Willie James: JAIL TIME

I’m going to jail. Whatever anybody was talking to me about being sorry or they didn’t think it was going to happen or this and that after the court verdict, the bottom line, in my brain, was that I was still going to jail. None of those little things meant a lot to me because I was going to jail and not anybody else. Now, everybody is going to look at me in a whole different way. What I was trying to accomplish as a young sports guy was going to be different. What I was trying to accomplish as a man was going to be looked at differently. There were a lot of things going bad. I found out later that part of the reason the judge had given me the sentence was because he said I was a role model for kids, and maybe he needed to make an example of me. One of the things he said in court was, An athlete does hold a special place in our society. The court realizes the life of a professional athlete is not a bed of roses. But all the court can do is take the totality of the circumstances and impose a sentence the court feels can meet the objectives of the case. So now it is pretty clear to me that I got jail time because I was an athlete. I got singled out for more severe punishment because I was an athlete. Let me tell you, long before Charles Barkley said he shouldn’t be a role model for your children, I was saying it. I got vilified for it. Your parents should be your role model. They’re the ones who make you brush your teeth, comb your hair. They make you go to school. I know the judge said all that, but that’s a responsibility I never asked for. I didn’t really think I had a special place (in society) or whatever the situation the judge said I have in it. If he wants to make me a role model, that’s fine – on the field. Baseball is my job. But off the field I’m a role model to my own kids. That’s all I have to do. But I’m still going to jail.

I had to turn myself in at the prison in Texas. Unlike what you might normally expect, I bought my own plane ticket to Dallas where the prison was located. I jump in a taxi and they drive me to the penitentiary, and I turned myself in. I didn’t even get my change back from the driver. Once you walk through the doors you can’t go back out. My luggage was outside, and the taxi driver brings it in and sets it down. All I had was a $50, and he ain’t got change. He probably got the biggest tip of his life. Hell, I probably wouldn’t have had change either. So, that was quite an experience. This was one of those country club prisons. But do not be fooled. No prison is a country club. It’s a jail. Yeah, we got to wear our own clothes and everything and didn’t have to wear prison clothes. But it is jail. You can’t go anywhere for three months. It’s over Christmas and New Year’s. Your family can’t depend on you. I had two little children. So, it is tough. If I hadn’t played baseball, the jail time might not have happened, but it did.

All the guys in the prison knew we (the players) were coming down there because all the newspapers and television stations had gone down to do reports on the prison, what the room would look like, what the facility would look like, all that stuff. I was sitting at home thinking, That is where I’m going. I was down. I had never been in jail before. All kind of things are going through your head about jail, the people in jail. What’s it going to be like? How am I going to deal with it? What’s going to happen when I get out? Just all kinds of stuff. When I finally got there it was almost like, OK, I can hide for a while. Maybe they will forget about me for a month or two months. I need to relax and use this as an opportunity to stay in shape.

They had a track. They had handball courts, a basketball court. I would take a 9-iron and the couple of golf balls they would give me, and I would hit the golf ball between places when I had free time. I would run on the track. I mean, you better think of something to do in there or you would go crazy. So, I did everything to keep moving, to not think, to stay out of trouble. My job in there was to wax and wash the floors. All depending on how good the floors were waxed or washed determined whether you were going to lunch first, second, third or fourth. My deal was that I wanted to go to lunch first. So, I tried to do a really good job on the floors. I didn’t really try to get to know anybody in there because I didn’t want to know anybody in there. But there was this one guy, who was about 20 years older than me, who sort of kept me from getting in trouble. This guy was from some place out in Kansas – I can’t remember where exactly, but for some reason he latched on me.

I do not know how he knew when something was going to go down in the prison, but he would always look out for me. He would tell me if there were drugs near me – because I found out that drugs came through that prison all the time. He let me know if there was going to be a raid on somebody so I could not be close to that guy. I remember one time he came over to me and said, C’mon! Let’s go! I started to question him, and he just grabbed me and pulled me away. Then the guards came in and got this other guy. When that happened, this older guy just looked at me, and said, Now, when I say move, you move. Don’t question me, just move. I do not even know his name. At the time, I didn’t want to know his name, didn’t want to be friends, but he latched on to me for that part and made sure I got out in time and kept myself out of trouble. I kind of owe that guy a lot. It made me realize that there are good people everywhere and there are horseshit people everywhere. Here I was in jail, and for some reason God gave me a guy to trust like that. The only thing that was a positive in any way was that for those three months, I was sheltered. I had a chance to look at my life without any outside interference. The prison thing is something that I do not wish on anybody. But it was something I had to do to do some reflection. It made me a harder person, less trusting, colder. In the drug section we would have to go in at the end of the day and have talks, counseling. I told my stories, and got a lot of stuff off my mind. It was almost like therapy, man. I learned a lot of things. I learned you do not have to be a bad person to be on drugs. You do not have to be an angry person to be on drugs. Drugs do not discriminate. I also learned that I needed to accept that I wasn’t a victim I was the one doing it. I needed to take responsibility for my own actions and not blame other people. That was a hard lesson to learn – and really one that I would have to re-learn again about 15 years later.

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Willie James: JAIL TIME

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