In 1983 amateur boxer Dewey Bozella was accused and later convicted of a murder he didn’t commit. It took 26 years in New York’s notorious Sing Sing prison before his name could be cleared. Now a free man, Bozella, 52, finally got the chance to live out his dream of being a professional fighter when he stepped into the ring on October 14 and went against 30-year-old fighter, Larry Hopkins, at Los Angeles’ Staples Center. Against all odds, Bozella not only finished the fight but won against an opponent 22 years his junior. The redeemed pugilist ended the evening saying, “Don’t ever give up.” In light of Bozella’s determination and story of redemption,BlackEnterprise.com takes a look at seven notable figures that were able to find success despite carrying the stigma of being formerly incarcerated.—Amber McKynzie
Best known for his TV role as Roc Emerson in the 1990s sitcom Roc, Dutton has established himself as a credible actor. But before the Maryland-born performer became a regular face on primetime television, he spent more than seven years behind bars for assault with a deadly weapon when a 17-year-old Dutton stabbed a young man to death in the street. Initially sentenced to three years in prison, the rowdy youth assaulted an officer, which earned him additional time. Dutton put the extra time to good use as he refocused his energy on more positive things. Upon his release, he enrolled in the Yale School of Drama, which gave him the skills to embark on a successful acting career.Years before King became affiliated with boxing greats like Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, he was the leader of a Cleveland gambling ring. His life of white-collar crime became murderous in 1954. During the robbery of one of his gambling houses, King shot and killed Hillary Brown. Since the incident was deemed a case of justifiable homicide under the laws of self defense there was no conviction. The same didn’t hold true for another deadly incident in 1967, where King was convicted of second degree murder after stomping former employee, Sam Garrett to death outside a bar over $600. Released in 1971 after the charges were reduced to manslaughter, the ex-con decided to gamble legally by becoming a boxing promoter. King wound up orchestrating some of the sport’s most famous bouts including Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s “The Rumble in the Jungle” (1974) and Ali’s third fight against Joe .
More than 10 years before the man now known as 50 Cent was breaking records, the rapper/entrepreneur/actor was breaking the law as a notorious crack dealer on the streets of Southside Jamaica, Queens, NY. Following in the footsteps of his mother Sabrina, who was murdered when her son was just eight, Jackson began peddling drugs as early as 12. Eventually the fast life caught up to him as the juvenile delinquent was arrested and sentenced to three to nine years, but served six months in a shock incarceration boot camp instead. The scared straight program worked as Jackson refocused his efforts to a career in music, which has since blossomed into numerous legal ventures that has his estimated worth now hovering around an estimated $200 million.
Before becoming one of TV’s favorite afternoon judges, the honorable Greg Mathis was a member of Detroit’s infamous Errol Flynns gang. With numerous arrests as a youth, he was once held at Detroit’s Wayne County Jail, where his mother revealed she had colon cancer during one of her visits. The news inspired Mathis to go straight, which he did upon his release on probation. Since his troubled teen years, the reformed citizen became an activist and earned his law degree. Although his criminal past barred him from practicing law for several years, Mathis finally made his dream come true in 1995 when he was elected a superior court judge for Michigan's 36th District, making him the youngest person in the state to hold the post. Now he reaches out to teens in prison making “PEER appearances” at various detention centers across the country and keeping the kids who don’t want to change behind bars.
Before appearing in such films as Spy Kids, xXx, Once Upon A Time in Mexico and Machete or television series like Grounded For Life and Desperate Housewives, Trejo spent an 11 year span going in and out of California’s San Quentin prison for excessive drug addiction and armed robbery. But while in prison, he found an outlet for bottled up anger through boxing. Becoming a lightweight and welterweight boxing champion while incarcerated, Trejo embarked on a 12-step rehab program that helped him turn his life around. In 1985 he began speaking for Cocaine Anonymous, where he met a friend who later called him for a meeting. The meeting turned out to be about getting cast as an extra on the movie Runaway Train. Trejo got the part and his acting career blossomed from there.
Before becoming a global music icon, Akon (born Aliaune Damala Badara Thiam) ran a high-end car theft ring in New Jersey, and ended up serving a three-year probationary sentence for gun possession. While in prison, the Senegalese-American singer took to writing to express his distress with incarceration. His latent talents led to a record deal and in 2004 Akon released his chart-topping single, “Locked Up,” which recounted his experiences and feelings behind bars. His musical success as an artist led the once-troubled entertainer to start his own labels, Konvict Muzik and Kon Live Distribution, which are home to stars like T-Pain and Lady Gaga, respectively
Before there was the political leader known as Malcolm X, there was Malcolm Little, a small time crook with no direction. That was until January of 1946 when he was arrested for burglary and later charged with larceny and breaking and entering, which carried a hefty sentence. It was during his incarceration that Little was introduced to the Nation of Islam and he slowly began changing his ways and eventually his name to Malcolm X. In the years following his release, X rose up the ranks of the NOI and became a prominent minister and civil rights activist. A skilled speaker and leader, X eventually parted from the Nation and formed his own religious organization until his assassination in February 1965.