February is Black History Month. Civil rights and many related issues will, no doubt, be discussed. One man’s story – which seemingly disappeared for more than a decade – is back and being told from a personal perspective. Former boxer and prisoner Rubin “Hurricane” Carter – whose conviction was overturned – is back. This time he’s telling his tale in his own words.
You might recall Carter’s story from the 1999 movie The Hurricane. Denzel Washington played Ruben in the movie version of his life story. Now, the ex-boxer speaks out in his new book, in Eye of the Hurricane: My Path from Darkness to Freedom. In it, he tackles what he perceives to be illusions in society that he believes we need to wake up from. Whatever your perceptions might be of the now Dr. Carter, there are lessons to learn from his latest writing.
Listen to the entire 35 minute interview with Rubin Carter:
Carter says prison was the best thing that ever happened to him. It was the place where the former middleweight boxer was able to awaken and see the world around him for what it really was.
“Being sent to prison under the circumstances in which I was sent to prison as a wrongly convicted person, that was the environment that forced me to wake up and to regain consciousness, to regain my humanity. It gave me the opportunity of being separated from the herd, the herd of humanity…I say that prison was the best thing that ever happened to me, because it forced me to wake up. It forced me to come to grips with myself, and it forced me to do something extraordinary to overcome the extraordinary circumstances in which I found myself. So that’s why I say prison was the best thing that ever happened to me. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else. The journey to self-discovery does not mean giving up your freedom. It does not mean any of those things, but for me, that was the environment that forced me to wake up.”
The ongoing message in Carter’s book is that we need to strive to be individuals and dare to dream. Dr. Carter explains that a certain kind of conditioning affects many people. We are born and then we take on many of the likes and dislikes of our parents. Until we break away and decide what we like and don’t like and who we really want to be, we are not ourselves. We are not our own person and do not have our own identity. We are living out a life that is not truly ours .
“In a very real sense, we are born perfect, we are born clean, but the moment that we are born into this world, we fall under the laws of our parents. Our parents teach us what to do, teach us how to think, teach us what we like and what we dislike. Those things are not us. That’s where personality begins to develop and personality is what is not real in a person. So that’s our first line of conditioning. From that moment on, we continue to be conditioned throughout our lives. So we’re never who we really are. We are always somebody else and not who we really are. It’s something that you can’t talk about in two seconds in order to get the essence of it, but that’s what we’re talking about.”
Building off of that point and relating to the subject of family, Carter explains that he does not currently have a relationship with his ex-wife and two children. He says he has not been in his daughter’s life since she was three years old. His daughter is now 47. Rubin sees no justification in trying to be a father figure today. He tells me that was another life that he has left behind.
“That was another life. My wife and my children, we never had a family relationship. When I was sent away to prison, my daughter was three years old at the time. From that moment on, we’ve never been together again. So to say that I am her father, she’s 47 years old today, to say that I am her father or to interject myself into her life as a father after having not been there for 44 years, it’s an illusion, it’s an illusion. My daughter has a family, her children has families. I have not been a part of that forever. So to think that I can come back into her life and say that, ‘I am you’re father, therefore you do this and you do that.’ It’s an illusion. That’s what we are caught up with in this life, illusions. Eye of The Hurricane seeks to strip away and get back to the reality of what it really is. You know what I mean? I have no relationship with my family whatsoever.”
Still, to this day, there are people who question Rubin Carter’s whereabouts on the night of June 17, 1966 when three people were murdered at the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Patterson, New Jersey. I asked him what he believed was the biggest piece of evidence that showed he was not there that night?
“The biggest piece of evidence shows that I’m free today. That’s the biggest piece of evidence. You see, I wasn’t just considered to be a murder, but rather I was considered to be a triple racist murderer and that’s far different than just being a murder as bad as that is, but being a triple racist murderer, means you will never get out of prison, never, ever, ever. But here I am. I am sitting here in Toronto. I’m a free man. That’s a miracle. I’m alive, that’s a double miracle.”
The likes of Muhammad Ali and Bob Dylan championed Rubin Carter’s release from prison. He says even with all those high profile people publicly coming out on his behalf, he narrowly escaped the prison system. It’s what motivated him to get into the wrongful conviction business. He understands, first hand, how hard it is to get someone out of prison that didn’t commit a crime.
“Muhammad, who was one of my greatest supporters, he did everything for me. Anything that I would ask him to do, he would do immediately. He even paid the bail when I was released in 1976 when my case was overturned. Muhammad Ali is a great person and of course he’s hurt today, unfortunately. But Muhammad Ali is a great champion in and outside of the ring. It was Muhammad Ali, Ellen Burstyn, Dyan Cannon, Bob Dylan. All of those were high profile people that I had, and I just narrowly escaped through the eye of the needle, even with all this high profile help that I had. So that’s what made me sort of get into this wrongful conviction business knowing how difficult it is to get people to understand you’ve been wrongly convicted. Nobody wants to understand that.”
Though they were sent to prison for different reasons, it might be said that former South African President Nelson Mandela and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter share some similarities concerning the time they were imprisoned. They both developed inner strength, choosing not to let prison weaken their lives and well being. They both believed that one day they would be free again. Mandela wrote the foreword for Eye of the Hurricane. In 2000, Carter and Mandela met at a conference in Australia. Carter recaps his experiences with the former President of South Africa.
“I was in South Africa about a year after Nelson was sent to Robben Island. It was almost against the law to speak his name at that time…I found out that the apartheid of South Africa was no different than the segregation of America, except that the black South Africans were willing to fight back and the Americans weren’t willing to fight back really. So that’s how I come into contact with Nelson. Then in the year 2000 in Australia at the World First Reconciliation Conference, Nelson and I spoke on the same stage at the time and that’s the first time I saw Nelson. As I write in the book, when we saw each other, we just started laughing. We just cracked up. Nelson said, ‘We’re here man. We’re here. We made it.’ That was a great thing for me. So when I wrote Eye of the Hurricane, I asked Nelson if he would write the foreword for me and he was gracious enough to do that. I think that’s a wonderful thing.”
When discussing Barack Obama’s election, as well as the racial issues still existing in America today, Dr. Carter offers it is not racism but group tribalism. One group of people protects their interests over another.
“There’s only one race of beings on this planet and that’s the human race and we all belong to that, but again, we are always under these illusions. We keep hearing people talking about different races and we accept these lies. We accept them as true. It’s not that. We are conditioned, our lives by tribalism and not racism. So when people talk about racism, I realize that people really don’t know what we’re talking about.”
The Canadian family that is profiled in the movie The Hurricane spent many years and lots of money to help get Rubin Carter get out of prison. From his release in 1985 up until he stopped living with them in 1993, Rubin gave the family all of his money, a total sum of two million dollars from movie rights, book rights, TV appearances, etc. This was to pay back his debt to them.
“It cost a great deal of money to get me out of prison. When I got out of prison, that was my personal debt to these people who had come from Canada, moved down to New Jersey and promised me that they would stay there until this thing was over. Therefore, that was my personal debt, the money that they spent getting me out of prison, I had to return them to the same financial state they were when they met me. So everything that I earned when I got out of prison, went back to these Canadians, all went back to the community pot because I was still living with the Canadians. But the whole thing was, I had to find a way to get out on my own. That was the most difficult thing to do, was to get out on my own. The only way I could that was to satisfy this personal debt that I had to these Canadians.”
After the film, The Hurricane, was released nationwide in 1999, reports surfaced that there were some inaccuracies in the movie. Carter explains that the role of the Canadian family was not developed enough – some elements of the story were left out. He says parts of the movie, involving the family are not true.
“When you talk about accuracy of a movie or anything like that, I quite agree that there were some things in the movie that was not accurate. That’s the reason why, I told Norman Jewison that he left his Academy Award on the cutting room floor. When the movie was first made, it was three hours long and far too long. When they began to show this movie to private audiences, the response was that the Canadians were not developed enough. So they began trying to develop these Canadians. As they developed the Canadians, they had to take other things out because the thing was too long already. Some of the things they put in for the Canadians did not happen. That is what was jumped on.”
Almost 30 years after the 1966 Lafayette Bar and Grill Murders, O.J. Simpson was put on trial for the murder of two people Carter says Simpson should have gotten out of his environment if he wanted to avoid the possibility of going back to prison on another charge.
“If you are lucky to escape a wrongful conviction as O.J. Simpson was, then you have to get out of that environment that produced that wrongful conviction. O.J. Simpson stayed where he was and now he’s in prison. That happens to a great deal. That happens to a great many people who are not able to get out of that environment.”
Summing his life, be it losing his boxing career to imprisonment, losing his house in a fire in 2004, losing his freedom for 19 years or losing his family, Rubin says he has not lost himself. To him, that is the most important thing of all.
“Finding myself was the first key to it. I had to find myself. Once you found yourself, then you must be true to yourself over time. That’s what many people have difficulty with, being true to themselves over time, because things come in and things go out. Life changes and people go in different directions and they forget what they started out to do and by the time they end up with something, it’s the opposite of what they started to do. Yet they say, well, this is what I meant to do in the first place. No. Being true to yourself means that you stay on key. You stay on point. You know what you started out to do and you end up doing exactly what you started out to do. That’s magic, because there are no straight lines in the universe, no straight lines. That’s why people can’t go in a straight line. That’s why people deviate and lose interest and energy and things like that…When I got out of prison, I had to get out and maintain being true to myself over time, being true to the work, being true to the work of consciousness of staying awake no matter what that cost me. That is what I’ve been able to do for these 24 years that I’ve been out.”
Dr. Carter continues to work on behalf of those he believes are wrongly convicted of crimes. To gain a more detailed grasp of our interview and the life of Rubin Carter today, you can listen to the entire 35 minutes at the audio link at the top of this page.
The headshot of Rubin Carter is credited to Sue Folinsbee.
Rubin Carter’s website is at http://www.rubinthehurricanecarter.com/index.html