Courage and Conviction Lead Aspiring Boxer to Freedom
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 eventually even 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 daily in his quest for a ray of hope. The law firm WilmerHale eventually took on Bozella’s case and uncovered new evidence that exonerated him. After being in prison 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, all the while maintaining his dream to fight one professional fight as a free man.
On July 13th, 2011, Dewey Bozella was honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at The 2011 ESPYs. The 2011 ESPYs celebrated the courage and conviction that lead Bozella to the ultimate path of freedom after 26 years of imprisonment.
Following the awards, Dewey Bozella realized his dream of becoming a professional boxer, winning his first pro fight on October 15th, 2011 on the undercard for Bernard versus Dawson.
Today, Dewey Bozella has created his own foundation dedicated to fulfilling his lifelong dream – helping kids avoid the mistakes he has made, through the sport of boxing. Funds raised by the foundation will be used to create a boxing gym where Dewey will work with kids in the struggling upstate city of Newburgh, New York.
The Arthur Ashe Courage Award
The Arthur Ashe Courage Award is presented each year to individuals whose contributions transcend sports. Past honorees include: Jim Valvano (1993); Steve Palermo (1994); Howard Cosell (1995); Loretta Claiborne (1996); Muhammad Ali (1997); Dean Smith (1998); Billie Jean King (1999); Dave Sanders (2000); Olympian Cathy Freeman (2001); Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick, four passengers who lost their lives September 11 on United Flight 93 (2002); Pat and Kevin Tillman (2003); Liberian-born soccer legend George Weah (2004); disabled athletes Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah and Jim MacLaren (2005); Afghan female athletes (2006); and Trevor Ringland and Dave Cullen for their work with PeacePlayers (2007); U.S. Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos (2008); former president Nelson Mandela (2009); and the Thomas family of Parkersburg, IA (2010).