Open Letter from Federal Prison
A former college player, now inmate, writes a letter to SLAM with a positive message for all.
When the coach of that team didn’t call I started to drift. I began spending time with family members that did not have basketball as a goal. We started going out into Atlanta, living a bigger life than a student should. Things began to snowball and I started living the fast life and all that goes with it. I started wanting things without working hard for them. I wanted it quick and easy.
It took sometime but I was swayed to do something that was outside of my character. I bought the dream of getting fast money. I bit the shinny apple and went along with robbing a bank in 2005.
After robbing the bank and spending money on things that a young single man may, I saw that it did not fulfill my life. My life began to fall apart. I started doing more and more things a parent would not be proud of. I had stopped praying, practicing basketball and keeping my body in shape. My body and soul were in the worst shape ever. The fast life is not what it appeared to be.
I had made some bad decisions and although the choices at the time did not give immediate negative consequences, they did affect me.
God had plans, not just for me to come to prison, but learning from all of my mistakes. I was taken out of the game so I could see the big picture. Giving me time to focus everyday on my dreams and God’s plan for my life.
With my life at this point being what seemed to be in shambles, I began to travel home, back to Birmingham (Homewood) going between there and Atlanta. I started spending time with different family members. I hoped spending this time with them would bring me up and out of my slump. It seemed to work and I started going back to mega churches, getting involved playing ball at great gyms. I started praying again and my life started to change. I started thanking God again for all he had done for me. I was working jobs that allowed me time to practice and play ball again and work on my handling skills. People started telling me that they thought I could go pro. This made me feel good boosting my ego and causing me to work harder again.
I started working out with a few semi pros and overseas players who were from my area, getting things ready for the possibility of trying out for another team.
Then it happened. In the fall I got shot in my right leg. It all happened after a verbal confrontation which took place between some others. I was rushed to a local hospital, knowing that I was done. Never to be able to jump again.
The burning was nothing like I had ever felt before. It felt like a hot coal or burning rod was pushed through my leg. The burning lasted for months.
While going to the hospital, I was crying in pain, not only from the burn but for my hopes of playing or trying out for a pro team.
As I saw it, my life, my future was over in basketball. It was finally over. As I lay in the E.R. crying, I began to pray that God would come and help me with the pain and the hole in my leg and give me one last chance at life. Anyone who has been shot knows how the prayer went. God answered my prayer when the E.R. doctor came and told me and my parents that if the bullet had been centimeters to the left I would have lost my leg.
My parents and I prayed and thanked God for the news of my leg and that I may recover. My new worries were about being able to jump like I could before I was shot.
It took 6 months to completely heal and I did not rehab or anything like it. But I can jump higher now than before.
During the 6 months I prayed daily that I would fully recover and be able to jump and play at least the same. Recovering from being shot and facing the fact that I could have died had me thinking that life was way too short and I needed to take it to the fullest in everything I do.
I knew that I had made mistakes in my life and been given chance after chance after chance to be the person God wanted me to be. Being a person who wants to help others by giving his time and other resources when available.
I have always wanted to help kids and wanted to teach them basketball and why it was okay to do what’s right. My life had been up and down with school and I knew that an education was very important.
I have enjoyed studying World Geography and learning about other countries and wanted to teach others about this. I thought I could use basketball and other games to help teach kids that there is more than their town.
At this time, while healing, I wanted to work at the YMCA after school program so I could help kids learn about foreign countries and basketball.
As I was gaining more use of my leg and looking for an after school program Sept. 11, 2008 came around. I watched a TV special 9/11 and all of the survivors that are from around the world. It saddened me so much and caused me to think about all the families in New York. This tragedy deeply affected me.
I wanted to do something for the victims, but could not come up with an idea.
On September 19, 2008 God answered my prayer in a very different way. I was arrested for robbing the 3 years prior in 2005.
At that point, I had started changing my life, working, praying doing the right thing. On Sept. 19, 2008 I was arrested, charged and later sentenced to 5 years in prison at Yazoo Federal Correctional Complex Low.
In June 2009, I knew my life was going to change. Prison is not where anyone needs to be. You learn quickly that your bad decisions have consequences; some not seen at the time but that later have effects. I made the choice to break the law. I hurt my family, others and myself by breaking the law and coming to prison. I am truly sorry for this.
Upon my arrival at Yazoo, I scoped out the only court they had. It was outside in the sun, made of concrete with cracks; not the best court by far. The goals are not balanced and are not of equal height, some double-rimmed.
I did see other ballers, a couple who were pretty good even, using cheap plastic type balls. Nothing here is good as an elementary school outside gym. But we make do.
A week or so after playing a few games, I met and hooked up with a trainer who had trained a few pros and said he wanted to help me get better. He trained me like an Olympian, total body workouts, doing all types of target exercises for jumping and endurance. We worked on pain storms, iron cats and platform jumps.
As the months continued to pass my friend and I talked about a chance of me going pro overseas or the NBA. My friend didn’t know at that time what it took to do this but he thought I was good because I could dunk and jump. He began to study old SLAM Magazines and old NBA records and he learned fast about shooting percentages and defensive skills. He gave me support and keeps me working on my drills even today.
I was getting better doing drills and shooting 600 to 800 shots each day we had a chance. Playing countless pick up games.
My friend John and I watched the 10th anniversary of 9/11, which moved us so much as we watched the buildings come falling down we both had tears in our eyes. When the names were read off, it truly made me want to do something for them. I told John about what happened before I got arrested about wanting to do something for those people.
I just wanted to do something, anything in their honor. I didn’t have the resources to send anything to the families, so I prayed and came up with an idea of shooting 50 thousand shots by 9/11 2012 and continue to 75 thousand shots by Dec. 2012. I was already shooting but this number of shots would be a challenge. It was now my goal for the honor of the survivors. I had to do my best. I could do it even if they didn’t know I was doing it for them.
I have taken pride in my efforts to meet this goal. My friend John and two others keep the records of each shot no matter what it may be: a free throw, two point or NBA range 3 pointer. Each one is counted. As of 1-15-13 I have shot 54,925 shots and have made 38,555. Although I did not make the exact date deadline, I have made the goal of the 50 thousand shots and will continue to shoot for the 75 thousand goal. The weather and prison conditions play a major role in when I can get a court. I get there when I can, everyday I’m allowed. I am leaving in October 2013 and I am not stopping until I make this goal of 75 thousand. I am finally doing something for someone’s memory and they don’t even know I’m doing it.
During the time of attempting to make my goal for the 9/11 survivors I have worked with a shooting coach and drill coach, each teaching me better ways of doing things.
I have plans of trying out for the NBA and I am using all the time God gave me to get ready.
Now to be able to see how my behavior affects others is a gift. When I robbed the bank, I not only took something from the bank, I robbed my parents and loved ones of time we could have spent together. I robbed myself of being a person without a criminal record. I am now marked as a felon.
I have forgiven myself because I believe this to be part of the plan God has for my life.
Although I am leaving prison, I am taking with me lessons learned in self-discipline and fortitude. My struggles with basketball and life keep me going with the attitude that I can make it, if I pray and work harder. You must have talent to build on and people tell me I have talent. I have been blessed by God so I keep my head up and keep working towards my dreams.
While I do have a life with basketball, I also enjoy doing other things such as reading and studying. I made goals to learn French and Spanish while here in prison. I take this serious and study everyday with flash cards I made out of cardboard boxes and my reference books. I always carry 8 to 10 flash cards with me wherever I may go.
I finally have my education now and I know that it is very important. I encourage everyone to read more and study everything there is about their favorite subject, watch less TV and exercise. I have been blessed to have no injuries other than being shot and I am in the best shape of my life. It’s like I am 24 years old again.
If my dreams of going pro doesn’t work out, I know work is going to be very hard to find due to the economy and my status as a felon, but I have faith. I will not give up. People here always say its too hard or you will not make it. I will not give in to this and I will not allow them to bring me down. I refuse to listen to the haters about my basketball dreams. I keep my eyes on God, he still has plans for me. I just have to follow them.
The Bible tells that, “we should not get tired of doing what is good and just at the right time we will reap a harvest of blessings. Weeds spring up quickly and good crops grow more slowly and must be tended to steadily even before we see anything sprout up. It’s only in time we will enjoy the fruit.”
Being in prison is not a place for anyone. Being away from my family and loved ones. It’s what I imagine hell to be. Do what’s right and don’t come here.
I have plans already in place once I leave Yazoo and when I make it I want to encourage others not to give up on their dreams, to keep fighting. It is not easy, if it were everyone would make it. You can’t give up ever.