Meeting the “Hurricane” Carter
The first time Rubin “Hurricane” Carter crossed my radar was back in 2000.
It was during one of my channel surfing exercises, when I came upon the Golden Globes awards, where actor Denzel Washington was accepting an award for Best Actor.
I was just in time to see Denzel Washington, standing on the podium and acknowledging the real life person he had portrayed, who was had served almost 20 years of a life sentence for a triple murder he was never justly proven guilty of committing.
The individual, who I understood then was “The Hurricane” rose from his seat among the audience, and reciprocated the appreciation to Mr Washington.
Rubin’s aggressive and quick knock out boxing style earned him the nickname “Hurricane” Although he lived in Toronto, Ontario, Rubin Carter was originally from New Jersey. Born in May, 1937, he became a successful professional middle weight boxer in the 60s and the top contender for the belt. His aggressive, early knock-out boxing style (a style not unfamiliar to, and some argue, adopted by, the great Mike Tyson) earned him the nickname “The Hurricane”.
Rubin served in the US Army, but was no saint. He led a spotted life, with arrest for muggings and an escape from a youth reformatory.
In 1967, he (along with a John Artis) was arrested for triple murder, tried, and sentenced to life in prison.The evidence, and trial however was questionable and Carter maintained his innocence, stating that the case against him was built on a house of lies.
During incarceration, he resisted the process of being assimilated by imprisonment, and declared that while his body was caged, his mind was free.
In 1974, Carter, steadfast in his innocence wrote a book called “The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender to #45472”. The publication generated new attention to his plight, and spawned advocates from all walks of life for his release.
Famed musician, Bob Dylan quickly became one such active advocate for Rubin Carter’s release.
Bob Dylan visits Hurricane Carter in prison
Carter’s book struck a cord with a Canadian lawyer named Lesra Martin. Upon reading the book, the University of Toronto BA grad with his Dalhousie University Law degree combined his efforts with a group of fellow Canadian towards gaining Rubin Carter’s freedom. Lesra Martin filed a habeas corpus petition (requires a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court.
This ensures that a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention, that is, detention lacking sufficient cause or evidence).
In 1985 a Judge noted that the prosecution had “predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure,” and set aside the convictions. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was released from prison after 20 years.
Hurricane Carter on Court house stairs after being
released from 20 years wrongfully incarcerated
First Encounter with the “Hurricane”..
My first encounter with Dr. Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was on a flight back to Jamaica in December 2002. I had migrated to Canada in July of the same year. My little brother was getting married, and although I had just moved to Canada, after months of rejections (“not enough Canadian experience” or “ too qualified for THIS (dish washer) job) hustling as a Bouncer and also as a Warehouse sweeper (where I told myself, I was going to make the warehouse the CLEANEST they ever saw.. WHILE using my lunch breaks to go networking over Microsoft which was across the street from the Warehouse), I FINALLY got a job in my IT field as a Lotus Domino and Systems Administrator with a Nutraceutical company in Mississauga (a whole other story…)
On my way to my brother’s wedding in Jamaica, I was walking towards the Air Jamaica check-in line at Toronto’s Pearson airport when this confident presence caught my attention. The bredren wore a dominant cowboy looking leather hat and booths. The attire and unusual mouthstache demanded a second take, which is when I thought to myself.. “that looks like Hurricane Carter??!”
Bogle the Dancer in action
Interestingly a loud, animated group “fashionably” dressed in in a quasi Dancehall-Goth manner also stole my attention. I then realize it was the entourage for Dancehall Reggae dancing genius, Bogle.
We checked in, passed through customs, and boarded the flight quickly.Hurricane Carter was sitting in the 1st class area, so as us cheapies from the economy side of the plane walked pass the 1st class seated passengers, Carter’s mannerism caught my attention. I’d never seen him in person before, and wasnt 100% sure, so as I walked by, staring with that curious look on my face, Rubin Carter looked up, caught my stare, stopped for a second from trying to pull the seat belt across his waist, and presented a welcoming nod and smile as if to say “yeah man, a me same one..”
It happened that I was seated in the back half of the plane. Coincidentally (the now deceased) Bogle the dancer and the six or so Roses Crew members was seated in the back also.The flight was uneventfull, except for members of the Bogle’s entourage messing with the stewardess. This however ended as Bogle was having none of it, and told them to chill and leave the lady alone. We chatted about Toronto and the dancehall scene for a few. I told him I had just moved to Canada, so didnt know much about the place aside from a place called Bambu where I had bounced once.All said, Bogle seem to be a easy to get along with hombre. I mentioned to him a friend name PapaT who was a “Captain” in my crew that I was the “General” (Cool Yonders.. dont laugh at the name.. we were teens).
[Bogle in a glass casket after being cut down in Kingston 3 years later]
Life happened and my crew was outgrown. PapaT however migrated to the States and settled in California. He made some good investments and formed a crew in Jamaica called Lexus Crew. ( a slightly notorious crew where they only drove expensive Lexus) Bogle didn’t know PapaT personally, but recalled the rift between PapaT and Dancehall’s lyrical master, Ninjaman (PapaT had slapped Ninjaman in the face because Ninjaman had slapped one of the “Ouch Crew” girls..)
I remember the flight to Kingston was the roughest I’d been on. The seat-belt lights stayed on for the duration of the 4 hour flight as the pilot reminded us he was trying to fly over a storm.
The young lady who shared the seat with me looked only slightly less concerned. In an obvious effort to take our minds off the torture, we struck up a conversation. She grew up in Toronto and was studying at Ryerson U. She was visiting her Jamaican family for the first time.
During the flight I finally understood why people would relate to air-turbulence with such reverence.
The barf bag spent most of the flight conveniently snug in my lap.
Watching the flight’s path on the display, it was obvious the pilot had taken us along the US eastern coast line.. over the Florida Keys, Cuba, and now approaching Kingston, Jamaica.
I remember the captivating lush Blue Mountain ranges, which I remember thinking how stark a contrast it was to Toronto and other cities I had recently come to know.
The plane maneuvered towards the airport, as it banked, the outline of familiar communities appeared beneath my window. The pilot adjusted the flight again, and if by some irony I recognized the distinct bright orange roofing on the homes in the Angels Estate community. This was the development that I had made my very first payment on a home and almost lived. A Italian-Canadian developer had ventured to move some squatters off a piece of land just outside the Spanish Town and before the Crescent community. Thing is, the notorious gang in Spanish Town was affiliated with one political party, and the gang in Crescent, affiliated with the other.
The remoteness of the community was also a concern.
I decided to pull the contract, and decided to build on a lot of land I had bought in Old Harbour.
Well as life would have it, Angels turned out to be a very good community, as the it was gated, and supporting commercial development was completed. The Old Harbour endeavor, not so much.
The plane banked a few more times, now over Kingston, I noticed the Cement Company mined out Rock Fort hill side and the wheat silo stacks at Flour Mills.The plane banked again and as the mountains zipped by the window, a male passenger, about late 40s sighed “Sweet Jamaica” little above his breath. He realized I heard him, at which he leaned over and explained that he had been away for many years and was taking his grown kids to Jamaica for the first time.
That first trip back to Jamaica after moving to Canada just 6 months earlier was was an eye opener to the practice where Jamaicans who migrate should fatten themselves, and spend on expensive clothing to ensure that they look like “farina”.
Having a somewhat rough initiation to Canada, trying to get a decent job, I have lost about 20 pounds to what I later learnt was “culture shock”.
Not only did I not dress like a “farina”, I had lost weight.. a lot of weight. I remember my mother being very upset and concerned about my thin(er) appearance. She bawled “look how farin mash up mi son”.
To compensate for this, my mother fed me on large quantities of fry chicken and rice and peas for the duration of my short stay. She was determined to patch on a few ponds back onto her son. Trust me, I didn’t complain.
Meeting the “Hurricane”..
Fastforward to January 2006.
Almost 4 years had passed since I happened to notice Rubin Carter on the same flight I was on, going to Jamaica.
Much had changed. After 3 years with the nutraceutical company, I decided I needed out of the North American corporate bull, and a break from the high stress, highly dependable world of IT as I had come to know it.
The company was making huge strides in its marketplace. It had become the leader in its industry and one year held the title of being the supplier with the most products sold in Walmart in all North America. It also had the title of having the largest amount of print ads in North America.
These strides saw a group of like minded body-building supplement enthusiast, engaged in a business they loved, growing into a huge corporate entity.
Then the “suits” came in.
VP positions created for executives, lured from fortune 500 companies like Pepsi, Colgate and Baxter.
Many of the grass-roots individuals from the team left or was lured by a competing manufacturer. Ironically headed by a former college buddy of the founder of the current company. This lead to litigation and legal threats.. changes in employment contracts (no-compete clauses), and to top that off, the company was the target of a US based class-action lawsuit, claiming that ingredients in one of its leading products lead to organ failure and in one case, death.
Regardless the company grew.. even more. A 80,000 square foot building was bought from a leading pharmaceutical company that had build an even larger building and moved from the outskirks of Toronto to the center of Mississauga. They were the makers of Viagra.. nuff said.
I remember meeting with them to have the building access codes and procedures transferred to me.
Over the years, I had grown to not only System administration, BUT started doing IT project management duties. Management of the move to the new facility was my responsibility, so I became to man with the access, managing the security room and the equipment contained in it. It was some serious security equipment, but I guessed, securing the secrets to the formula for Viagra would demand Fort Knox-type security… anyway, I divert.. That will be another “refleXsion”..
So after leading the IT infrastructure move to the new building, I decided it was time to get away from corporate Canada . I had applied to join the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), and it actually had come thru. I simply wanted to get away from 24/7 availability, Blackberries, rack servers, promises of bonuses or promotions and anything Microsoft, simply anything that demanded thinking pass the 8 hours I was contracted to work on that day.
I thought, TTC, I’d drive a bus, park it, forget about it.. till the next day. I’d take the 40% pay cut for the peace of mind.
I ended up operating the Subway train, and trust me when I say, TTC frontline job is possibly the most stressful, underrated, misunderstood job in Ontario and possibly Canada. After 8 months of graveyards shifts, attempted stabbing, and jumpers (yup I learn that the second highest location for suicides in North America is the TTC subway.. TTC suicides are not carried in the media), I left TTC and started back my own IT consulting business. It was a great gig as I was a IT Team lead for Ontario Hydro. The position required me to travel to Hydro One facilities all over Ontario, which was great as I got to see some really beautiful locations in the province… Again I digress, so again, I’ll leave that for yet another “refleXsion”..
Its January, 2006 and I’m taking the family for a well earned, repeatedly deferred visit to Jamaica. The American Airline trip included a 3 hour transfer in Miami.
We are at the check-in at Toronto’s Pearson airport where once again I glimpse the distinct presence of this bredren ahead in the line wearing a distinct cowboy dark brown leather hat and boots.
Its Rubin “Hurricane” Carter.
I nudged my wife, directing her attention to the man at the check in counter, wearing the leather cowboy hat. “That’s Hurricane Carter!”
She shrugs a rebuttal “him look too old to be Hurricane Carter”
As we boarded the flight and I noticed that Hurricane Carter was not in VIP section, instead he entered the plane after we did and sat in the very last seat towards the rear of the cabin.
At cruising, I decided to go “squeeze the sponge” (washroom break).
I joined the short lineup awaiting my turn at the can. Since the washroom was at the rear, the line was right by Carter’s seat.
I glanced over the seat and noticed that he was scanning through a stack of what looked like research printed on letter sized white paper.
Upon seeing the words “Highway 2007” I assumed he must be preparing for a speech or presentation in regards to the Highway 2000 construction project that had underway in Jamaica for some time.
As the line got shorter, I was now just slightly over his shoulder. Inquisitive me (respectfully) tapped him on the shoulder and inquired “You Hurricane Carter right?” He smiled, extended his hands into a shake and replied “Yes, I’m Dr Rubin Carter”
I leaned over and started yapping his ears off. I remember he was very gracious, as he just leaned forward and engaged. This only served to encourage my intrusion as I started to instruct persons lined up behind me to go ahead. (I got a victim hereJ )
I remember looking up only to meet my wife’s eyes glaring at me from a few rows ahead. The look on her face was more of a “oie deh Mr. Chatterbox, why don’t you leave the passenger alone and get back to your seat!”
I noticed from the itinerary beside him that we were both doing a transfer in Miami to the same flight destined forKingston, Jamaica.
In Miami, being a few rows ahead of Hurricane Carter, we disembarked much earlier that he did. So I decided to walk uncharacteristically slow, hoping for him to catch up.
This was strange for my wife, as she knows how much I tend to try to beat it out of airports. But she was cool as she knew how much I admired what I called Mental Emancipation Fighters. Individuals like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey, Nelson Mandela, Robert Nesta Marley and Rubin Carter… plus we had a 3 hour wait anyhow…
Hurricane Carter caught up with us, and I introduced him to my family.
We started to reason again, and as we approached the concourse, he indicated that he was going to grab a smoke in the restroom while offering a cigarette. I signaled that I didn’t smoke, but said I need to go “squeeze the sponge” again anyhow.
I remember that washroom was packed with smokers. Guess that a popular smoking spot while waiting.
Finishing with the washroom break I found and took a seat in the waiting area beside the family.
The place was already filled, so by the time Carter came, he got a seat some ways from us.
There was people sitting on one side, but on the other side of him was an empty seat, where he laid out the “research” papers and continued to scan through them individually.
I was perched in my seat, ready to capture the seat next to him, if it became vacant.
I guess he saw my anxiety, as he started to gather up the papers while beckoning to me to come over.
Which much discipline, I nonchalantly strolled over while scanning from the corners of my eyes to make sure no one else moved towards the seat.
Again we started to reason.
I remember him telling me about how it was in prison. How he never once allowed him mind to accept that he was a criminal nor accept that he was not a free man.
He spoke about the fact that he loved living in Canada and would never live in the states again.
We spoke about the prison system and I learn just how easy it was for a man of color to be incarcerated in the North American system.
I learnt that a man of color was 12 times more likely to be imprisoned than any other race in America. That while Blacks comprised 12% of the American population, 40% of the American prison population was black men.
He explained that he was on a mission to help as many wrongfully accused individuals as possible, and as a result one of his endeavors was a Toronto based group called Innocence International Inc.
We talked about boxing, and I mentioned to him that Mike Tyson should thank him for introducing that aggressive boxing style that he obviously pioneered. He laughed appreciatively.
Going down the history of injustice was a bit infuriating, so I decided to seize on the lighter side.
I mentioned to him that when we saw him in Toronto earlier, my wife had insisted that he didn’t look like Hurricane Carter.
He looks over at her, laughs and says loud enough for her to hear, “You know why she says I don’t look like Hurricane Carter?”
He continues with a grin, “..because I don’t look like Denzel Washington!”
We continued reasoning, this time about Jamaica and the role its culture plays in the North American society. He echoed something I saw once before where it was said that Martin Luther King would go down to Jamaica just to be impressed by a nation where it was the norm for men of color to hold positions of leadership.
I asked him if he was going down to do a speech or presentation. I said “I see that you are researching something about Jamaica’s Highway 2000 project?”
Finally feeling guilty for taking up his time and leaving my wife alone with the kids so long, I started my exit.
Pointing to the stack of paper in his lap and said “I see you are preparing for a speech or something to do with Highway 2000”
He replied that it was not research; instead it was the draft for a book he was writing titled “The Way of The One Eyed Man” (or something like that).
“Do you want to read the foreword?” he asked.
At this time I catch myself looking at him in astonishment. I was thinking.. “You Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter, writing a book, and asking me to review the foreword.. BEFORE it even hit the press. This is a trick question, right??! Where is the hidden candid-cameras??!”
Suppressing the “bredren-you-lick-you-head??!” look that I realized was on my face, I calm as a duck responded “Absolutely”
He smile, started leafing through, then gathered a small batch.
While handing the batch over to me, he said “Here’s the foreword, its written by Nelson”
As I accepted the batch, I was thinking to ask “Nelson who?!” but decided that obviously I should have known who this Nelson person was, by first name, and asking would only certify my idiocy.
As I flipped over the fist page, I saw the words “Foreword: By Nelson Mandela”
So now I’m looking at the foreword, looking back to Hurricane Carter, Looking back at the foreword, then back to him.. I think I glimpsed my wife’s “mad man, why you still bothering the gentleman” stare from across the way. I positioned my self to ask “Bredren, so you REALLY expected ME to be on first name basis with Nelson Mandela?!”
However instead I collected myself, and as casual as possible asked,
“So how is Mr, Mandela doing?”
Hurricane Carter replies “he’s doing well, but we are getting old” he sighs.
At that time I remember a Chris Rock show I’d was watching just a few days earlier. In one segment Chris Rock made a joke about Nelson Mandela’s marriage and recent divorce.
I decided to display my non-comedic talent.
I said “You know I was watching Chris Rock the other day, and he spoke about how hard marriage was was Mr. Mandela”.
Carter leaned forward, so I slipped into my very bad Chris Rock imitation and continued, “he said, marriage is so tough, even Nelson Mandela got a divorce. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years locked up in South African prison. He was beaten and tortured EVERYDAY for 27 years and never once did he give up. He did 27 year doing hard labor in hot South African prison, no problem. He got out of prison after 27 years of torture, spent 6 months with his wife, then said I can’t take this shit no more!!”
We laughed some more, at the expense of some “off” jokes I’ll probably share some other time. (been writing this “blog” too long.. brain fried”)
By now we had spoken for about 2 hours and anytime now my wife would probably use the proverbial hook and that would hook me by the collar and drag me over.
As I started to get up, he saw me looking over top my wife and goes “Son you have a beautiful wife and family. You should go before she gets angry. It was really a pleasure chatting with you. You are very enlightening. Let me know if you want to grab drinks while in Jamaica.”
He took out a business card, and scribbles a number on the back. I recognized the area code to be a Toronto one.
I looked at the card appreciatively for a little bit, then secured it in my wallet.
That card travels with me to this very day and is the 2ndoldest “artifact” in my wallet. (The oldest being my UDC card J )
As we parted, he waved his hand out towards the concourse and said, “Listen son, all this is gravy. I’m not fazed by this. I should have been dead long ago. They wanted me dead and bury long, long time. But I’m here. I’m alive. Life is a gift, and regardless of how little or what we do, when we do something for someone, we’re appreciating that gift.”
My wife came over, I thought to get me, instead she being the considerate soul she is, had a camera in hand and asked Hurricane Carter if he mind taking a photo with me.
He did, and its counted among my treasured photos.
Jan 2006: Hurricane Carter and me at Miami Airport
While it was great meeting the Hurricane, even more was the positive impact that he left. His encouragement for humility and a matter-of-fact approach to life, guides me to this day.
So after procrastinating for 6 years, I’ve FINALLY made an official public blog entry. All I can say is “whew!”………………………………………………………….
Originally published at fiaeye.blogspot.ca on January 26, 2016.