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One never quite knew what to make of Rubin (Hurricane) Carter, the top-ranked middleweight contender of the mid-'60s. Was he a child of sorrow, a genuine victim of society—or of himself; or was he a man who would thoroughly delight in burning the cities of the world? He could be gentle and well-spoken, and in the flash of a moment a great squall of rage would blow over him. I last saw him in a courtroom, his body growing flaccid, the malevolence in his eyes less visible; he was on trial with a young friend for the murders of three whites in a Paterson, N.J. tavern.

Throughout the trial Carter insisted he was not guilty. Although no weapon was ever recovered, no motive offered or any positive identification of Carter made, he was sentenced to three life terms. He has served seven years, but now his case has been dramatically reopened with the recanting of testimony by two key witnesses. Out of it all Carter has produced a book called The Sixteenth Round (Viking Press, $11.95); it is a document of a life lived in the center of hell.

It begins with Carter as a member of a street gang, recounts the time his father, a preacher, turned him in for stealing T shirts, the brutality of the police after they took him away, then the stabbing of a degenerate that sent him to Jamesburg State Home for Boys. Carter escaped from Jamesburg, joined the paratroopers and was sent to Germany.

He found boxing in the Army and would probably have made it to the Olympics if he had reenlisted. Instead he took his discharge, returned home and was promptly sent to Annandale Reformatory for having busted out of Jamesburg. After his release the urge to snatch a woman's purse and hit someone overcame him, and it was on to Trenton State Prison. There he began to think seriously of the ring. His career was launched in 1961, and it followed the classic trail of broken dreams and promises, a path charted by hot-faced bargainers and insufferable scoundrels.

As a fighter Carter was brave and cruel against some of the hardest men of his division, like Florentino Fernandez, Luis Rodriguez, Dick Tiger, Emile Griffith; when Rubin hit, the world shook. He is no different as, the author of his own dreary tale. His accounts of prison life leave one in a state of revulsion, and throughout his story I could only think of a strange and not altogether ugly insect entangled by a dusty web in the corner of a huge empty house.