Gold In The Mud Behind Bars

Oh, man, head on over to SB Nation Longform and check out this fascinating story by the most-talented Brin-Jonathan Butler:

Prison inmate No. 57735, accused of murder and serving a 30-40 year stretch inside Rahway State Prison for armed robbery, introduced himself in a letter to reporter Beth Schenerman at The New York Timeson Dec. 17, 1978, writing, in a rare moment of understatement, "This is a unique story." After returning to prison three years earlier, the former professional boxer had long since been recognized as one of the most feared and dangerous of the 1,150 inmates then living behind the walls of New Jersey's most notorious maximum-security prison, a place journalist Ralph Wiley described "as if the world had dropped the sum of its sores into one of New Jersey's gritty smokestacks, then chose not to watch as the results of the experiment filtered down into place."

Scott was one result of that experiment. But he had even bigger plans for his legacy. The message in a bottle Scott wished to wash ashore to everyone living outside those walls was simple: wearing leather gloves over the hands he'd been accused of using to murder someone, he just might be the most dangerous man everywhere else on earth, too. "The rise of a champion from prison house to the light heavyweight championship of the world. Has it ever been done before? No. I'll die if I don't get that title shot," he wrote. "I'm pregnant. I've got to deliver this child."

The Times and everybody else immediately recognized the story. This savvy, self-educated, self-described career criminal found an audience eager to believe him. Only two years before, a little Cinderella-story film about the American Dream, shot over 28 days with a budget of little more than $1 million, "Rocky," had won three Academy Awards and made $225 million at the box office. An unknown actor named Sylvester Stallone, with a pregnant wife and $106 in the bank, had written the script in three-and-a-half days about an over-the-hill Philadelphia club fighter who got a title shot.

But "Rocky" was just a movie. Scott was real, and his far more improbable story, of the American Dream turned into a fantastic fairytale, was already being written. All he needed was the happy ending. In only a few short years, Scott, who had spent over half his 30-year-life behind bars, had already parlayed his story into a career. A week before he wrote The Times, it had already started to come true when he had successfully challenged Eddie Gregory (later known today as Eddie Mustafa Muhammad) from insideRahway's walls.

The notion was so obscenely preposterous that the feisty new network on the block, HBO Sports, eager to stand out, bought the whole thing. They sent film crews and announcers (including hiring the legendary "voice of boxing" Don Dunphy) to Woodbridge, N.J., and broadcast the fight live before a select crowd of civilians from prison's auditorium. They touted the fight as "Boxing Behind Bars."