In 1999 I went to see a fascinating speech by Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter. Over 3000 people showed up at Marquette University to hear from this man you have likely never heard of. But Hurricane Carter has a remarkable story, and we wanted to hear it from the man himself.
Things Started Bad
Carter was sent to a juvenile reformatory at 11 years old for stabbing a man. He escaped and joined the army. That didn’t work out so well either. He was court martialed 4 times, then discharged in 1956 as unfit for service. Oops.
Things Got Worse
Carter became a professional boxer in the 1960s. He had a very successful career, until 1966, when he ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. A black man, with a car like his, had murdered people in a restaurant in Patterson, New Jersey. Police found Carter nearby, and he closely matched the description of the suspect. He was arrested, tried and convicted for a crime he did not commit.
Things Got Better
After 20 years in prison, the error was finally revealed, and Carter was released. By that time Bob Dylan had written a popular song about him. Years later Carter wrote a book about his story that was turned into a popular movie called The Hurricane staring Denzel Washington as Carter.
After Carter’s speech, I stuck around the book signing to ask The Hurricane a question. I waited patiently for all the books to be signed and all the other people to leave. Then I approached Carter and asked him the question I was dying to know.
I said, ‘Mr. Carter, after spending 20 years in prison for a crime you said you did not, could not and would not commit, what was the first thing you did when you got out?’
His answer surprised me.
‘I went blind. I literally lost my sight. Prison is such a stressful place, and I had been fighting for my safety, my sanity and my freedom so hard for so long, that once I got out it was like my body shut down, and I lost my sight for a week.’
I said, ‘Wow! It is crazy that after fighting for your freedom so hard for so long, you couldn’t even enjoy it.
I will never forget what he said next.
‘Life’s funny man. Life’s a trip but you gotta take it. A lot of people will say life’s a shit sandwich. But I tell you what, the more pieces of bread you put on it, the less shit you gotta taste.’ -Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter
Remember this the next time you are having a hard day at work or school. Remember this when you have a tough day with your kids, the bank or the neighbors. If Rubin could say that after his time in prison, you can remind yourself of this after a hard commute.
Remember to focus on the bread. Add as much bread as you can. Look for the thick, Texas Toast loaf of life, and just keep adding it to your sandwich.
Ask people who have been through extraordinary experiences what they have learned. Grow through their growth. Take their knowledge, lessons and insights and put them in your pocket. That way you don’t have to go through what they have experienced in order to benefit from it too.