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How Isaac Wright Jr. Overturned Life Sentence in Prison & Become Lawyer 


Isaac Wright Jr outside court

Isaac Wright Jr. speaks in an interview about his legal work and the appeals process after being released from prison. (Source: ABC World News)


By Shari Rose ~ February 21, 2019           

Updated December 21, 2020

Sentenced to prison for life, Isaac Wright Jr. spent more than 7 years in jail studying law to prove his innocence. Turns out, his story was just beginning

Isaac Wright Jr. at For Life premiere

Isaac Wright Jr. at the premiere of “For Life,” a television show whose main character, Aaron Wallace, is based on Wright’s life, particularly his time in prison. (Source: HOT 97 FM)

While serving a life sentence in prison for a crime he was wrongly convicted for, Wright set to work to overturn his conviction by studying New Jersey law. Over the next several years, he built his own legal defense and served as a paralegal for inmates while behind bars. Representing himself on appeal, Isaac Wright Jr. successfully overturned his kingpin conviction and life sentence in prison. 

After that victory, Wright continued to build his case as he still faced decades in prison for a litany of other falsified drug convictions. To be fully exonerated, he knew he must expose the individuals responsible for his conviction, including the county prosecutor himself. Through a series of legal strategies, Wright exposed rampant police misconduct and illegal courtroom deals that originally condemned him to a lifetime in jail. And from there, he was just getting started. This is the incredible true story of Isaac Wright Jr.

Isaac Wright Jr. Convicted & Sentenced to Life in Jail

Wright was a music producer in 1989 when he was arrested and charged with operating a cocaine trafficking network in Somerset County. He was one of the first people charged with New Jersey’s 1986 drug kingpin law. While awaiting trial in prison, Wright studied state law and represented himself in court. In 1991, the jury determined Isaac Wright Jr. guilty, and he was sentenced to life in federal prison. 

For the next five years, Wright continued to study law and began working with a prison organization called Inmate Legal Assistance as a paralegal. He represented inmates accused of infractions, gaining valuable experience in building a legal defense. Soon, he would be representing himself in court again during the appeal process. And this time, he would be ready to expose the people and system that wrongly condemned him to life in jail. 

Wright Obtains Officer Confession That Breaks His Case Open

Through false witness testimony, falsified police reports, and bribes to defense attorneys, one New Jersey prosecutor condemned Wright to life in prison. This official’s name was Nicholas L. Bissell Jr., and was Somerset County prosecutor, a position he held for more than a decade. 

Wright understood that an overturning of his conviction would mean the prosecutor’s corrupt tactics would need to be unearthed in a courtroom. So, that’s precisely what he did.    

During an evidentiary hearing in 1996, Wright cross-examined a police officer involved with the kingpin case. Somerset County detective James Dugan confessed to a slew of misconduct violations in Wright’s case, from systemic police misconduct to illegal cover-ups, and secret deals with defense attorneys to have their clients lie under oath.

Nicholas L. Bissell in a mug shot after arrest

Somerset County Prosecutor Nicholas L. Bissell in a mug shot. (Source: U.S. Marshals Office)

Officer Dugan identified the man who personally ordered that Isaac Wright Jr. be framed for drug crimes and other serious offenses as county prosecutor Nicholas Bissell.

Breaking a code of silence during this hearing with Wright, Dugan said Bissell ordered officers to falsify police reports and fabricate evidence to get a guilty verdict from the jury. Furthermore, Dugan said that Bissell secured false testimony from witnesses and made deals with defense attorneys to encourage their clients lie on the stand and point to Isaac Wright Jr. as their drug kingpin.

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Prosecutor in Wright’s Case, Nicholas Bissell, Leads Police on Manhunt

As a result of Dugan’s testimony, Bissell was tried in court on dozens of charges in 1995. He was found guilty on 30 counts, including obstruction of justice, perjury, and abuse of power. He was put under house arrest until his sentencing trial. However, two days before he faced a judge, Bissell cut his ankle monitor and ran. An international manhunt to find him ensued. 

As a fugitive, Bissell crossed state lines and eventually led police to a Nevada hotel room. As officers broke down the door, Nicholas Bissell committed suicide.

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Isaac Wright Jr. Freed From Jail After Serving 7 Years

Issac Wright jr outside of court

Isaac Wright Jr. stands outside courthouse and speaks to reporters after his release from jail. (Source: News 12 New Jersey)

In the wake of these revelations of widespread police misconduct, Isaac Wright Jr. was fully exonerated of all charges and released from prison. Wright ultimately served more than 7 years in jail at the maximum security facility in New Jersey. After his release, he settled a 1990 lawsuit against the prosecutor’s office for “peanuts,” as Wright put it. With his convictions vacated and case dismissed, he set his sights on becoming a practicing lawyer in Somerset Countythe same county that locked him away less than a decade before.

A free man, Wright continued to pursue his education and study New Jersey law. He received his undergraduate degree in 2002, and graduated from Saint Thomas University School of law in 2007. The following year, he passed the New Jersey bar exam.

All that remained in the path to become a lawyer was Wright’s admission to the bar. However, New Jersey’s legal system wasn’t through with him yet, and did everything in its power to prevent Isaac Wright Jr. from ever practicing law.

Wright’s Fight to Practice Law in New Jersey 

For the next 9 years, the state bar’s Committee on Character investigated Wright’s life.  The purpose of the committee is to determine the fitness of each candidate to practice law in New Jersey. And in their investigation, there is virtually no limit on what information the committee can collect as potential barriers to a person becoming a lawyer.

For example, Section 201:3 in the Committee on Character’s regulations stipulates that committee members can request documentation from candidate’s “named references, current or former employers, Federal and State regulators or agencies, law enforcement agencies, educational institutions, financial institutions, or medical personnel.” If the candidate refuses to cooperate, the committee has the power to deny their admittance to the state bar:

“…failure or refusal to supply information deemed relevant by the Committee … may be grounds for the withholding of certification.”

For nearly a decade, virtually every aspect of Wright’s life was subject to investigation by the state as the committee combed through Wright’s background and personal history. It eventually took an intervention from the state’s highest court to end the overreach. Isaac Wright Jr. was finally admitted to the bar by none other than the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2017. 

Today, Wright is a practicing lawyer with the firm, Hunt, Hamlin & Ridley in Newark. He is currently representing Isaiah Bell, a young man accused of first-degree murder in the death of James Kargbo in Somerset County. 

What is Wright’s legal speciality? Slaying giants:

“I went to law school for one reason and one reason only,” Wright says. “To slay giants for a price. And if the giant is big enough and the cause is important enough, I’ll do it for free, especially when it involves helping those who cannot help themselves.”

“For Life” Show Based on Isaac Wright Jr.

Isaac Wright Jr becomes a lawyer.

Isaac Wright becomes a practicing lawyer in Somerset County, NJ, in 2017. (Source: Medium)

Bringing Isaac Wright Jr. the attention he deserves, rapper and business mogul Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson began producing a show called “For Life” in 2018. With Wright as an executive producer and consultant, For Life follows Aaron Wallace and his determined fight for justice while behind bars and as a free man. Some details, including those about Wright’s wife and daughter, were changed for the television show. 

Wright has spoken extensively about his experience working with 50 Cent for the show, as well as the experience of having his life portrayed on screen in For Life. In an interview with the New York Times, Wright said that one thing that gives him hope is making the lives of the incarcerated accessible to an audience. Speaking about the character based on him, Aaron Wallace, Wright said:

Aaron Wallace in For Life

Aaron Wallace, protagonist of the television show “For Life,” is based on the life of Isaac Wright Jr. (Source: For Life/ABC)

“This show is making its viewers an extended family of a person that’s incarcerated. They’re rooting for him. They suffer when he suffers. They empathize with his struggle. And then he becomes that son or brother they couldn’t imagine it happening to.”

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Wright Announces 2021 Run for NYC Mayor

On December 1, 2020, Isaac Wright Jr. announced his candidacy for New York City mayor. In an interview with People magazine, he said that major issues to him are “criminal justice reform, housing, infrastructure, and the economy.” On Wright’s mayoral campaign site, school desegregation, transit, and policing are also highlighted as top priorities. 

Wright also spoke about the killing of George Floyd and the officer who knelt on his neck, Derek Chauvin: “[Chauvin’s] face showed no concern. There was absolutely not an iota of [comprehension of] what he was doing … But there’s a bigger picture: the true blame. The blame in totality should be put on the system.”

The True Story of Isaac Wright Jr

From a prison cell, Isaac Wright Jr. educated himself on New Jersey law and strategized his own legal defense to finally, finally, prove his innocence. He was wrongly convicted as a drug kingpin in a larger scheme orchestrated by Somerset County prosecutor Nicholas Bissell. Through working the legal system itself and unearthing damning evidence of a prosecutorial cover-up, rampant police misconduct, witness tampering, and more, Isaac Wright Jr. cleared his name, got out of jail, and set the stage for his burgeoning career as a defense lawyer. 

But how many other wrongly convicted men and women across the U.S. are sitting in their cells right now, unlawfully condemned in a system where police misconduct and corruption reign?

It’s unlikely that we’ll ever know that number. But perhaps with slayers like Wright bringing these cases to light, more giants will be set to fall.

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Shari Rose

Shari Rose

Owner of Blurred Bylines

I created Blurred Bylines in an effort to bring stories from marginalized perspectives into the national conversation. As a former copy editor at the largest newspapers in Arizona and Colorado, I’ve seen first-hand the potential of accurate and accessible information to change minds and affect national policy. 

My stories focus on individuals fighting for justice and their own rights as Americans, survivors of violent crime who rebuilt their lives after tragedy, shifting political trends that seek to strip the LGBTQ+ community and other minority groups of their freedoms, and forgotten figures in U.S. history whose fights for equality persist today.

Through writing these articles, I stumbled upon the power of search engine optimization (SEO) to attract interested audiences to my writing. In addition to the ad-free and paywall-free stories I write at Blurred Bylines, I also perform SEO services for businesses, nonprofits, and fellow freelancers around the country so they can grow their organizations through search engines. 

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  1. Phabre marshall

    This story is so touching my cousin is serving a life sentence for a murder he did not do there been times that he has given up but they have found it double jeopardy.They have all the evidence but want bring it to justice the crazy part hoe he found out he has a imate that a lawyer that helping him with legal paperwork.aThis story gives me hope and faith that he will be out soon

  2. Renee San Martin

    48 years ago, a dear friend died when a police officer stopped him for some bogus reason, his report said that he resisted arrest and he accidentally fell to the freeway from overpass. Nothing was done because it was the policeman’s testimony. I still don’t understand how something like this could happen. He was a wonderful person, he bought a home and was the one that would pay for the mortgage.Ironically enough, at his death his mom’s home was paid in full because he insured it should he die. We still miss him.

  3. Sandra McCloud


    I’m so excited and emotional because today March 29, 2020 I saw Isaac and 50cent on an interview with Michael on abc Tv. It’s the most heartfelt inspirational interview I’ve ever seen. It hit so close to home and seeing a God sent black man tell his story is great. We need to have an overcome story right now it couldn’t be a better time to show the world how unjust the system is to poverty stricken Americans.

  4. Maggie

    This show is very inspiring and very sad. It hurts so bad to sit back and watch these type of circumstances to continue daily and not have the proper help and genuine concern from people of power to step in an help those that don’t have finances to help their loved ones. Billions not millions of people have similar situations and don’t know what to do or who to turn to for help. These type of situations hurts the family in grave stricken ways that are down right unfair and unbelievable. It’s going to take alot of genuine powerful people to make this unfair justice among minorities to come an end. All the people who are behind this..close your eyes and think about the people you love deeply..what if this were happening to them? How would you feel..????????.We have to do better at doing the right and fair things in life before it’s too late. Please..don’t just get on talk shows and make us. I sat and watched my mom die in a hospital because of the lack of support from people that could have helped her. This has to stop somewhere it just has too????????????

  5. time

    I love this show. Mr. Wallace is a true hero. The justice system, across the country, is filled with plague and corruption. There are plenty of states who have abused their power to lock up innocent men and women while letting the real criminals roam free based on racism, class, and money.

  6. Shawanda Gause

    I love it my son was shots 9 time and he’s a LOCAL rapper from Decatur il and he was making a video to one of his raps that’s called 9 shots and he had fake guns in his video and he’s in prison now he just try to make it out of Decatur il and trying to be a rapper that his dream and also when he was 7 years d his father got shot the say way as my son be he didn’t make it if 50 cent could get in touch with me I know for sure he will have another real life move it move to the story just can’t say everything on here so please anyone someone just in touch I promise you will make so much money off this movie of my son please and thank u????????????????????????????????AMEN!!!!

  7. Evelyn Rucker

    Very inspiring and much needed story. GOD uses some of us to go through adversities to which at the time we nay not understand,but I thank GOD he chose you esquire IsaacJr. and Mr. Curtis a.k.a 50 for your continued work in heloing others. For it is whats expected of us all to do the right thing at all times. Mr. Curtis Jackson I too have a story to tell if your interested. Thank you

  8. Lisa

    Isaac’s continued success in both choosing cases that are meaningful to him and to families who are so deserving of the help he provides is true justice! He is an amazing testament to the perseverance, tenacity, and endurance of the human spirit!

  9. Suzette White

    I just watched the first episode of “For Life” we need more of these shows and programs out, society needs to know that not everyone in prison are guilty. I’m an advocate for those in prison,I’m very passionate about the law and those that are not, need to be exposed. I applaud Issac and May he be motivational for all.

  10. Judy B

    Amazing story
    I applaud your courageous and persistent integrity. A hero in his own right under such adverse conditions. You are an inspiration to others. To give your time so others have the opportunity to right the wrongs that may have otherwise never had a chance to appeal to the courts, who would have generally dismissed their cases or appeal.

  11. Katherine

    Remarkable story i am going through this right now with my two sons who just graduated from high school was wrongfully convicted by the Feds in Selma Al because they visited the cousins not knowing the Feds was watching the cousins mother Young boyfriend for selling drugs my 18&19 yr old sons was charged with charges they had nothing to do with the police officers in Selma Al are crooked cops they stole my son’s youth one son was double jeopardy he was on house arrest for a yr never been charged for any crime not even a juvenile record and he appeared in Court was held for sentence I couldn’t afford an attorney they appointed one to them by the state they were all in it together I need justice for my son’s please ???? help me out

  12. Brenda Frazier

    Remarkable story!!! Having to go through this storm of lies and to prevail through all the negativity, this story will continue to inspire others!!! Looking forward to see the movie ????!!!

  13. Coach Hilario

    Remarkable read, story, perseverance, integrity and conquering the storm. He N E E D S to immediately bow to The Christ. The L I V I N G God, who supplies us all birth, the wherewithal and wake ups. HalleluYAH!

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