Dewey Bozella saw it. Lived it. Breathed it.
He saw incarcerated men declaring their innocence, only to allow the confinement of prison walls and bars wither away any sliver of life or hope.
He lived it because he was one of them. Only difference was he held on to hope.
Bozella spent 26 years as Inmate No. 84AO172 inside Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, N.Y. after a 1983 murder conviction. Bosella was denied parole four times and was re-tried in 1990.
In 2009, Bozella and his team of lawyers met with retired Poughkeepsie police detective Arthur Regula, who made the original arrest. Regula presented a file of evidence exonerating Bozella, which led to his release.
Bozella, now 52 and a resident of Newburgh, N.Y., will share his story of perseverance with University of South Florida students during the latest University Lecture Series tonight at 8 inside the Marshall Student Center Oval Theater.
The event, which is also open to the public, is free.
The words of career criminals and the withholding of evidence put Bozella in prison for the June, 1977 death of 92-year-old Emma Crapser. She arrived at her Poughkeepsie, N.Y., apartment following a night out playing bingo when she interrupted a burglary and was killed, according to the police investigation.
A grand jury in 1977 refused to indict Bozella due to a lack of evidence, but false testimony and the withholding of evidence led to his arrest and eventual conviction six years later.
"It wasn't easy," Bozella said of his 26-year imprisonment. "I had to learn how to make the uneasy part easy, in terms of keep fighting, keep praying and keep saying to myself there's a possibility."
From the day he was fingered as a suspect until the day he was released, Oct. 28, 2009, he maintained his innocence.
"Did I ever lose hope? I feel that's all I had left," Bozella said. "Without it, I'd probably still be in prison. I've seen people who lose hope and the next thing I know, they're just gone. They passed away. They said, 'I can't take it no more' and life was over for them like that."
Bozella's wife of 17 years, Trena, admitted seeing her husband in prison, only to return home without him was beyond hard. The two were married at a small ceremony inside the prison.
Dewey Bozella couldn't be there to watch his daughter, Diamond, born 20 years ago. Nor could he be by Trena's side for any of the four surgeries she endured.
What did matter was the balance.
"A lot of people say, 'How did you make it through this with him' and I want you to know it was a balancing thing," Trena Bozella, 46, said. "With the blessings of God, it seemed when Dewey was down, I was up. When I was down, he was up. We worked on that balancing thing and thank God that we both we never down at the same time."
During his time in prison, Bozella sharpened his skills as a boxer and scholar. He earned his GED, undergraduate degree, master's in theology as well as numerous certificates, but it was boxing that played the role of adhesive, keeping him from falling apart.
During his imprisonment, Bozella, who had brief boxing experience as a kid, became Sing Sing's light heavyweight champion.
In July, ESPN presented Bozella with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award during the ESPY Awards ceremony in Los Angeles. The program chronicled his story and his wish – one professional fight.
Golden Boy Promotions, a boxing promotions company headed by Oscar De La Hoya, made it happen on Oct. 15, where Bozella collected a four-round, unanimous decision victory against Larry Hopkins on the undercard of the Chad Dawson-Bernard Hopkins fight.
Admitting "it's a young man's sport," Bozella retired from boxing and has turned his efforts to starting the Dewey Bozella Foundation. It's not his hope to turn kids into amateur or professional boxers. Instead, he wants to pass on the sport's discipline as the baseline for life.
"I learned to make the best of the worst," Bozella said. "Through boxing, that was my morals, my obligations, my responsibilities. It was my discipline. I ran with it, not only as a boxer, but in my everyday activities."