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Words of inspiration

Hurricane carter

by Deborah Rieselman

"Until I saw Denzel Washington portraying me on the screen, I didn't know how good looking I really was," joked Rubin "Hurricane" Carter during a University of Cincinnati appearance during winter quarter, 2001. Although Washington's face is more readily associated with Carter's name, thanks to his portrayal of the former professional boxer in the 1999 movie "The Hurricane," the crowd didn't come to Tangeman University Center to see a celebrity. They came to hear words of inspiration from a man wrongly jailed for 19 years.

"I got my bachelor's degree on the streets of depression, my master's degree in man's inhumanity to man and my PhD in prison brutality," Carter said. "I'm a survivor."

Jailed shortly before a World Championship fight in '66, he readily states that his incarceration was racially motivated. Yet he used his message to promote self-confidence among the students, not to express any bitterness.

"I don't get in a ring anymore and try to knock people out with my fists," he said, "instead I'm out here talking, huffing and puffing like a good hurricane should."

The comments excerpted here are from two and a half hours he spent with several hundred students at TUC's Great Hall. Students like Donald Uhlinger made a point to tell him afterward how "enlightening and inspirational" his words had been to them.

The event was sponsored by the UC Student Organizations and Activities' Program Advisory Council.

Hurricane Carter

'Hate put me in prison,
but love busted me out'

by Rubin "Hurricane" Carter
(as told to students at the University of Cincinnati)

I HAD A GLORIOUS CAREER taken away from me. I was mad for a long time, but I came to realize that bitterness only consumes the vessel that contains it.

I know that peace and reconciliation are difficult, but I also know they are possible. Anything can be achieved on this planet. Just look at me. My being here tonight is a miracle.

I received three life sentences. Triple life. That's forever and ever, amen. But 12 misinformed people finding me guilty did not make me guilty. So I did the only thing I could do: I believed in myself.

I refused to wear prison stripes, refused to work at their jobs, eat their food or follow their rules. My stubbornness earned me close to 10 years in solitary confinement [not 90 days as the film indicated] -- no lights, no running water, no sanitary facilities, no communication and only five slices of stale bread and a cup of water a day.

Strange things happen when you're in the hole. When I couldn't see outside, I had to look inside, and I began to realize that I was in more than one prison.

By believing in myself, I began my journey of reconciliation. It's all about trusting yourself, not letting anyone tell you you're unimportant.

Racism has often been at the forefront of my life, but there's no such thing as racism. There's only one race -- the human race. We have the same blood coursing through our bodies, united by the desire to help another soul. Remember, a lie can circle the globe before the truth even starts putting on its shoes, but the truth is still there.

I remember my first professional fight -- walking down the aisle in borrowed red shoes, purple trunks, green socks and a baby blue robe, with a wad of toilet paper in my mouth, carrying my own water bucket. Everybody laughed at me, but I won the fight. It was a triumph of substance over form. Substance is always more powerful than form.

When I was charged with murder, I believed that if you told the truth, you wouldn't be penalized. Even after my conviction, I was convinced a higher court would overturn it and I'd resume my career, go on to become a champion. Then I woke up blind in one eye because of inadequate medical care, and I knew I'd never fight again.

But 26 years after my boxing career had ended, the World Boxing Council awarded me the world championship belt at its convention (in '93). This was a symbol of the victory of substance over form.

Dare to dream. Seize every opportunity to help yourself. Don't give up, no matter what the obstacles. If you believe in yourself, you can win. Even lost dreams are not always lost.

Carter in brief:

  • Due to misidentification, Carter incarcerated for fatally shooting three people, New Jersey, '66.
  • Carter's autobiography, "The Sixteenth Round," published, '74.
  • Within a year, Muhammad Ali dedicates a fight to Carter, and Bob Dylan records hit "Hurricane."
  • Canadian friends take new evidence to federal district court; conviction overturned, '85.
  • U.S. Court of Appeals upholds federal court decision, '87.
  • Carter is a current board member for the Southern Center for Human Rights, the Alliance for Prison Justice and the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted, Toronto.


Lyrics to Bob Dylan's song "Hurricane"

Synopsis and trailer for the movie "The Hurricane"

Southern Center for Human Rights

The Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted