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Meeting the Hurricane (Dr. Carter)

Last week I met  Rubin Carter. Yes, it was "The Hurricane from Bob Dylan's song ( “That's the story of the Hurricane/but it won't be over til he clears his name").  Well, not really. 35 years have passed since the song brought international attention to the plight of boxer Hurricane Carter. And now he is Dr. Rubin Carter after a long arduous journey.

In 1975 I was a photographer working in New York. Bob Dylan had been my idol since high school and to this day I am amazed at the brilliance of his songwriting and the mystery of his persona. Dylan wrote Hurricane while he was traveling with the Rolling Thunder Revue. As good fortune would have it, I was dispatched to Florida to photograph one of their concerts in Sarasota, ostensibly working for Dylan himself. Upon arrival, I was somewhat crestfallen when his manager Louie Kemp told me  that the best way for me to work would be for Dylan not to know that I was anywhere  in the 2000 seat concert hall. So much for  hangin’ with my hero.

Dylan’s song was the portal to my awareness of Hurricane Carter’s struggle and imprisonment for a triple murder he vehemently denied ever committing. When Dylan wrote the song,Carter had already spent eight defiant years in Trenton State Prison, steadfastly proclaiming  his innocence. Through both the public awareness raised by Dylan’s song and the efforts of many others, Carter was able to make a series of appeals. Then, in 1975, due the court's finding of egregious misconduct by the prosecution, Carter’s conviction was overturned, but he was not pardoned.

Then,  like many other people, I then lost track of his struggle. Within a year of his release,he was re-tried and convicted  and spent 9 more years in jail before he was finally freed by the federal courts. He survived those years through his own tough love mindfulness. No stories, no future nor past, the jail did not exist. The help he received from a group of Canadians in winning his ultimate release also led him to life on a commune in Toronto. After three years he left to live independently and he has remained in Canada to this day. He earned a doctorate, worked for a prisoner innocence project, and wrote four books. The publication of his latest book chronicling  his spiritual journey, led him to the event where I met him and took his picture.

Carter was always described as something of a clothes dude and when we met I immediately saw that at least that much had not changed. He arrived in a fitted black suit, shiny black shoes,  a vibrant blue monogrammed shirt and he was  wearing a Stetson hat. I asked if we could do some photos with the hat on and some with it off and he said, “The hat is always on” and indeed it was on all day.

With someone whose story is so public, whose path was so tortuous and contradictory it is hard to know where to start the conversation. What was clear was that at 73 Dr. Carter was no longer the volatile, angry Hurricane he was said to be 45 years ago. He was affable, kind and patient.  I simply sat close, tried to help him and the camera with little physical adjustments and soon we were done. Later he gave a lecture, held up his boxing championship belt, signed books and went on his way, He declared that he would not have changed anything because he believed each moment was necessary and connected to the next moment and it was great that to be where he was this day meeting people, telling his story and, of course, making money doing it.  And then, off he went into the cold New England night.

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