“He was just enough. He was just enough to overcome everything that was laid on him on this earth. He was just enough not to give up on himself. He was just enough to believe in himself beyond anything else in this world. He was just enough to have the courage to stand up for his convictions no matter what problems his actions may have caused him. He was just enough to perform a miracle, to wake up, to escape the universal prison of sleep and to regain his humanity in a living cell. He was just enough. And so my young friend are you. Just enough.”
That’s the epitaph that Dr. Rubin Carter has chosen after the final chapter of his life’s work dedicated to defending the wrongly convicted is completed.
As a prize fighter, Carter unsuccessfully attempted to lift the world middleweight boxing crown, losing to Joey Giardello in Philadelphia in 1964. Two years later, he was in the biggest fight of his life after he and promising track star John Artis were arrested and charged for a triple murder in a New Jersey bar.
Carter and Artis were convicted in 1967 by an all-White jury and sentenced to triple life terms even though they passed lie detector tests and a victim of the shooting swore that they were not the gunmen.
With the help of some Canadian entrepreneurs and then 15-year-old functionally illiterate Brooklyn resident Lesra Martin who was so moved by Carter’s first book – The Sixteenth Round – which he wrote in prison, Carter was released in 1985 on a habeas corpus writ and exonerated of all charges three years later.
Two of the Canadians who played roles in Carter’s release – Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton – released Lazarus and the Hurricane: The Untold Story of the Freeing of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter in 1991 and James Hirsch published Hurricane: The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter in 2000.
Carter is the subject of a fourth book – it’s co-written with Ken Klonsky – out this month.
Eye of the Hurricane: My Path from Darkness to Freedom describes the 73-year-old New Jersey Boxing Hall of Famer and activist’s physical and metaphoric prisons he survived, and he explores his poverty-stricken childhood and troubled adolescence growing up in New Jersey, the boxing career that thrust him into the spotlight, his 20-year imprisonment, much of which was spent in solitary confinement and his dedicated work for the wrongly convicted.
Carter said he began working on the book shortly after he was released from prison and moved to Canada.
“This is the book I wanted to write for the past two decades,” Carter told Share from his west end Toronto residence. “Back then, the title was ‘The Hole in the Wall’, but nobody wanted to publish it. I made another attempt to get it out in 1999 to coincide with the release of the movie, The Hurricane, but it was again rejected…This book is not for everybody. It’s for those who have eyes to see, ears to hear and the ability to understand.”
Former South African president Nelson Mandela wrote the foreword for the 328-page hardcover that was published by Lawrence Hill Books, an imprint of Chicago Review Press.
Carter, who served in the U.S. Army and overcame a debilitating stammer, met Mandela for the first time at the 2000 World Reconciliation Day conference in Melbourne where they were the featured speakers.
“It was such an amazing honour to meet him and he did not hesitate when I asked him later on to pen the foreword,” said Carter, who took part in the Poor People’s March on Washington in 1963, the largest civil rights demonstration in history.
In the book, Carter addresses in detail for the first time his break-up with AIDWYC, a Toronto-based organization – comprised of mainly lawyers – which he co-founded to provide support to the wrongly convicted, raise public consciousness on issues related to wrongful convictions and help reform the legal system.
He left the organization after Susan MacLean, one of the original prosecutors of Guy Paul Morin, was appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice. DNA evidence exonerated Morin of the rape and murder of Christine Jessop, an eight-year-old neighbour.
“I had a problem when Susan was elevated, but the board did not agree with me,” said Carter, the chief executive officer of Innocence International that he founded seven years ago. “AIDWYC was created to help free innocent people and to hold accountable those who deliberately perpetrate and those who benefit from wrongful convictions. In my opinion, she was being rewarded for participating in the conviction of an innocent person. She still maintained Morin was guilty even after DNA absolved him.”
Morin’s case was the first that AIDWYC adopted. The organization’s second case involved Jamaican-born Donzel Young who always maintained he was a peacemaker and not a murderer.
The father of three was fatally stabbed in a federal penitentiary in March 1995 while trying to break up a fight.
Carter said that case still haunts him because the organization did not get his wrongful conviction overturned even though they had evidence to prove his innocence.
Young was implicated in a series of heinous crimes in the city that led to his double murder conviction. First, Barrington Parker was murdered. Then drug dealers Hugh Pryce and Douglas Barr were killed in a revenge slaying in the presence of Young in September 1989. Evidence was produced pointing to another man as the triggerman in the double slayings, but that man was murdered before Young’s trial.
“We went to Jamaica and found witnesses and evidence pointing to Donzel’s innocence,” said Carter, a Grade Eight drop-out who holds honorary doctorates from York University and Australia’s Griffith University. “His death hurt me badly and we just forgot about the case after he was gone. We did not follow through and free him posthumously which was my intention.”
American Steven Crawford is eternally grateful to Carter and AIDWYC for adopting his case and he came to Toronto to publicly thank them at an Innocence Behind Bars conference in November 2002 that featured late lawyer Johnnie Cochran as the keynote speaker.
Crawford was accused of murdering his neighbour and best friend whose body was found in September 1970 under a Chevy in Crawford’s garage. Just 14 at the time, he was arrested and charged two years later.
After the murder, police lifted several finger and palm prints from the car under which Mitchell’s body was found. Police also accumulated fingerprints from neighbourhood residents, including Crawford’s. They and forensic experts testified that blood was found only along the print ridges and not in the grooves which meant fresh blood was on Crawford’s hand when he touched the car.
It was not until 2001 – 23 years later after his third conviction – that Crawford received the break he was waiting for when some inquisitive youths rummaging through garbage found a briefcase in a dumpster. While seated at a roadside curb trying to pry it open, a police officer drove by and took it away from them. To determine ownership, he opened the case and found important documents relating to Crawford’s prosecution.
The briefcase belonged to one of the lead investigators in Crawford’s case. Following his death, his family discarded most of the paperwork from his cases, including those of Crawford. Among the retrieved contents was a copy of laboratory notes from Crawford’s case that had never been disclosed to the defence. When compared against the notes on file, it was evident they had been altered.
Based on the discovery of this evidence, Crawford was released in June 2001 from a Pennsylvania prison on US$1 bail. Prosecutors agreed not to oppose a defence request for a new trial in light of the uncovered documents showing that key forensic evidence in his case had been buried. He was finally exonerated on July 16, 2002 after the prosecutor decided not to proceed with a fourth trial.
Carter dedicates his new book to Artis who lives in Virginia, friend Thom Kidrin who provided him with cans of soup while he was incarcerated because he refused to eat prison food and retired judge H. Lee Sarokin who overturned his conviction.
“When a judge is responsible for freeing a person whom he believes has been wrongly convicted of murder, he worries whether he will live to regret or be proud of that decision,” said Sarokin. “When it comes to Rubin Carter, I have no regrets. He has justified my faith in him and I am proud of the person he has become. He is a testament to the human spirit.”
The book’s Canadian launch takes place tomorrow (Friday, January 28) at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), beginning at 6.30 p.m.