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Special Feature: The Hurricane

Jeanne Powell’s special feature on the late American middleweight boxer who was wrongly convicted of murder.

Rubin Carter, known as The Hurricane, has died. He was 76 years of age, and had survived the loss of 19 years from his prime due to a miscarriage of justice in the United States.

Carter was the undisputed favorite to be the next world middleweight boxing champion when he was wrongly accused and convicted of a triple homicide in New Jersey. During 19 years of imprisonment, he wrote and petitioned and campaigned for his release. For years his court appeals were denied.

Eventually he prevailed with the assistance of a Canadian family and an American law firm, who believed in his innocence. A federal judge returned the case to state court where the local district attorney had the option of retrying Carter. As part of his decision, the federal judge offered his opinion as to how the case had been mishandled from the start. Although he could not rule on the merits because of jurisdictional limits, the federal judge did decide to free Carter then and there. Carter was never retried; what passed for “evidence” in the New Jersey court had been discredited years earlier.

Rubin Carter moved to Canada, and focused on bringing justice to others who had been accused of crimes they did not commit. He became friends with Steven Truscott, a Canadian falsely accused of homicide and sentenced to hang when he was just 14 years old. Both men lived to see their innocence vindicated.

After interviewing Truscott, Carter said “He’s doing it [fighting to clear his name] for the same reason I did it. I refuse to be condemned by history. ‘Talk to me, listen to me’ is what we’re saying.”

A professional boxer, Carter was one fight away from becoming world champion when he was arrested, charged and wrongfully convicted. After his release 19 years later, he was past his prime and no longer a contender. In recognition of the injustice he had suffered, the World Boxing Council and the World Boxing Association awarded him champion belts.

Denzel Washington portrayed Carter in “The Hurricane,” a film which received critical acclaim. Political activist Bob Dylan recorded a popular song about the boxing legend.

Rubin Carter had to change from within in order to survive his ordeal, he has said. He had to give himself permission to dream, give himself permission to transform from prizefighter to convict to inspirational speaker. And the Hurricane became an inspiration to many at-risk youth in Canada and the U.S.

About Jeanne Powell

Jeanne Powell is a poet and short story writer, who teaches in a summer program for teens. Her most recent books are "My Own Silence" and "Word Dancing," available online and through booksellers. She also hosts spoken word events in San Francisco, and covers cultural happenings for online media.