Hurricane: The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter

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9780395979853: Hurricane: The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter

HURRICANE recounts the harrowing, inspiring odyssey of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a black boxer wrongly convicted of three murders, from fierce despair to freedom and enlightenment. On June 17, 1966, two black men strode into the Lafayette Grill, a white redoubt in racially mixed Paterson, NJ, and shot three people to death. Rubin Carter and his young acquaintance John Artis were not those men, but they were convicted of the murders in a highly publicized and racially charged trial. Fiercely outspoken at the best of times, Carter raged against his imprisonment and vehemently refused to subject himself to its regimens. He shunned the prison's food, insisted on keeping his ornate gold watch, and refused to don prison garb, even after a hellish month in the "hole," where his own clothes literally rotted off him. He also became the apotheosis of the jailhouse lawyer, poring over the vast transcript of his trial, immersing himself in dense case books, and penning his own legal documents.

Over the next decade, Carter amassed convincing evidence of his innocence and the vocal support of numerous celebrities (Bob Dylan’s song "Hurricane" was but one example). He was freed pending a new trial only to lose his appeal, to the astonishment of many, and land back in prison. He languished there at his lowest ebb, robbed not only of his freedom, but of his wife (whom he divorced to lessen her share of his torment) and of his eye (lost in a botched prison operation). He avoided 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 long, tortuous path back into the world. Martin introduced Carter to an enigmatic group of Canadians, including a strong-willed woman with whom he would commence an intense, unlikely romance. In the process, the Canadians would help wage an international battle to free him.

Even as Carter orchestrated this effort from his cell, he embarked on a singular intellectual journey that would lead ultimately to a freedom more profound than any legal authority could grant him. Through an intensive course of study whose texts ran from Victor Frankl to Malcolm X to Hermann Hesse, he gradually raised his consciousness, quelled his rage, and even forgave his captors. James Hirsch has crafted a superb exploration of the nexus of race, sports, and justice. HURRICANE is at once a poignant chronicle of jailhouse redemption, a compelling account of David vs. Goliath court fights, and a revealing history of one of the most dramatic and controversial episodes in the saga of civil rights in America.

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Review:

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

About the Author:

James S. Hirsch, a former reporter for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, is the author of Cheating Destiny, the bestseller Hurricane: The Miracle Journey of Rubin Carter, Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy, and Two Souls Indivisible: The Friendship That Saved Two POWs in Vietnam. He is also a principal of Close Concerns, a consultancy and publishing company that specializes in diabetes. He lives in the Boston area with his wife, Sheryl, and their children, Amanda and Garrett.

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