In 1967, the black boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and a young acquaintance, John Artis, were wrongly convicted of triple murder by an all-white jury in Paterson, New Jersey. Over the next decade, Carter gradually amassed convincing evidence of his innocence and the vocal support of celebrities from Bob Dylan to Muhammad Ali. He was freed in 1976 pending a new trial, but he lost his appeal -- to the amazement of many -- and landed back in prison.
Carter, bereft, shunned almost all human contact until he received a letter from Lesra Martin, a teenager raised in a Brooklyn ghetto. Against his bitter instincts, Carter agreed to meet with Martin, thus taking the first step on a tortuous path back to the world. Martin introduced him to an enigmatic group of Canadians who helped wage a successful battle to free him. As Carter orchestrated this effort from his cell, he also embarked on a singular intellectual journey, which led ultimately to a freedom more profound than any that could be granted by a legal authority.
Here comes the story of the Hurricane: On June 17, 1966, two men entered the Lafayette Grill in Paterson, New Jersey, and shot four people, killing three. Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a onetime contender for the middleweight boxing crown, and John Artis, an acquaintance of Carter's, were charged with the murders. In a highly publicized and racially loaded trial, the prosecution hinged its case upon the convoluted and contradictory testimonies of two lifelong criminals, and failed to present any definitive evidence of Carter and Artis's guilt. Nonetheless, both innocent men were sentenced to life in prison. Hurricane is a detailed, inspiring account of Carter's 22-year effort to exonerate himself and regain his freedom.
Carter's saga is rich and complicated, and James Hirsch deserves praise for his balanced treatment. He brings Carter's electrifying and complex personality alive without unnecessarily lionizing him, masterfully detailing his transformation from a defiant, intimidating man known for his dangerous temper and stubborn pride into a enlightened one who defeated despair and unimaginable injustice. Upon incarceration, Carter refused to behave like a guilty man--by defying the rules: rejecting prison garb and keeping his jewelry, shunning prison food, and failing to see a parole officer. His defiance earned him cruel punishment, but he compelled the rigid, unforgiving system to come to terms, at least in certain instances.
Though he began an earnest study of the law in order to issue his own appeals, he could not have won his freedom without the astonishing collective effort of others. After a 1974 front-page story in The New York Times revealed his plight, there followed an outpouring of public support that included celebrity endorsements from, among many others, Muhammad Ali, Jesse Jackson, and Bob Dylan, who immortalized him in the famous song "Hurricane". Though all the publicity turned Carter into an icon for a time, ultimately it was the efforts of a group of enigmatic Canadians and a team of persistent lawyers that helped Carter achieve justice.
He lost his family, his boxing career, and 22 years of his life, yet in the end, he refused to allow bitterness to consume him. When the charges against him were finally dropped in 1988, he spoke at a press conference:
If I have learned nothing else in life, I've learned that bitterness only consumes the vessel that contains it. And for me to permit bitterness to control or infect my life in any way whatsoever, would be to allow those who imprisoned me to take even more than the twenty-two years they've already taken. Now, that would make me an accomplice to their crime... He emerged from the fight of his life with his dignity and humanity intact. --Shawn Carkonen