Carter froze. From inside a helmet, a muffled voice boomed: "Come out, Carter! Come out!"
"I mean this," Carter warned them. "I ain't going with you. If anybody comes in here to get me, god forbid. You'll need 20 men! First come, first served."
At that moment Bobby Martin, a sergeant of the guards, arrived on the scene. He had just rushed back to Rahway from his house and was on a mission to save a man he regarded as a friend. "I never met anybody like him," says Martin, a captain now in the New Jersey prison system. "I used to go in the cell and talk to him during lunch. You're not supposed to do that, but I'd do it." Martin owed Carter one, too. One day when Martin was a rookie, he had found himself trapped by two thugs on the tier in Four Up Wing. Carter came to Martin's rescue, knocking out the assailants.
Martin came to the door and looked inside. "Ever see Rubin's eyes when he's mad?" says Martin. "His eyes get real small—like a mad cat's eyes. I looked at him and said, 'Good lord. Help me now.' He was going to war."
Martin asked Carter to let him in. Carter removed the barricade and opened the door. Inside, the two men huddled quietly. Martin told Carter that they were taking him to Trenton State. He assured Carter that nothing bad would happen to him. "Let me hook you up, and I'll take you down to Trenton," Martin said. "Eventually you're going to have to go, whether you beat 15 of us. Or 20 of us. There'll be a hundred more."
The promise of Martin's escort was all Carter needed. "I'll go," he said, and he rose to leave. Before he left, though, Carter scooped up the manuscript of his book and stuffed it into his sweatpants. Holding the sheaves of paper to his body, Carter left Rahway in the dead of that terrifying night. "If they had stripped me naked," he says, "I would have taken that manuscript. It was a little thread of hope. The hope that somebody, someday, would read it and understand what had happened to me. What was happening to me. It was my lifeline—my message beyond the walls."
Six years later, one September day in 1980, a 16-year-old black youth named Lesra Martin arrived at a used-book fair being held in a warehouse in Toronto. Lesra was accompanied by what he would call "my new Canadian family"—eight white entrepreneurs who had plucked him out of the Bushwick ghetto of Brooklyn the year before and brought him north to live and study in their tree-shaded house in Toronto. Lesra was extremely bright, and the Canadians had taken him to the fair to feed his increasing appetite for books, encouraging him to find works by black writers as a way of learning about the culture and history of his people. While roaming the warehouse, Lesra saw a black face on the cover of a hardback. He picked up the book—The 16th Round: From Number 1 Contender to Number 45472 by Rubin (Hurricane) Carter.
Lesra paid a dollar for it.
That afternoon in his room, Lesra curled up with the book. The 16th Round, published to general acclaim in the fall of 1974, was an angry, eloquent indictment of growing up black in America, of the New Jersey judicial system that had arrested Carter and locked him up and of the medieval prisons that had so long confined him. Lesra became engrossed in Carter's talc of his life: his youthful days as a gang leader in New Jersey and his arrest at age 12 for attacking, with his Boy Scout knife, a man he accused of sexually assaulting him; Carter's six years in the Jamesburg (N.J.) State Home for Boys, his escape from there and his enlistment in the Army in '54; his discharge from the Army and his quick arrest for the Jamesburg escape, for which he spent 10 months in the Annandale (N.J.) Reformatory; his arrest in '57 for purse snatching ("the most dastardly thing I've ever done," Carter would say) and the four years he served in Trenton State for that crime; his release from Trenton; and his rise to fame as a prizefighter.
Early in the book, where Carter described how a policeman had hassled him as a boy, Lesra—who had experienced the same thins in Brooklyn—so identified with the story that he started reading it out loud to his Canadian friends. They too got caught up in the tale, and for the next few nights they took turns reading it to each other.