To Be Free Again

Raymond Santana Jr. 

By Kesler Cervantes

Wrongly-convicted Raymond Santana Jr.—part of the Exonerated Five—shared his story of resilience with College of Southern Nevada students.

Den Talks, a new series at CSN, held “When we see Raymond” on Feb. 28, 2020 at the North Las Vegas Campus. Santana spoke to a full crowd in the Nicholas J. Horn Theatre.

A woman was raped in Central Park in New York in the late ‘80s. Santana and four of his friends were in the park that day. They had nothing to do with the crime but were blamed for it. In 1989 he went to trial and Santana was imprisoned for five years.

“In the beginning, I was just angry,” Santana stated. “I was angry that I was there and I couldn’t see anything clearly.”

During his time in prison, Santana was part of the education program and earned a degree. He learned about black history in the United States. He was enriched in the words and actions of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. Santana turned into a fighter but in a different way. In his time spent incarcerated and rehabilitated into the world he learned to use laughter not aggression. He could put a smile on someone’s face and deflate a threat and create a closer connection. He learned how to do that there.

Throughout the event, Santana was quite humorous in telling his rather dark story. He spoke about the need for vision to create a good life. He also mentioned the need to appreciate the small things such as a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Daniel Guiterrez, ASCSN student government president, and one of the many people who brought Santana to CSN felt that it was important to bring him because, “Being in a community filled with minorities, we knew we had to do something to fight against the statistic.” It especially hit a cord for CSN as it takes part in the prison education program to teach inmates.

Professor Charlene S. Gibson attended the event. “The importance of education is not only to help others but also to occupy the space you’re in and help better yourself for a brighter future.” That is exactly what happened for Santana.

Santana now lives in Georgia and owns a clothing line Park Madison NYC where part of the proceeds go to the Innocence Project, an organization that helps those who are wrongfully convicted. He and the other members of the Exonerated Five travel around the United States to share their stories and inspire others to act.

Among the audience were several members of the Black Student Union and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Yoana Ontiveros, CSN student who attended the event, is a minority and is very aware of the wrongdoings in the criminal justice system. “I have always been upset,” she stated. “I hated the stares I would get and I hated the unfair treatment.” Listening to Santana she began to see things a bit differently. “At some point, you just have to start seeing the positive out of the sea of negative. I can stay angry or I can be the change.”

Santana’s story was recently shown in the 2019 Netflix four-part series “When They See Us.”

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