“Dewey Bozella represents the power that courage can bring to an individual despite seemingly insurmountable circumstances that could destroy many a man.”
— John Skipper, ESPN Executive Vice President
There are times in life when it is easier, or even more sensible, to just give up. This isn’t a belief held by 2011 Arthur Ashe Courage Award winner Dewey Bozella. The 2011 ESPY Awards celebrated the courage and conviction that led Bozella to the ultimate path of freedom after 26 years of wrongful imprisonment.
Bozella’s early life was one of hardship and turmoil, having witnessed his father beat his pregnant mother to death as a young boy. Foster care and life on the streets defined his youth until he found his calling in the sport of boxing. He showed promise training at Floyd Patterson’s camp and moved from Brooklyn to make a life for himself in upstate New York. He was a talented young fighter and determined to be a good man.
In 1983, Bozella’s life took a dramatic turn when he was convicted of a murder he did not commit. Sentenced to 20 years to life in Sing Sing prison, Bozella maintained his innocence and exhausted every appeal. He was offered more than four separate chances for an early release if he would only admit guilt and show remorse, but Bozella consistently refused to accept freedom under such conditions. Anger at his imprisonment gave way to determination and instead of becoming embittered, he became a model prisoner, earning his GED, bachelors and masters degrees, working as a counselor for other prisoners, and falling in love and getting married. Through it all, Bozella found strength and purpose through boxing, becoming the light heavyweight champion of Sing Sing Prison.
Unyielding in his innocence, Bozella never gave up fighting in or out of the ring. He wrote to the Innocence Project weekly in his quest for a ray of hope. Powerful New York law firm, WilmerHale, eventually took on Bozella’s case and uncovered new evidence that exonerated him. After being in prison for more than 26 years, he was finally released in October 2009. Today, Bozella devotes his life to helping others, working with a non-profit that helps recently released prisoners rehabilitate back into the world. He has also returned to boxing as a trainer to kids and aspiring fighters.
Less than two years after a judge overturned his murder conviction and freed him from prison, Bozella was honored by athletes from around the world for his courage and perseverance for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Past recipients of the award include South African President Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali and Billie Jean King. “Although many lessons in my life have been difficult to learn, I am now in a position to help others based on my experiences and that is worth the world to me,” Bozella said upon receiving his award.
At the podium, Bozella candidly discusses his tragic story of injustice and the perseverance, courage and faith that led to his long overdue exoneration. His inspiring story takes audiences on an emotional rollercoaster as they struggle with the flawed US justice system that sent an innocent man to prison for most of his life, while warming their hearts with Bozella’s unyielding determination and forgiveness.
Bozella, who recently turned 52, always had dreams to have just one professional fight. He met former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis during some of the pre-ESPY festivities and told him about this goal. Bozella quickly added he had no intention of getting into the ring with Lewis. “That guy would destroy me,” he chuckled.
He did however, finally achieve his dream on October 15, 2011 when he fought and beat opponent, Larry Hopkins, 30, of Houston, in his first and only professional boxing match.
Bozella lives in Fishkill, NY with his wife of 17 years, Trena.