Former boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who spent 22 years in prison for murder before his eventual exoneration, introduced the movie loosely based on his life, “The Hurricane,” before a packed Isla Vista Theater Saturday evening.
Carter briefly spoke about his imprisonment and his views on the American legal system, as well as the making of the movie, before taking questions from the audience.
Carter began his speech by condemning the American legal system and the death penalty, which he has been a vocal opponent of since a federal judge overturned his three 1967 murder convictions in 1985 because he did not receive a fair trial.
“An American courtroom is not a place that actively searches for the truth,” Carter said. “All it is a game between the attorneys and the judge. Since most defendants go into it not knowing anything about how it works, justice is often not done.”
When asked how he managed during his years of incarceration, a decade of which he spent in solitary confinement, Carter said that attitude was the key to nurturing hope.
“You have to act like you already have the thing you’re praying for,” Carter said. “From day one, I tried to act like I was free from prison, and that’s why I’m free today. You’ve got to transcend the prisons that bind you, whatever they may be.”
Concerning his reintegration into society after his exoneration, Carter quoted Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, saying, “The day one gets out of prison is the day one’s imprisonment begins.”
“It is difficult to integrate back into a life worth living after prison,” Carter said. “For me, my reintegration began when I first entered prison. I refused to buy into the mindset of a prisoner.”
Carter also discussed the active role he played in the choice of Denzel Washington as the lead role in the movie.
“After I took Denzel aside for a few weeks of intense conversation, I began to love the guy,” Carter said. “He’s a very spiritual person, so I knew that in choosing him he could do my story justice.”
Carter’s boxing career began in 1961. He defeated 27 of the 40 opponents he faced, scoring eight first-round knockouts. While he was preparing for his second middleweight championship in 1966, three white people were gunned down at the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, N.J. Carter and an acquaintance, John Artis, were arrested and eventually convicted of the crime by an all-white jury. Carter was sentenced in 1967 to three consecutive life sentences.
Upon the publication of his autobiography in 1974, Carter’s case attracted national attention, which peaked with the popular Bob Dylan song “Hurricane.”
“Bob Dylan is one of the most intelligent people I know, and a good brother,” Carter said. “It took him about eight minutes to tell my story in that song, and he did it in a way that you could dance to.”
Carter was granted a new trial in 1976 after the two key prosecution witnesses recanted their prior testimony, but was again found guilty. A review of his case in 1982 by the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled likewise.
Carter’s conviction was not overturned until 1985 when his lawyers were granted a federal hearing to determine whether he received a fair trial. The judge ruled that the prosecution had withheld evidence and based their case on racial prejudices.
Carter now lives in Canada and serves as executive director of the Toronto-based Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted, a group dedicated to overturning convictions of innocent people. Carter has also addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations, advised Bill Clinton on death penalty issues and spoken alongside Nelson Mandela at the 2000 World Reconciliation Day in Australia.
Carter’s presentation was a part of the series “Executing Justice: America and the Death Penalty,” a program of events and classes organized by UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center. The series began during Winter Quarter. The program includes three undergraduate classes – two in the Law & Society Dept. and one in the Art Studio Dept. – a lecture series, film screenings and a public debate that occurred in January.