Genarlow Wilson will leave the bitterness to others. For the moment, just being able to sleep in his own bed, get up in the middle of the night to raid the refrigerator and being able to be with his family is satisfaction enough.
“When I got the news, I was ecstatic at just being able to finally walk out of the prison knowing that I was free and I had a new chance at life,” Wilson told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira on Monday.
It was just three days ago, after two years of public outcry over the 10-year sentence he was serving for having consensual oral sex at a party when he was a teen, that he was freed from prison by order of the Georgia Supreme Court.
Noting that Georgia law had been changed to make Wilson’s crime punishable by up to only a year in prison, the court called the 10-year sentence “extraordinarily harsh.” Wilson was suddenly a free man.
“It was an awesome feeling, just being able to hug my mother and my sister,” Wilson, now 21, told Vieira.
Dressed in a crisp white shirt and tie and speaking from his home in Powder Springs, Ga., with his mother, Juanessa, at his side, Wilson didn’t complain about losing two years of his life. Instead, Wilson said that he wants to help other kids who might be tempted to make the same dangerous decisions he made.
“This is a whole new beginning,” he had said on Sunday after attending church. “I have fresh breath, a new life. All I can do is start new today.”
With Vieira, he spoke mostly of the lessons he learned and his determination to help other kids learn from his mistake.
“I definitely got in a situation a boy, and I’m coming out a man,” Wilson said. “I made very stupid decisions.”
He and his mother were both outwardly calm, as if they were discussing whether to plant hydrangeas or geraniums in the garden.
“We’re still kind of numb, and it’s still soaking in,” his mother said. “We haven’t really had time to let it set in. It also feels like he never left. I guess I was in a state of denial.”
But, she concluded, “It feels good.”
“It definitely taught me valuable lessons,” Wilson said of his experience. “It’s something I want to share. I plan to help educating teens on sex and teaching them the new laws. I feel I have a testimony to share with them. I want to just help them make better decisions.”
On New Year’s Eve, 2003, Wilson was 17, a top student in his high school and an outstanding athlete who was widely recruited by colleges, including Columbia University.
Wilson went to a party attended by a bunch of kids in a hotel room.
There was alcohol and drugs — and a video camera. A 17-year-old girl at the party who was taped having what appeared to be consensual sex claimed the next morning that she had been raped.