NEW YORK, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- Rapper, actor and producer Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson thinks anyone, regardless of background, can relate to the main character in ABC's fact-based drama For Life.
Set to debut Tuesday, two days after Jackson's crime drama Power wrapped its six-season run on Starz, For Life is based loosely on the story of Isaac Wright Jr. -- a man wrongly accused of drug trafficking who becomes a lawyer and works to overturn his life sentence from behind bars.
Jackson is a producer on the show and also will guest star on it.
Nicholas Pinnock plays Aaron Wallace, a fictionalized version of Wright, Joy Bryant plays his wife Marie and Indira Varma plays Safiya, a prison staffer who supports Aaron's crusade.
Jackson believes great storytelling can effect change. He sees this series as spotlighting how the U.S. criminal-justice system needs to be improved, as well as inspiring compassion for inmates who either have received excessive sentences for offenses they committed or convicted of crimes they didn't commit.
"For people not paying attention, just being entertained, they will be a little more conscious" of the need for reform, Jackson, 44, recently told UPI.
The show opens with Aaron telling viewers, "I used to be just like you."
"It hits home hard," Jackson said, noting Aaron's declaration translates to "I was free," a universal truth to which most people relate.
"Under those circumstances, everyone who hears that is starting to make that connection. It's not for one specific demographic," Jackson said. "The statement itself is there to draw you closer."
The show's creator amplified the theme.
"I had a family, I had a job and I had dreams. That makes me just like you, whatever the color my skin is," said Hank Steinberg, whose other credits include The Last Ship, The Nine and Without a Trace.
"Storytelling can change how people think about things," Steinberg said, pointing out how gay characters on Will & Grace and a black president on 24 helped opened hearts and minds by normalizing them.
"You have to be careful that you are not trying to teach people. You want to entertain people and you want to bring them in through the characters first. If your intentions are honest and you have integrity about what you are trying to do, if you are moved by the subject matter you are doing, then it will come out. It will seep out without you having to speechify or preach to people."
Steinberg described For Life as a character-driven drama with an underdog protagonist.
"It couldn't be farther from Law & Order or any other procedural show. It's not case-of-the-week," he said.
"Aaron is driven by the conviction of knowing he is innocent and the legal aspect is his weapon," Steinberg said. "He also has to survive in prison. He has to manage his relationship with his family.
"He has this really interesting quid pro quo relationship with the warden, who is progressive and trying to institute reforms. He is supportive of that, but it's not as important to him, ultimately, as his own freedom."
It wasn't difficult for Jackson to earn Wright Jr.'s trust when they first discussed bringing his hardships and triumphs to the screen.
"It was easy to convince him to do it, for me, because he had already seen the success of the Power series and he had an idea to do a feature film. I told him it should be a television show," Jackson said.
"The way he told me the story, I was hearing and seeing the things that consistently go on. You can't tell that story in two hours. It would go so quickly, we wouldn't be able to go on the emotional journey with him. I say it will be the No. 1 show on ABC by Season 3."
Working with the Disney-owned broadcast network was a vastly different experience than he had at Starz, the premium cable home of Power and its upcoming spin-offs.
For instance, several directors can film in different locations on separate episodes of For Life at the same time.
"That doesn't happen very much in premium and, also, when we got to the marketing point, there is a boatload of money over here. I go: 'Wow, this is great! Why didn't I put my face on the cover of this?' I'm starting to feel like maybe I should have done that," he laughed. "There is a huge difference there."
He may not play the lead, but Jackson will appear on-screen in For Life later this season.
"He will be arriving to wreak havoc," Steinberg teased.
"I play a really interesting character -- Cassius Dawkins," Jackson said of the character he will play on a recurring basis.
"He is institutionalized. He has been there since he was 16 years old. When you haven't accomplished very much to make yourself relevant in the free world and haven't earned anything or done anything that makes you significant there, when you get into the system, sometimes you get into altercations and [feel] the excitement of your name starting to connect -- when people know of you as someone."
While most of the other inmates are doing what they need to get home, people like Cassius can become really dangerous, he said.
"There are guys that get there and they get so comfortable with being there that they are not in a hurry to go home," Jackson said.
Hard work and passion, plus how a person sees himself, is integral to success in anything, said Jackson, a former drug dealer who went on to become one of the most popular hip-hop artists in the world.
"People might not have it the very beginning, but people who have repeated success, it's because after they have it the first time, it's easy to believe in it," he said. "They don't question their ability to do it. I think the universe just works that way. If you don't believe it can happen, it can't."