Rubin “Hurricane” Carter is more known for his violent history than his career as a prominent boxer. In his second book My Path from Darkness to Freedom, Carter examines the nature versus nurture debate to show that his violent past is related to his family, his upbringing, and his circumstances. Readers are invited into a historical look at the makings of a boxer, the penal system, and the bonds that tie a man to others in life.
Carter’s family life at home centered around violence. His father’s family silently fought Jim Crow oppression with strength through family names, carrying guns, and being solid, well-known members of their community. Carter saw their behavior as that of powerful men. As a child he saw Jim Crow in restaurants they never stopped in and restrooms they never used, however, he didn’t correlate the oppression to nonuse. He only thought the men in his family chose not to use the white man’s facilities. Their strength to Carter was a powerful aphrodisiac, allowing him to see strong black men who did not cower in front of others and fought injustice with guns by their side.
Carter grew to see the downside to his family as he watched them in life. He couldn’t reconcile the strong church-going father with the pool playing, womanizing, and abusive father he’d experience growing up. His father routinely beat him for things he felt were unfair. His only savior was his mother, the person that could get his father to stop with a few words.
Carter took his whippings into the street and became known as the man to defend others. He quickly got into trouble and landed himself in a reformatory. At Jamesburg, the state home for boys, Carter refined his fighting skills and learned life lessons. There, he defended the weaker boys from bullies. He also learned lessons that the traditional high school student would learn at the school. Milking, caring for, and birthing the cows was his Biology lesson. He learned more horrible lessons while there about adults and abuse of power.
Carter had an early sense of injustice. He experienced distancing from his family as his father would not speak to him while he was at the reform school. He escaped the school and headed into the military where he was able to fight injustice overseas and learned more about boxing through the military.
You could say the military was the beginning of his boxing career. As usual, Carter got arrested on a visit home for escaping Jamesburg and that ended his stint in the military. Carter was in and out of jail for most of his youth. This set the stage for his experiences with his father, a central figure in his life. His father would not deal with him because he fought the established system. Carter wonders whether the beatings were his father’s way of keeping him in line and forcing submission to the system. Carter never submitted creating the background for his tumultuous career and subsequent wrongful conviction for murder.
The Hurricane story has already been told in books, movies and music. Carter uses this book to bring some background to his believes, his life as a fighter, the choice to step out of the boxes we put ourselves in, and to frame his current work helping fight wrongful convictions in the current penal system.
Angelic Jones is a freelance writer for Austin Weekly News.