It’s been a while since I’ve seen any of the guys from Newburgh Boxing Club. I stopped training there back in January, as I could no longer afford the dues there as well as the other training I was doing at the time. As luck would have it, the NBC has moved to my 24 hour gym as an interim gym while they look for a new space.
I haven’t run into most of the people I used to train with, but today I had the pleasure of seeing Dewey Bozella. I’ve wanted to interview Dewey and had told him so just prior to my disappearance from the NBC, which was unfortunate timing. It was exciting seeing him again today; he had a large impact on me in the short time I was training there and is a positive influence that I believe will remain my whole lifetime. I told him I still want to interview him and he smiled, saying he had bad news. He has an agent now, so I have to go through her – he directed me to go talk to his wife, who was sitting on a bench near a fan in the corner. I hopped over to her and explained the situation, she apologized for having to jump through a hoop and asked for my contact info so she could pass it on to the agent. I let her know I’m not a professional writer and whatever I produce from the interview is not for profit or any kind of monetary compensation could be involved. I then explained why I want to interview Dewey.
Being the only female in an all male club is difficult, I said. You’re either invisible, or made to feel unwelcome. Dewey always made me feel welcome. He didn’t invite me in with open arms like a crazy person, but he always offered help if I asked for it and would answer my questions with as much detail as I pushed for. He’s like a fountain – he’s not going to spill all over you, but his sources and generosity are endless if you are willing to approach. I could see what a good energy he had and what a positive person he was to have around the kids at the NBC. This made his wife smile. Regardless of where he came from, Dewey seemed to be a great guy. But then I saw this picture of him on the wall, posing with Hillary Swank on the red carpet. So I googled him, wondering if he’d helped train her for Million Dollar Baby or something. When I saw what Dewey had been through, I said, I had to go cry in my car. I started tearing up, which his wife noted with astonishment. I went ahead and just kept crying and talking. I worked in a prison, I said. I taught creative writing for a couple of years and prison is the most intense, terrible place I’ve ever been. And I was only there two hours at a time. I can’t believe Dewey spent my entire lifetime in prison, and wrongfully accused to boot. I marveled at what a strong woman she was for having married Dewey without knowing if he’d ever be released. I expressed my admiration that Dewey could be the kind of man he is now given the kind of experience he comes from. I told her that he’s like a frog in that he’s a little strange walking around – sweet and kind, but not weak, which is an odd and rare combination – but when he steps into that ring, it’s like he’s diving into water and all of a sudden all those parts that didn’t quite make sense on land are just beautiful. You say, “Oh, that’s what those strange legs are for.” She laughed and said she knew exactly what I meant. She said she couldn’t imagine that the agent would deny me an interview. She was also amazed at how much impact Dewey had on me. I know that he does not share his story with most of the kids at the gym – I found it on my own. But I think also that it makes a difference to see something so personal have impact on a stranger. I remarked to my husband that it’s like someone realizing how strong your grandmother is for having lived through a war, rather than saying how old she must be.
This is what’s so incredible about Dewey. He doesn’t need anything; he doesn’t need acknowledgement for what he went through. Instead, he wants to give from it. Remember the fountain metaphor? Prison is a horrible place; it’s designed to be that way, that aspect is purposeful. It’s meant to break you and what’s more, the way we do incarceration in this country and in this day is even worse because it is so invisible. Without visibility, there is no satisfactory idea of “punishment” and so what is served – what is taken – is time. And even if you’ve “done your time,” which is what we ask in our legal system, people still believe you deserve punishment, so you remain tainted and marked as a convict. For those in the know, that boredom and severity and complete loss of privacy, of personal space, and of silence – this is punishment.
But Dewey isn’t broken. Not even a little bit. He’s humble, but not meek; he’s quiet, but not introverted; and he’s gentle, but not soft. He carries himself like a holy man, a priest perhaps, and indeed he has a Masters degree in Theology. Who knows what kind of man he would have become if he’d never gone to prison. But the man he is now is not “thanks to” that terrible experience, even if he was forged through it. He’s not a story of success, but of perseverance.