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Why Did Charles S. Dutton Go to Prison?

Charles S. Dutton is an acclaimed American stage, film, and television actor known for roles in films like Alien 3 and Rudy, and shows like Roc and The Practice. However, before becoming a famous actor, Dutton had a troubled past and served time in prison when he was a young man. His journey from incarcerated criminal to Emmy-winning performer is an inspirational story of redemption.

Background on Charles Dutton’s Early Life

Charles Dutton grew up in Baltimore, Maryland in a low-income neighborhood. His parents divorced when he was young and he was raised by his mother. As a child, Dutton grew up around street violence and criminal activity. He dropped out of high school at 17 and joined the US Navy. But he still struggled with aggression and volatility that would eventually land him in prison.

Getting Involved in Crime

After leaving the Navy, Dutton fell into criminal circles back in Baltimore. He became involved in street fighting, robbery, and drug dealing. Things escalated from petty crime to violence and murder. In retaliation for the murder of his friend, Dutton killed a man and was charged with manslaughter at age 22. This landed him in prison for 5 years.

Prison Time in Maryland

Dutton served his first sentence at Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown. While in prison, he was unpredictable and violent, frequently getting into altercations with other inmates. He was convicted of stabbing another prisoner and received an additional 10 year sentence, raising his total time in prison to 15 years.

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Finding Purpose through Education

While at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup, Dutton began to turn his life around. He enrolled in classes offered at the prison and earned his GED. This opened up his mind to the transformative power of education. Dutton discovered a passion for learning and reading, diving into books about history, philosophy, and drama.

Dutton’s Path to Becoming an Actor

Discovering Theater in Prison

The pivotal moment in Dutton’s journey came when he saw a theater group perform at the prison. He was instantly drawn to the power of performance and signed up for acting classes offered by the prison’s drama teacher. Dutton discovered he had natural talent as an actor.

Continuing Drama After Release

After being released from prison in 1976, Dutton knew he wanted to pursue a career as an actor. He won a scholarship to Towson State University where he earned a degree in theater. Dutton then moved to New Haven, CT to join a drama group and hone his craft. This led to him being cast in plays at the famous Yale Repertory Theatre.

Big Break with August Wilson

In 1983, Dutton landed a pivotal role in American playwright August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Broadway. Dutton won immense praise for his performance, winning the Theatre World Award and Drama Desk Award. This launched his acting career in New York.

Shift to TV and Film

Dutton began to transition to work in television and film in the late 1980s. Some early roles included a Vietnam War veteran in Hamburger Hill and a policeman in Mississippi Burning. His work in these films demonstrated his versatility and depth as an actor, laying the foundation for more acclaimed performances to come.

Dutton’s Most Famous Roles

Award-Winning Performance in Rudy

In 1993, Dutton delivered an acclaimed performance as a tough but tender-hearted college custodian in the inspirational football film Rudy. Dutton’s supporting performance stole many scenes and conveyed the message of helping someone achieve an improbable dream. He won an Image Award for this role.

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Emmy-Winning Role on The Practice

Dutton’s widest exposure came from his role as attorney Alvin York on the hit legal drama The Practice, which he joined in 2002. His wise, ethical character was a fan favorite and earned Dutton an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series in 2003.

Acclaim for HBO’s The Corner

The 1999 HBO miniseries The Corner, focusing on the impact of drugs on a Baltimore neighborhood, showcased Dutton’s command of complex, troubled characters. As a recovering addict struggling to do right by his family, Dutton drew upon his own past to create a raw, human performance. He won his second Emmy for this role.

Stealing Scenes in Alien 3

Dutton had a memorable supporting turn in the sci-fi thriller Alien 3 as a former prisoner that helps Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley battle the alien creature. Though the 1992 film itself got mixed reviews, Dutton’s intense presence was considered a highlight by many critics.

Dutton’s Activism and Passion for Education

Giving Back through ART

Dutton founded the American Entertainment Industries (ART) HBCU Theatre Initiative in 1997 to train and mentor students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Through ART, Dutton shares both his talent and resources to open up opportunities for others.

Supporting Alma Mater Towson University

Even with all his fame and success, Dutton has remained loyal to his alma mater Towson University. He frequently visits the school to speak to drama students about channeling creativity into purpose. Dutton also helped fund Towson’s Center for the Arts as a way to give back.

Advocating for Prison Education and Reform

Given his personal history, Dutton is a vocal advocate for prison education programs as a way to rehabilitate inmates through learning. He sees the arts and humanities as powerful tools for individual growth that prisons should encourage more. Dutton also calls for reforms to the US criminal justice system.


Charles Dutton’s journey from angry young convict to prolific, celebrated actor and advocate is a testament to the transformative power of education. While prison led him down a dangerous path early in life, the self-reflection and hunger for knowledge Dutton discovered behind bars put him on the road to redemption. Through the performing arts, Dutton found purpose and a sense of humanity that enabled him to turn his life around and attain great success.

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Though he achieved fame and accolades, Dutton has not forgotten his troubled past. His activism and generosity demonstrate his commitment to creating opportunities for others from difficult backgrounds. Charles Dutton’s incredible story reveals how even from the bleakest circumstances, the right guidance and discovery of one’s gifts can empower amazing transformations.


What crimes was Charles Dutton convicted of?

As a young man, Dutton was convicted of manslaughter, assault, and possession of a deadly weapon. The manslaughter conviction stemmed from killing a man in retaliation for the murder of Dutton’s friend. He also stabbed an inmate while in prison.

How much time did Charles Dutton spend in prison?

Dutton served a total of about 7 years in prison in Maryland. His initial sentence was 5 years for manslaughter, followed by an additional 2 year sentence for assaulting an inmate.

What turned Charles Dutton’s life around in prison?

While imprisoned, Dutton got his GED and discovered a passion for learning. He particularly became interested in theater and acting after seeing a prison theater group perform. This spurred him to pursue acting after he finished his sentence.

How did Charles Dutton get into acting?

After prison, Dutton won a scholarship to university and got a degree in theater. He joined an acting group after college then began doing plays at the Yale School of Drama, leading to a Tony-winning role on Broadway.

What are some of Charles Dutton’s most famous roles?

Some of Dutton’s best known roles include performances in Alien 3, Rudy, and HBO shows The Corner and The Practice, the latter for which he won 2 Emmy Awards. He frequently played complex, hardened characters trying to change.

Prison Inside Team

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We are dedicated to exploring the intricacies of prison life and justice reform through firsthand experiences and expert insights.

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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