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by Katarina Floridia ‘14
Dewey Bozella had his first professional fight at the age of 52 against Larry Hopkins, who was half Bozella’s age. Bozella took it to Hopkins, beating him through the later rounds of the fight and winning by unanimous decision. He learned to fight—and says he was saved—in “The Death House,” the nickname for the room where prison electrocutions once took place at Sing Sing prison before it was converted into a boxing gym. Bozella, who had been convicted of murder, took his shot in the ring and became Sing Sing’s light heavyweight champion.
Boxing was Dewey’s thing. It gave him focus, discipline and a release from the tough side of prison life. Bozella spoke to a room full of students in Daniels Auditorium on March 28th. He shared his inspirational story of false imprisonment that made him fight 32 years for his freedom. Last year Bozella received the 2011 Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at The ESPY Awards on ESPN.
“I could have never had gone through what Dewey did. I don’t think anyone could have,” said Nichols College student Andrew Pfeffer after the event. “Imagine the amount of strength and determination one would need to even survive prison, not to mention the fight for his freedom.”
Bozella was prosecuted for the murder of a 92-year-old woman in 1977, although there was no evidence that would point to him. He was surprised he was convicted.
“I broke down and cried right there in the courtroom,” Bozella told the silent crowed of Nichols students. He also said that he acted like an “animal” the first year he was in prison. He then stopped smoking and gave up whatever other “bad things” he had stocked in his cell, including alcohol.
As he recreated the man he was before prison, Bozella began to write letters to anyone and everyone so he would be heard. While trying to start over, he joined the prison boxing club, where he began to find balance, discipline, focus, and sanity. It also made his time in prison go a little faster.
“I knew there was two ways I was going to get out of prison, either dead in a box on the outside or coming out how I am today,” he said.
Bozella wrote for years to the Innocence Project to get that organization to look into his case. The legal firm Wilmer Hale decided to take his case and tracked down the police officer who had arrested Dewey. The police officer had Dewey’s case file, in which one woman had admitted to the police that her father, and not Bozella, had committed the murder. After the new evidence came to light, Dewey Bozella became a free man.
After his first professional fight last year, Bozella said he was offered more fights. He responded that that would be his first and only professional fight. He plans instead to start the Dewey Bozella Foundation, which will fund a gym that he will run out of his hometown.
“His story was very inspirational,” said Nichols College student Eric Belix. “I want to do better in the future and learn from my mistakes and have no regrets because life is just too short.”
The words of wisdom Bozella wanted everyone in the audience to remember were, “Never let fear determine who you are,” for which he got a standing ovation.