'Hurricane' Rubin Carter passed away April 19, 2014
On the 40th annversary of the death of black civil rights activist Malcolm X, the Hale Black Cultural Center brought one of the nation's foremost survivors, Rubin Carter, to the conference theater of the Ohio Union last night to speak about his life.
The sixty-eight year-old Carter has gained national attention over the past half century, first for his success as a middleweight boxer in the 1960's that earned him the nickname "Hurricane," and then for his wrongful imprisonment for the murder of three white bar patrons in Paterson, NJ. in June, 1966. Throughout the racially tense trial and his 18 years behind bars, Dr. Carter - who said he was often the only African American in the court room - maintained his innocence. He was finally released in 1985 after it was exposed that his conviction was based on racial prejudices and not facts.
In the 20 years since his release, Rubin Carter said he has dedicated his life to helping wrongfully imprisoned individuals like himself find the truth to earn their freedom. He has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Southern Center for Human Rights, the Alliance for Prison Justice, Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted and was just named the chairman of Innocence International last September, a program based out of Griffith University in Australia.
"Innocence International is a supply line for projects around the world to supply help in proving the innocence of those wrongfully imprisoned," Carter said.
Carter described his dramaticly life-changing experience in prison. The former number one contender for the middleweight boxing championship said that after seething in his cell for long time, he began to understand that in order to survive prison he would have to change. No longer would he let his hatred and bitterness for those individuals who put him in prison control him; rather, he said he would have to seize every opportunity that presented itself.
"What is a dream?" he said. "A dream is hope, and hope is a dream."
Carter said his dream was to find a way to prove his innocence. For him that came true on Nov. 7, 1985 when he was released with the help of three individuals from Toronto. Lesra Martin, an African American from Brooklyn and his two adopted Canadian parents dedicated themselves to proving his innocence in the early 1980's after Martin read Carter's autobiography "The Sixteenth Round."
"It was an absolute miracle," Carter said about Martin's help in proving his innocence. "(Martin) was totally illiterate before meeting his adoptive parents who educated him. My autiobiography was the first book he read. When I emerged (from prison) the darkness had not overcome me."
Carter also expressed his feelings against the death penalty - something he narrowly avoided while being sentenced - and the U.S. criminal justice system.
"Capital punishment (in the U.S.) has turned the criminal justice system into an assembly line of death," he said. "The justice (system) is not always blind. One in three black men between the ages of 12 and 37 are in the criminal justice system. There are more black men in this nation's jails than in it's universities."
Carter compared his survival experience to that of the survivors of the Holocaust. The only difference between Germany and the U.S., is that Germany persecuted people because of religion, while in the U.S. it is because of the color of your skin, he said.
Carter concluded his speech by showcasing his two championship belts. Just this year he was awarded an honorary middle-weight championship of the world title belt, a belt he would have fought for had he not been sent to prison 39 years before. His other belt comemorated his honorary doctorate degree in law from Griffith University, an event he said "transformed the Hurricane into a gentle breeze."
"I am here to bring to you the biblical message of hope, that light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not overtake me," he said. "Dare to dream and believe in yourself."
Former professional boxer turned advocate for the wrongfully convicted, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter will speak in Saskatoon Thursday at a fundraising event for the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan.
"It's a motivational speech and it's about justice and motivation through that," said Mike Dunphy, provincial executive director of the society.
In 1966, Carter was a boxer one fight away from the middleweight championship of the world when he was wrongfully imprisoned in the murder of three men. He spent nearly 20 years behind bars before he was acquitted of the killings.
"He's going to talk about how to keep oneself on the right track. Bitterness and resentment and 20 years of his life was taken away from him, and how you can continue going forward on the right path," Dunphy said.
"It's really not going to be a talk on being wrongly convicted, especially with the (inquiry into the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard) going on here. It's a motivational talk here regarding self and about how if you allow the bitterness (to) continue, then you lose."
The society's mandate is to "accept responsibility for understanding and dealing with the problems of crime and the criminal justice system in a creative, humane and progressive manner," their website says.
Corporate sponsors have bought tickets for many young men and women to attend the event who will hopefully leave with a better understanding of themselves and others, Dunphy said. A help fair will be held afterwards to help educate and assist people who need it, he said.
"Basically this is a crime reduction or crime prevention strategy for the John Howard Society," Dunphy said.
Money raised from ticket sales at the event will help pay for the society's programs, including a new effort to help young fathers.
"We're finding that there's many young men in Saskatchewan that have two or three children and are under the age of 18 that don't have a clue about parenting," Dunphy said. "There's no assistance. There's certainly lots of assistance designed for parenting as a couple, but there's really not any young men fatherhood groups. That's what we want to do because most of those young men tend to bounce in and out of jail."
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter went from fighting for a world boxing title to fighting for his very life.
"I have lived the nightmare and I have survived it. I am a survivor," bellowed Carter to a crowd at the Centennial Auditorium on Thursday night.
A professional boxer in the mid-1960s, Carter was one fight away from becoming the world middle-weight champion when he was wrongfully convicted of three murders. He narrowly escaped the death sentence but spent more than 20 years in jail before he was acquitted.
"Even lost dreams are not always lost," he said to several hundred people at the auditorium.
He never fought that final match but the World Boxing Council and the World Boxing Association eventually awarded him champion belts.
"These belts are symbols of that great victory of substance over form," he said as he hoisted the belts above his head to the cheers, whistles and applause of the crowd including many who were at-risk youth and adults given free tickets to hear the former boxer.
Carter's story attracted international attention in the 1970s with the Bob Dylan song, Hurricane. More recently, the story was the subject of the critically-acclaimed movie "The Hurricane" starring Denzel Washington.
The journey from boxing star to convicted killer to motivational speaker was not an easy one.
Carter recalled how he spent the first 10 years of his sentence six feet underground in solitary confinement.
"I sat in that cell for years feasting on my hatred like a tasty steak. Hate consumed (me)."
It was during one of his monthly medical trips out of the dark and dingy cell that he caught a glimpse of himself in a mirror.
"The twisted grotesque image that glared back at me from that mirror jolted me. I saw a monster from another world in that mirror. That monster was me.
"I had to change the image of myself that I saw in that mirror."
Changing meant daring to dream, something he repeatedly urged his audience to do.
"It touched me right here in the heart," said Paul Sarty, 34, on day parole while serving time for drug-related charges.
"I never really believed in myself before but now that I've listened to (Carter), I want to try it. I'm going to start believing in myself. I'll just take it day-by-day," he said as he waited in line for Carter's autograph.
Brothers Jesse and Chad Morin also wanted the autograph of the legendary Carter. They remember their father listening to Carter's fights on the radio and were inspired by the energy and enthusiasm he showed during his presentation.
"In a busy day you're running around, sometimes you wonder what you're running around for when a person like (Carter) spends 22 years in jail and he looks at every day as a precious day. It makes you stop," said Jesse Morin.
The John Howard Society of Saskatchewan sponsored Carter's talk as a fundraising event. The organization helps people convicted of crime re-integrate into society, works with victims and tries to find creative and humane ways of dealing with crime.
Corporate sponsors bought 400 tickets that were distributed free-of-charge through agencies such as White Buffalo Youth Lodge, Egadz and the federal half-way house. Another 400 tickets were purchased through the box office.