ATLANTA – Genarlow Wilson, the young man released from prison after being sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual oral sex with another teenager, said Monday that the experience has matured him.
Wilson, 21, who has said he wants to pursue a college degree in either sociology or business, told NBC's "Today" Monday that he plans to make up for lost time. He was 17 when he was arrested.
"I definitely got into this situation a boy and I'm coming out a man," he said. "It's definitely taught me valuable life lessons."
Wilson spent two years behind bars.
Speaking on Sunday after a visit to Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, Wilson said he wants to be a role model to his 9-year-old sister and other young people.
"It would be good to get in anywhere and pursue my education," Wilson said, flanked by family members. "I just want to thank everyone. It feels real good to be free."
Two days after his release from prison Friday, Wilson went to an 11 a.m. service to thank church members for their support. He received a standing ovation.
Dressed in khaki pants, a yellow dress shirt and a tie, Wilson seemed nervous as he stood in an aisle and addressed the packed church.
"No words really can explain how thankful me and my family are," he said. "The Bible says there's a time and season for everything. I guess that time finally came."
The Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, Ebenezer Baptist Church's pastor, was among those who worked for Wilson's release. He criticized a system he called "more criminal than just" and a prison-industrial complex he described as a new form of slavery.
Wilson's case "should have never entered the venue of the criminal justice system in the first place," Warnock said.
Wilson was freed Friday, hours after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in a 4-3 vote that his 10-year sentence for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment."
Wilson was convicted of aggravated child molestation following a 2003 New Year's Eve party in a hotel room where he was videotaped having oral sex with the girl.
His case led to widespread protests of heavy-handed justice. His supporters said race was one reason he received such a severe sentence, noting that he and the girl -- who are both black -- were only two years apart.
After he was imprisoned, Wilson became the subject of prominent editorials and national news broadcasts. His sentence was denounced even by members of the jury that convicted him and the author of the 1995 law that put him in prison.
Supporters, including former President Jimmy Carter, said the case raised troubling questions about race and the justice system.
The 1995 law Wilson violated was changed in 2006 to make oral sex between teens close in age a misdemeanor, similar to the law regarding teen sexual intercourse.