Inspired by his grandfather, Montana Innocence Project client Joseph Jefferson-Dust picked up boxing in pre-release where he used the sport to overcome the mental battle of wrongful conviction. On May 13, he walked away from Battle of the Badges a champion.
Battle of the Badges is a Billings-based boxing tournament. Contestants were veterans, active military, first responders, and retired law enforcement. A Navy veteran, Joe expressed his interest to participate in a Facebook post about the event.
“I put a comment: ‘I love boxing, and I’m a veteran,’” Joe said. “The promotor messaged me and asked me if I wanted to do it. I’m a huge fan of boxing, so I kind of wanted to test myself to see if what I knew actually worked. I think out of everybody, my strategy was the most boxing standard strategy.”
Joe was paired against an active Navy member. They agreed to three, two-minute rounds.
“I got a TKO in the second round,” Joe said.
Joe kept his composure after his win–until he got back to his hotel room.
“Oh my god, I was on top of the world,” Joe said. “I broke down and was really happy.”
After the fight, Joe stopped by a food truck. The owner gave him a free pork sandwich and asked how he has been; that’s when Joe realized he was a corrections officer when he was wrongfully incarcerated at Yellowstone County Jail.
“I said I was good and asked the same of him,” Joe said.
View Joe’s TikTok videos of his experience at Battle of the Badges below:
Joe was extremely close to his maternal grandfather Ronald Big Man and grew up hearing about his boxing days. But it wasn’t until he found his trophies in storage that he realized how much he wanted to follow in his footsteps.
“I was like, ‘Wow, he really was a boxer,’” Joe said. “I wanted to live out that same kind of situation he did and experience the same thing that he did.”
Joe was wrongfully convicted in 2017. It was during his time in pre-release that Joe started hitting the heavy bag at least three days a week and working on his boxing technique.
“It was kind of a way for me to regain some confidence,” Joe said. “I guess going through the whole ordeal with the system, I kind of felt like my dignity was taken away. So this was a way to reclaim some of that and rebuild the confidence I had lost because I had completely lost a lot of things mentally or at least second-guessed myself. This helps me regain some of that security in my own mind.”
Joe said boxing continues to assist his mental health while he waits to secure his full freedom. MTIP is actively working to overturn his conviction based on a full recantation from his accuser.
“It gives me a goal that I want to reach,” Joe said. “It’s something that requires a lot of discipline and a good amount of courage to do. I just want to test myself in that way.”
Since winning Battle of the Badges, Joe has found a boxing gym in Billings he hopes to join in preparation for his next fight!