John Artis spoke Monday, Oct. 23 at the University of Maine on “Truth, Reconciliation and the Search for Personal Peace.”
Artis’ speech was a kick-off to the University’s Peace Week, which continues until Friday, Oct. 27.
John Artis knows about the search for personal peace perhaps better than anyone does. In 1966, he, along with Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, was booked on a triple homicide charge, for murders he and Rubin did not commit.
Artis spent 15 years imprisoned in Rahway Prison in New Jersey and was freed from prison on the grounds that he and Carter had received a racially biased trial.
Artis spoke about his youth and how he had grown up in a protective, structured family. He became an incredible athlete in his days at Patterson Central High School, in Patterson, N.J. Not only did he have athletics, but he had smarts as well. His parents pushed him to do well academically.
“My family taught me that achievement equals reward, and I followed this throughout my schooling and athletic activites,” said Artis.
Artis had plans to attend college and play sports. All of those plans changed on the night of June 17, 1966.
Artis was out dancing at a local nightspot when he met Rubin “Hurricance” Carter. Carter offered Artis a ride home when it began getting late. En route to their homes, Carter and Artis were pulled over, and although not fitting the descriptions of the suspects, arrested for a triple homicide which occurred at the club they just left.
After that night, Artis’ entire world turned around.
“My biggest fear in the world was to be in police custody,” he said. “That is why I always stayed out of trouble.”
And there he was, in custody and being grilled for more than 17 hours about a crime he knew nothing about, except that he had nothing to do with it.
Artis stayed in prison until the age of 35. While there, he received schooling and kept a positive attitude, which he is now sharing with troubled youth.
“In prison I taught other men to read and write, play sports and realized the power of young people.”
Artis now works out of his home in Virginia in a detention center for youth on a project called “Creating Youth Awareness.”
Artis does not want others to have to go through what he did. He described prison life with great emotion, saying: “It will rob you emotionally, physically and spiritually – if you let it.”
Artis said he is happy today in his free life. Contrary to what many may think, he has no hatred inside of him because of his wrongful accusation. He now speaks to youth and others about the importance of believing in something to keep you going.
“You have two people, you have you, and you have God,” he said. “You have to believe in something as well as yourself.”
On his search for personal peace, Artis said: “I am at peace with myself for surviving [prison].”