertisement demanding the death penalty in the case. This was done years before he was elected. 

“Even after exoneration…. he [Trump] said this is the biggest heist in New York City history,” Santana said. 

The former president has not yet apologized for his stance on the case. 

“Prosecutors and police in this case still say we are guilty to this day,” said Santana. 

He added, “This is who we’ve had to deal with for the last 30 years”. 

Santana explained the profitability of prisons creating difficult situations in changing the way they operate. 

“There’s a lot of money that’s being poured into this system,” he stated. 

On the topic of pandemic, Santana shared words about patience and utilizing time. 

“One characteristic that I do have from prison that I do value is patience,” he said. “I try to stay productive and I try to stay busy.”