Nearly five years after Dewey Bozella was exonerated of a crime he did not commit, his foundation launched a six-week summer program for middle school-aged children. CHAMPS Camp aims to provide young boys and girls the opportunity to be physically active, learn important life skills and connect with positive role models to develop their confidence and self-esteem.
reported that memories of rejection and isolation from his 26 years behind bars came flooding back during the first few weeks of camp at the Newburgh Armory Unity Center when he dismissed a few campers who repeatedly ignored the rules and were disruptive.
“It bothered me because I didn’t want them to leave,” Bozella said, according to the
. “I didn’t want them to feel left out. I didn’t want them to feel that no one cared.”
Bozella was initially arrested for the 1977 burglary and murder of a 92-year-old woman, but the charges were dropped because there was no evidence linking him to the crime. Then six years later, he was rearrested and ultimately convicted of the crime based solely on the strength of the testimonies of two informants, who were released from prison for their cooperation. When he contacted the Innocence Project, it was discovered that the DNA evidence in the case was destroyed. The case was referred to Wilmer Hale who was able to prove Bozella’s innocence by uncovering additional evidence that was previously withheld.
While behind bars, Bozella took up boxing which ultimately helped to channel his anger over being wrongfully convicted. He eventually became the light heavyweight champ of the prison and even got the opportunity to fight Golden Gloves champ Lou Del Valle. Three years ago, he was honored with ESPN’s prestigious Arthur Ashe Courage Award during the 2011 ESPYs.
Having founded the Dewey Bozella Foundation and CHAMPS, Bozella is now fulfilling his dream of helping at-risk kids reach their potential.
“That is what I’m trying to teach them. You have a choice,” he told the
Both the children and the staff at the camp have learned from Bozella over the past several weeks. Whether it’s a jab combination or incorporating life experiences to teaching, Bozella has a profound impact at the camp. And he’s admitted he’s learning too.
“How to be patient, not to be so aggressive. . . . . What I’ve learned is that each kid has his own value and each kid looks at life differently,” he told the