Rubin Carter died yesterday. Here's Bill Nack's 1992 SI profile:
Late of an April evening in 1974, Rubin Carter was sitting at the small desk in his five- by seven-foot cell in Rahway (N.J.) State Prison, reading the manuscript of his autobiography, when he picked up that faint, familiar scent of menace in the incarcerated air. The man had spent nearly half of his 37 years behind bars—the past seven for a triple murder that he vehemently insisted he had not committed—and in the course of time he had learned to read, like a second language, the quietest shifts in mood and rhythm inside prison walls.
Carter looked at his watch. It was past 10. He went to the door of his cell. Outside, the lights were still on in his wing. Rahway ran like a timepiece, and one of the things a man could always count on was the dimming of the houselights at 10. In the second language, lights off beyond that hour was good; lights on, bad. "It meant that something extraordinary was going on," he says.
Carter was the leader of the Rahway Inmates Council, a group of jailhouse rockers working for prison reform. That very day Carter had presided over a peaceful, if unauthorized, meeting in the prison rec hall, urging inmates to air their grievances through the council. He sensed he was in trouble for that. Indeed, Rahway was preparing to ship him back to Trenton State—the maximum-security prison where he had previously done time—on charges of inciting a riot.
"I knew they were coming to get me," he says. "I didn't have to hear rumors."
That left him but one thing to do.