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Eye of the Hurricane: My Path from Darkness to Freedom

Eye of the Hurricane: My Path from Darkness to Freedom

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Eye of the Hurricane: My Path from Darkness to Freedom

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330 pagine
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Jan 1, 2011


A spiritual as well as a factual autobiography, this is a self-portrait of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a 20th-century icon and controversial victim of the U.S. justice system turned spokesperson for the wrongfully convicted. Exploring Carter’s personal philosophyborn of the unimaginable duress of wrongful imprisonment and conceived through his defiance of the brutal institution of prison and a decade of solitary confinementthis work offers hope for those who have none and serves as a call to action for those who abhor injustice. Exposing the inherent flaws in the legal and penal systems, this autobiography also serves as a prison survival manualbe it a brick-and-mortar cell or the metaphorical prison of childhood abuse, racism, and despair.

Jan 1, 2011

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  • Who or what we human beings really are is the first question we must try to answer. I believe that humanity is the only link between the creative forces of the universe, the source of all existence, and organic life on earth.

  • Your family beliefs, passed down from generation to generation, are also accidents. Before you can stop being those things and believing that those things are important, you have to learn what you are in reality and what makes us all one.

  • What happens to us in life is less important than what we do with what happens to us. It was time to shake out the cobwebs and to remember myself for who and what I really am.

  • My purpose in life is not only to become what I can be, however difficult that may prove, but also to transcend prisons—the physical, the metaphorical, and the universal prison of sleep.

  • Truth—yes, there is such a thing as Truth—integrity, dignity, freedom, and good. To compromise these things drains meaning from life and transforms us from human beings into machines.

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Eye of the Hurricane - Rubin "Hurricane" Carter



Ken Klonsky

Highway 209, south and west of Kingston, New York, lined by prosperous villages, farmhouses, and rolling hills, looked and felt on that November morning of 2004 like a bucolic paradise, a gentle road to nowhere. Golden autumn leaves, a blue sky, and a hint in the air of summer past were marred only by the occasional sign to remind us that this was the day after election day, a day on which George W. Bush had won the presidency for the second time.

The closer we approached our destination, the shabbier the villages and the farmhouses became. That destination, Eastern New York Correctional Facility, a gray stone structure built on a disproportionate scale, appeared incongruous in this setting. The width of its frontage gave the impression that the building had no depth, like a movie set for an old-fashioned medieval spectacle. Flanking the prison were two gargantuan turrets shaped like chess rooks. The multi-tiered building with heavily barred windows sent a subliminal message: Leave all hope behind, you who enter here. Maximum security. Minimum hope.

Rubin Hurricane Carter, Alonzo Starling, and I had set off from Toronto the previous day on a journey of hope. We planned to visit a prisoner at this penitentiary, David McCallum III, the first case for Carter’s recently launched organization, Innocence International, dedicated to assisting the wrongly convicted worldwide. After the visit with McCallum, we planned to go down to New Jersey where Carter had been asked to speak to young offenders at the New Jersey Training School for Boys in Jamesburg, the very place where he had been sent as a youth for assaulting a known pedophile. Carter and I were writing a book together, this book, and I could think of no better way to get to know him.

What kind of man is Rubin Carter? There are those who focus on his character flaws, his difficult past, his long-windedness. He owns up to it all, often good-naturedly. There are those who continue to sully his name, to insist that he and his codefendant, John Artis, were guilty in 1966 of the infamous triple murder at a bar in Paterson, New Jersey. Those who still attack his reputation do not know, nor did they ever know, the real Rubin Carter. He is still an image in their minds, in the words of Bob Dylan’s immortal song, Hurricane, the crazy nigga. Other black boxers have also been demonized by the American public—Jack Johnson, a heavyweight portrayed as chasing white women, and Sonny Liston, always depicted as a big man with a malevolent scowl, just to name two.

Carter, despite his nickname, was not a furious, angry fighter but a methodical and intelligent one. Watching tapes of his past matches, I could see why he was never knocked out: he believed as much in defending himself, fighting in close, as he did in taking out the other guy. Angry fighters leave themselves open to long-range well-timed counterpunches. To Rubin Hurricane Carter, boxing was a business, albeit an enjoyable one. His business was to get his opponent out of there as soon as possible while never playing to the fickle crowd.

Carter, born in Clifton, New Jersey, in 1937, is a paradoxical mixture of youthful idealism, impracticality, and hard-earned wisdom. It is hard to conceive that a man so straightforward and direct, who even fought that way, could go into a bar, shoot three innocent people to death while wounding a fourth, and run off into the night. Nor did he commit such a crime.

David McCallum III, the prisoner we were visiting, had written to me and Rubin in February 2004 after reading an interview I did with Carter in The Sun magazine. McCallum, in 1985 at the age of sixteen, had been arrested along with another African American male, Willie Stuckey, for a terrible crime, the abduction and cold-blooded murder of a twenty-year-old white male. Not a single piece of forensic, ballistic, or eyewitness evidence incriminated either boy, but the two, under what they claimed was physical coercion, had falsely confessed to the crime. Both boys were convicted and sentenced to twenty-five years to life. Stuckey died in prison in 2001 of unknown causes. It might just as well have been that he died of a broken heart.

In his letter, McCallum said:

I have been incarcerated for nearly nineteen years for a crime that I did not commit, and it has been a passion to prove my innocence or at least bring some awareness to my case by establishing a letter-writing campaign, but no one seems to want to take my letters serious enough. . . . Fortunately, that has not discouraged me at all. . . .

My question to you is would it be alright for me to share my story with you in a future letter? I am confident that you would be intrigued and interested by my plight. Like your interview with Mr. Carter, my story would be able to inspire and motivate people to get more involved in advocate work because there are thousands of innocent people languishing in prison with what appears to be no hope at all.

David McCallum’s letter to us was one of dozens this indefatigable man had sent out. We were on a list that included Bob Herbert of the New York Times, Richard Leo of the criminology department at the University of California, Medilex and Medical Legal Case Review, both crime laboratories, ABC News’s Primetime, forensic science experts, numerous law firms, a polygraph expert, private investigators, ten or so innocence projects, and literally anyone anywhere who might respond to a cry for help. Each of his letters had been similarly crafted to capture the attention of the recipient. Some of the recipients responded with transparent excuses. Others were interested at first but backed out for various reasons, including the absence of dna evidence and McCallum’s inability to pay for forensic tests. Carter’s reputation would bring to David the assistance of a brilliant pro bono attorney, Oscar Michelen, of Sandback and Michelen, and Professor Steven Drizin from Northwestern University’s Bluhm Legal Clinic, an expert in the field of false confessions.

By the summer, I was able to inform him that he was to be the first case for Carter’s new organization. The following reply came from him on September 20, 2004.

Dear Mr. Klonsky,

After receiving the great news, I am finding it extremely difficult to contain my enthusiasm. I have taken your advice and I am enjoying this news because for the first time in years, I genuinely believe that I am on the right path. I am really looking forward to receiving the help of Innocence International.

Mr. Carter’s words, Tell him we are going to come get him, were profound and encouraging. They elicited tears of hope and belief from me. My spirits have been uplifted considerably, and I have no intention of allowing doubt to seep into my thoughts. . . .

I sent a copy of your letter to my mom and dad because I like to keep them abreast of what is going on with me. I am sure they are going to be overwhelmed with happiness.

I am not disappointed about [having to wait until] November 3rd. If I have learned nothing else, I have learned to suppress impatience. It will not be a problem for me waiting on you and Mr. Carter’s arrival. . . . I can imagine what it will mean for other men when you and Mr. Carter visit them. What better individual for them to draw inspiration from than Mr. Carter himself in terms of enduring hardships at such a young age. I know that I have.

As we walked through the prison parking lot, Carter speculated that the grapevine would have heard that we were coming—he was later proved correct. The visitors’ entrance and the visitors’ waiting room were full of signs, some logical, some absurd. These rules, as Carter says, are designed to keep the prisoner and his family confused and submissive. No weapons or metal objects makes obvious sense, but why was I forbidden to carry a notebook? I was reduced to taking notes on business cards. One could only wonder at the mind responsible for the following rule: Physical contact is limited to an embrace and a kiss at the beginning and end of the visit. Brief kisses and embraces are also permitted during the course of the visit. However, prolonged kissing, commonly referred to as ‘necking’ or ‘petting,’ is not allowed or permitted.

After a long time of emptying pockets, stashing items in lockers, filling out forms, going through metal detectors, and enduring personal searches, we were finally given access to the visitors’ room—that is, the prison cafeteria. The small square tables and hardback chairs appeared to have been donated by a local elementary school.

McCallum, a muscular man with a thick neck and rounded shoulders, stood back near a table as we entered, suppressing a smile. Each of us gave him a hug, his body under the dark green prison garb feeling like an iron ball. He sat between Carter and me, across from Starling. Carter stared at him, beamed at him, for perhaps three minutes. We were suspended in silence. The prisoner gulped down emotion after emotion—fearful, as he later revealed, that he would be unable to control himself. This was the first time anyone who was dedicated to freeing the innocent had ever visited him. Nineteen years he had been there, roughly the same time that Rubin Carter had spent incarcerated at Rahway (now East New Jersey State Prison) and Trenton State (now New Jersey State Prison) for the triple murder. Carter left prison in 1985, on almost the same day that David entered it.

In clear violation of the rules, a couple across from us engaged in some heavy lap dancing that, as Carter informed me later, I should not have been observing. Prisons have written rules, and the prisoners have unwritten ones. The guard on duty, an easygoing, youngish woman, blithely ignored the prisoner’s breach of conduct, and, luckily for me, the presence of Rubin Carter saved me from a harsh warning or a confrontation with the inmate. Of course, they had been watching Carter, too.

Under Carter’s gaze, McCallum slowly came to life. He had been waiting in his cell since nine o’clock, not going to his daily workout for fear of missing his visitors. We did not get there until eleven-twenty. All that time, he had paced back and forth, reminding himself that visiting hours were from nine to three and that almost four hours remained, but McCallum, by dint of continued disappointments, has an understandable tendency to pessimism.

It’s not optimism or pessimism, Carter told him later. Optimism built the airplane. Pessimism built the parachute. You need both, my brother.

During the interview, which lasted more than two hours, any doubts I had about McCallum were dispelled. His features, especially his lips and mouth, appeared distorted. His body was off-center, as if the prison walls and the years of waiting had fallen on top of him. He’d been bent, but he hadn’t broken.

Carter asked him if he could gather the materials that might prove his innocence or cast doubt upon his conviction. McCallum proved to be just as well organized in person as he had sounded in his letters. Intelligent and articulate, as well.

Carter touched him repeatedly, to make him understand that we were really there. He assured him that we were going to get him out, that the process might take some time, but that we would eventually find a way. And he promised the prisoner that we would be standing right outside that door when it happened. McCallum told us that since his incarceration he had been out of the prison on one single occasion, when he needed to get specialized treatment at a hospital. Shackled on a small bus, through the window he saw trees, sky, people walking: everyday life. He had wept. Little things you take for granted mean so much, he said.

The final advice that Rubin Carter had for David McCallum was something he had been told by Judge H. Lee Sarokin upon his release from prison. It’s the advice Carter gives all wrongly convicted prisoners upon first meeting, when he decides if his innocence project will represent them. Rubin, the judge had said. You have to live a pristine life, not for yourself but for all the other wrongly convicted prisoners in the world. Carter asked McCallum if he was able to do it. McCallum did not answer right away but admitted that he had thought about it, about whether the prison had rubbed off on him. Then he gave Carter his solemn assurance along with a promise that he would dedicate his life to helping others in his circumstances. Getting out of prison, as Carter says, is the day your sentence begins, when you commence the hard work of reconstructing your life. Carter’s release date, November 8, 1985, he still considers to be the day of his second birth.

After a final hug, as McCallum walked back slowly toward the prison proper, we could see the burden he carried. He looked back one last time, his face a mixture of joy, pain, and, now, hope.

The year 2004 had been a challenging one for Carter. He resigned from the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted, the premier Canadian innocence project where he had been executive director for thirteen years, over an ethical dispute with the board of directors. While on a holiday in Jamaica, the house he lived in for more than a decade was gutted by a fire. Much of what he owned, aside from what he had with him in Jamaica, was destroyed: priceless memorabilia, photographs, clothing, furniture. Lacking insurance, he was broke. He had spent the previous year doing nothing but pro bono work.

Rubin Hurricane Carter, now Dr. Rubin Carter (after receiving an honorary doctorate from Griffith University in Australia), was being tested again. Yet he didn’t cry out against ill luck or injustice. His response to the fire had been, It’s only stuff. He also felt great joy that his big loving cat, aptly named Phoenix, rose from the ashes and survived. He rented a basement apartment, pointing out that with his life’s experience he could live in a matchbox and be happy.

The day after visiting McCallum, we drove to Jamesburg. Carter had been asked by the New Jersey Training School for Boys, the juvenile detention facility from which he had escaped to join the army paratroops fifty years ago, to speak to the young offenders. Since his release from prison, Carter has come to see his experiences at the school in a somewhat positive light. He is, however, disturbed by some of the changes that have taken place since his departure. While the school is now blessed with a caring and well-trained staff, unlike the staff he had to deal with during his stay, it has morphed from a self-contained farm and military school into a fenced-in prison. From the same school stage where as a child he had performed in an Amos and Andy play, Carter gave the young men a message of hope, that they, like him, like Malcolm X, like Nelson Mandela, could rise from their present circumstances and realize their unlimited potentials, their hopes and aspirations. Plainly, he was revered by everyone there, even one of his former prison guards at Trenton State, who now worked at Jamesburg in drug rehab. That man, Eugene Livingston, referred to him as a monarch, verifying the reports that Carter’s prison cell had been filled with books and that he had been universally respected. To those young inmates, Carter gave the same message that he gives to all people, regardless of their circumstances: Dare to dream. It was the message the high school students I taught in Toronto heard from him years ago. On this afternoon at the youth facility, just as on that afternoon at a public high school, he validated the lives of young people. That was to be his payment.

Rubin Carter’s life embodies transformation: from a troubled, violent, stammering youth, to army paratrooper, to famous boxer, to prisoner, to advocate for the wrongly convicted, to honorary doctorate (he was to receive another doctorate in 2005 from York University in Toronto), to the CEO of Innocence International, where he shines as a beacon for prisoners around the world. Ironically, were it not for his unjust incarceration at Trenton State Prison, he could never have saved himself from hate and bitterness. The introspection and reflections in the pages of this book show that he made the most of his time.

This is the second book by Rubin Carter. The Sixteenth Round, a remarkable autobiographical achievement, was written from behind bars and is the only other book in his voice. Amazingly, it was the first extended writing he had ever done. It displays his passion, intensity, and integrity.

Rubin Carter entered prison in 1966; Nelson Mandela was sent to Robben Island in 1964. Both men began life as rebellious children: Carter a violent youth in the streets of Paterson, New Jersey; Mandela in the countryside of tribal South Africa. Both men were refined by the fire of injustice, and both men would have gladly accepted death rather than be subjugated. They both refused to wear the clothes of the prison. Both achieved a level of integrity that made their jailers understand that they were free despite being behind prison bars—freer, in fact, than their jailers. Liberation was to be the work of their lives. For Mandela, his own liberation became a symbol for the cause of freedom throughout South Africa and, ultimately, for Africans of any country who yearned to escape the remnants of colonial oppression. For Carter, his release from prison gave him a new raison d’être: the liberation of the wrongly convicted from prisons the world over. Both men are motivated by compassion for humanity. Neither has sought revenge for his own sufferings.

In the year 2000, at the first World Reconciliation Day in Australia, Carter spoke on the same stage with Mandela. Once Nelson and I saw each other, Carter says, we just cracked up. We laughed. He said, ‘We’re here, man. We’re here. We made it.’ It was, however, just another stop along the road, a brief moment of respite to look back with pride on what both had accomplished. The journey continues.


A Prisoner of Ignorance: Living in Darkness

If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

—Luke 11:34

You may have heard of me, Rubin Hurricane Carter, as having been a professional prizefighter. That, along with having been a wrongly convicted person who had to spend nearly twenty years behind bars for a crime he did not commit, is a fact. But my journey to self-discovery revealed to me that I was a different type of prisoner even before the wrongful conviction. I was foremost a prisoner of ignorance.

First, I did not have an appreciation for what it means to be a human being. Second, because I lacked self-knowledge, I behaved mechanically, without the conscious purpose that gives life its meaning. I believed what was told to me or what most other people are taught to believe without examining the truth or falsehood of those beliefs.

Now, every day I am more certain of the words in the New Testament: Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free (John 8:32).

This book is about finding the Truth and acting upon it. It’s as simple as that, and yet this simplicity encompasses all of morality and ethics. If I know the Truth I must act upon it, even if, when I do so, others think me a fool.

My personal odyssey and commitment to Truth led me—on Friday, August 13, 2004, nineteen years after my own release from prison—to leave my position as CEO at the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted, the organization I helped found and the organization that became the foremost innocence project in Canada. Commentators and acquaintances asked me how I could do such a foolish thing. How could I resist the siren song of prestige and security?

I had only one answer: knowledge of the Truth gave me no option. I could not be a conscious, moral person if I ignored the Truth. I could not pretend to be ignorant.

Of course, ignorance of any kind can be dangerous. Unlike a disturbingly large percentage of people on this earth, I believe that science and rational thought have an important role to play in the world. I believe that the universe and the earth are billions of years old. I believe that the universe consists of a series of levels, and everything is what it is based upon where it is in this series of levels. I believe that we miraculous human beings have evolved into what we are. I also believe that human beings must continue to evolve if we are to survive, although the world of nature shows numerous examples of creatures failing to adapt. I also believe that the earth is not the center of all things in the universe, and that we can try, even if we fail, to understand the forces of creation and where we fit into the grand scheme of things. To attempt to know who we are and why we are here on the earth, we must become conscious beings again. As we look around at the state of things on this great planet, we might be forced to conclude, despite the many, many people who attempt to make the world a better place, that the majority of mankind is unconscious and deeply troubled—although they know not why or from whence this feeling comes.

For me, and I know this must seem ironic, prison was the one environment that forced me to wake up and regain Consciousness. Prison allowed me to recapture the pure joy of being alive moment to moment. My survival depended upon it. Otherwise, I would have perished of despair. Prison, and the physical and mental discipline I was able to forge, gave me the ability to weather hardships, a burnt down home, the loss of capital. You would think from the way most people think, act, and speak, that life is nothing larger than houses and money. In fact, most people think that life is just one great big shit sandwich—the more bread you have the less shit you have to eat! Poverty, as long as I have a roof over my head and a little something to eat, need not bring me unhappiness. Years from now, my body will give way to illness or pain, but my Spirit, conscious and ecstatic, is and will always be awake. Even if I could, I would not change a single thing in my life, including my wrongful conviction.

Human beings have it within themselves to live in ecstasy, the feeling that arises from Consciousness. Consciousness, then, is not a dialogue with the self but an actual state of being in which we love the world. Very young children, at least those who have not yet been damaged by their environments and before they are taught by others how to look, what to believe, and before every aspect of their lives is analyzed, organized, homogenized, and computerized, live in this state of joy. Unlike many teenagers, they are not prey to boredom, restlessness, and thrill seeking but experience life with immediacy and a rapturous sense of wonder.

Teenagers, through no fault of their own, lose that sense of wonder and much else besides. In the ten years between 1990 and 2000, more North American children killed themselves and one another than all the U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam.

Speaking of war itself, CBS News reported that at least 6,256 U.S. veterans, many of them young returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan, committed suicide in 2005, an average of 17 per day, with veterans more than twice as likely to take their own lives as the rest of the population. That rate of self slaughter has remained unchanged until this very day.

Suicide is the same side of the coin as despair; despair is born of hopelessness; hopelessness is the loss of appreciation for what it means to be alive. It is possible for these young people, and for us, to become children again, to rediscover and apply the Consciousness of childhood to the lives we now live. Then we can love again, love life, love the Truth, love ourselves.

During my years of study in the unlikely environment of a prison, I read a parable that informs my life every day, a small story that attempts to explain why human beings lose their way. I discovered it in my readings on G. I. Gurdjieff, the great Armenian metaphysical philosopher, and P. D. Ouspensky, his interpreter to the Western world, both of whom were concerned with finding the way to Consciousness, since one cannot become conscious unconsciously. This story goes against the grain of traditional Christian teaching, which sees humanity as a flock of sheep gone astray.

In the Judeo-Christian parable, the sheep are in need of a shepherd or a messiah to save them from their wicked and foolish ways. In the more ancient story, we meet a rich magician who happens also to have a large herd of sheep. Part of the explanation for this magician’s wealth is that he avoids spending money whenever possible. He simply refuses to hire shepherds or build fences to keep his sheep penned in. The sheep know that the magician only wants their flesh to eat and their wool to get rich, so they do what is natural: whenever they see him coming, they run away and hide in the forest. They are smart!

The magician, always on the lookout for an economic remedy and being a skillful illusionist himself, decides to hypnotize his sheep. Once asleep, the first thing he suggests to them is that they are immortal. He also makes them believe that he is a good and kind master willing to do anything for their benefit. He tells them as well that if anything bad is to befall them, it will not happen at that moment but at some unspecified time in the future. Finally, he makes them believe that they are not sheep at all. Some he hypnotizes into believing that they are lions, some bears, some tigers, some even magicians themselves, until all the sheep are convinced that they are lords of the forest, kings of the jungle, masters of the universe. The sheep are now being controlled by the force that Gurdjieff called the power of Kundalini—the power of hypnosis. No longer do the sheep run away. They just wait passively to be shorn and eaten.

If these sheep are compared to humanity, their state of hypnosis reflects our own state of ignorance. Put to sleep, hypnotized by religions, countries, schools, parents, siblings, and friends, we forget we are mortal, and we forget that this ecstatic moment in which we live is all we really have, that the past is forever gone and the future is yet to be. We learn to trust others over ourselves, believing that those others have our best interests at heart and are wiser than we could ever hope to be. We were born perfect, which means complete, with all our potentials intact. We were awake as small children, but now we are asleep. We human beings, like those sheep, could still run away if we wanted to, but the tragedy is that we have stopped wanting to be free. We buy into the program. We build our own fences inside our minds.

Intuitively, we know who we are but have learned to reject our true natures for fear of scorn, disapproval, or ridicule. Fear is the primary motivator of sheep or slaves, or at least those slaves who have never attempted to regain their freedom. If, because of fear, we go against what we feel deep down to be real, right, good, and true, then we go against ourselves. Our sleeping, mechanical state is responsible for much of the needless grief, suffering, and illness we see in the world today. If we look around us, we can see how sleeping people rob, rape,

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