Guys, the story below is about guys that were/are in the prison where I work. This is a little piece of my daily world....
New York Times (07/16/05)
In the Ring, but Still Attached to the Cellblock
By JOHN ELIGON
GRATERFORD, Pa., July 12 - They met in Cellblock D. Each of them initially kept his guard up, an instinctive reaction for men from a neighborhood where respect had to be earned.
Michael Wilson and Bernard Hopkins met in 1985 at the State Correctional Institution at Graterford and developed a close friendship, bound by a love for boxing, by their troubled upbringings in Philadelphia and by a desire to achieve better in life. Wilson became Hopkins's first trainer, teaching him the meticulous regimen that has allowed him to be fighting at age 40.
But 20 years after they met at Graterford, Hopkins and Wilson find their situations are anything but alike.
Hopkins will be fighting in Las Vegas on Saturday night - adding to his multimillion-dollar fortune and trying to add to his legacy - when he will put his undisputed middleweight world title on the line against Jermain Taylor.
Wilson, 52, meanwhile, will be spending another night in a 12-by-6 cell in southeastern Pennsylvania, still carrying the weight of the gang shooting that has kept him behind bars for more than two-thirds of his life.
Hopkins, sentenced to prison for robbery in 1983, spent most of his time at Graterford before being released after nearly five years. He has since become an example of successful rehabilitation, often giving motivational speeches to young people at the Philadelphia Youth Study Center, a juvenile detention facility where Hopkins was frequently sent.
Michael Wilson, who goes by the name Smokey, was convicted of murder in 1971. He is in the 35th year of a mandatory life sentence he began at age 17. He has been denied a pardon four times, and although Wilson said he would continue to apply, he will die in prison if the governor does not intervene.
Hopkins said recently that he owed much of his success to Wilson, his trainer and mentor while he was in prison.
"He was real crucial," Hopkins said in a telephone interview last week from Las Vegas, where he was training for his fight with Taylor.
At a news conference last year to promote his fight with Oscar De La Hoya, Hopkins pulled out a photograph of him and Wilson in 1985 and waved it around. On the back of it, Wilson had written to Hopkins, "You will be the middleweight champion one day."
But until this week, Wilson had never talked from prison about his early role in Hopkins's development. Now, Wilson said, Hopkins's accomplishments fill him with a deep sense of pride.
"He has put me down in history with him," Wilson said Tuesday, in an interview in the visiting room at Graterford. "He has fulfilled a dream that I had."
For Wilson, prison has destroyed any chance to pursue his own dreams.
As Wilson described it, on Oct. 10, 1970, after he and a friend got drunk and high at a party in their neighborhood in North Philadelphia, they went looking for members of a rival gang, hoping to avenge the killings of three members of their gang, the Moroccos.
Across town, they approached a group of boys standing on a street corner, and when one of them appeared to be reaching for something in his pants, Wilson said, he drew his gun, fired twice and ran in the opposite direction.
The victim, 15-year-old Gregory Davis, did not belong to a gang and had no police record, the authorities told The Philadelphia Daily News in a report published three days after the shooting.
At dawn on Oct. 12 that year, the police picked up Wilson, then 17, at a friend's house. He said he remembered climbing into the back of the police car, gazing at a lavender sky through the back window and thinking, "I'm going away for a long time."
"I knew then that I had messed up," Wilson said.
He had joined the gang mostly for the camaraderie, Wilson said. And he was having second thoughts about belonging to it shortly before the murder.
"I was seeing other things that were happening - the drugs, alcohol, guys losing their lives," he said. "I didn't know how to get out."
Those who grew up with Wilson insist that he was a product of a culture of violence, but even so, they said, the crime was not indicative of the person they knew. He liked to fight, they said, but with his hands. Friends admired him as a leader who showed unwavering loyalty.
Asim Abdur Rashid, 53, who introduced Wilson to the Moroccos in 1969, said any one of them could have been the person who pulled the trigger.
"The conditions during that time was that someone had to die," Rashid said Tuesday night, while sitting in a park in the North Philadelphia neighborhood where he and Wilson grew up. Rashid is now an imam at a mosque in Philadelphia. "Retaliation had to be achieved and, whoever it was, somebody was going to die. That was the attitude during the time."
Wilson's rugged journey started at age 6, when his parents divorced and placed him and his eight siblings in foster care. He bounced around about 10 homes in 10 years, often separated from his brothers and sisters.
The Moroccos filled the void left by his broken family, Wilson said.
Wilson said he wondered about what could have been if he had discovered organized boxing at an earlier age.
He did not begin boxing until the first years of his incarceration, at a prison in Dallas. He started his sentence there, and he blossomed into a three-time prison champion. Fighting inmates from around the country, Wilson won middleweight titles in 1975, '77 and '81. He said he once fought the International Boxing Federation middleweight champion in a four-round exhibition.
The boxing program was eventually scrapped, but Wilson has occupied his time in other ways.
He finished his high school education and received an associate's degree in business. He became involved in several programs for at-risk youths. He converted to Islam in the early 1970's and said he was now a devout Muslim.
Today, Wilson has a scholarly aura about him, speaking in a passionate, loud tone. He sometimes leans back, tilts his head up and crosses his legs in stately fashion as he carefully chooses his words. He is blind in his right eye because of a boxing injury.
And as he did with Hopkins, Wilson tries to be a mentor to young prisoners, encouraging them to keep out of prison after they are released. He says he has seen too many inmates who are released, then back at Graterford a short time later.
"He was no-nonsense," Hopkins said of Wilson. "Not into drugs and hustling."
Hopkins says he still keeps in touch with Wilson and sends him money to help pay his legal fees. Hopkins visited Graterford in April for the dedication of a mural of himself painted on the wall of the prison gymnasium.
Wilson's lone hope of release is a pardon from the governor of Pennsylvania, something that his lawyer, Hugh Clark, said had been done for people serving life sentences only about five times in the past 20 years.
Four previous attempts have failed, but Clark said he felt that Wilson would have a good chance when they filed again for a pardon in the fall because of Wilson's personal growth while in prison. Wilson last filed for a pardon in 1992 and received a 5-0 decision in his favor from the Board of Pardons, Clark said, but the governor at the time, Robert P. Casey, would not sign it.
Wilson said he remained optimistic that he would receive a pardon and return to the outside world, which he has not been a part of since Joe Frazier was the heavyweight champion.
"I will never let this get me down," he said. "I'll keep on struggling."