Getting locked up can seem like the end of the road. When those cuffs are slapped on, and you’re doing the perp walk, you’re a statistic just like homie on the corner selling red tops.
I don’t know this from personal experience, but people close to me paint a vivid enough picture. They’ve also expressed that it’s not about your mind state going in the pen, it’s about how you come out. Plenty of felons go in the joint thinking they are a detriment to society and come out feeling like society doesn’t want them. While it’s easy to feel that way, and society doesn’t help, it’s the wrong way of thinking in order to regain a meaningful life. In order to succeed, one has to take control of their destiny to assimilate back into society. Case in point: newly-signed Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress.
My man went from being prisoner No. 637849 (I’m guessing) to his original No. 80 on the field after spending 22months in prison for shooting himself in the leg at a New York City nightclub. What seemed like a victimless crime cost the wide receiver out of Michigan State his future in the NFL. But, in a weird twist of fate, he is right back in Pittsburgh with the team that drafted him No. 8 overall in the 2000 NFL draft.
After being locked up like Akon, Plaxico came out the pen swinging. At 34 years old, he found himself catching passes in North Jersey for the New York Jets. The box scores will tell you that he wasn’t the Plax of old, not the Plaxico that helped the New York Giants win the 2008 title; but his stats aren’t the important aspect here. What's important is the amount of fight left in the man just released from a system that has beaten many a man down. Burress’ career tells a story bigger than the one we see on the gridiron. His career tells the story of hustle, and that there are plenty of yards and life milestones to be gained after serving a sentence.
Plaxico could have come out of prison and lived on a diet of snack cakes, cigarettes, liquor and bootleg movies like some recently released felons. Instead, he got back on the field, stayed in shape and got not one, but two job offers from the NFL. There are NFL free agents who haven’t been to jail that can’t get an offer and they are probably pretty salty right now.
Yes, I know that, when it comes to getting a job, there’s widespread discrimination against those who have been to prison. That “have you ever committed a felony” box on the job application has kept plenty of willing people jobless. Plaxico didn’t have to deal with that. However, there’s also a contingency of folks who hit one wall and use that as an excuse to stay in the underbelly of society, instead of lifting themselves up by the bootstraps like this felon turned civil engineer.
The wide receiver is even using his crime as a teaching lesson for others. Last year he worked with the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence to help stop gun-related deaths and to educate the youth about the dangers of firearms .
"I just want to use what happened to me to serve a higher purpose, instead of just walking away from it," said Burress in a New York Daily News article. "To confront it head-on, and let people know what's going on."
When life hit Plax hard, when the Jets did him dirty and didn’t bring him back, he was ready and in shape when Pittsburgh wide receivers Jerricho Cotchery (rib) and Antonio Brown (ankle) went down with injuries. Plaxico lives rapper Suga Free’s motto “If you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready.”
When the Steelers came calling, it’s likely he was already suited up in pads outside of Heinz Field with his old jersey on.
Steelers’ players say Plax is rust free and ready to play in practice.
"He's in really good physical condition based on the workout I just saw," head Coach Mike Tomlin said according to NJ.com. "He's got very good body control for a big man. He can drop his weight at break points and obviously he's no stranger to football.”
He has even displayed leadership qualities by being vocal in film sessions and pointing out weaknesses in the Browns’ secondary, according to NFL.com.
That is in large contrast to the reports that he was a divisive figure in the Jets’ locker on his last go-round.
With no receptions and one interference penalty, Plaxico didn’t show out in his first game back but he will have a few more chances to do that.
Plax’s multiple chapters of redemption should be a lesson to brothers locked up or recently released: There’s life after the penitentiary. True, he had more than the bus ticket and $20 that most prisoners get on exit, but he still made it happen. Putting all football aside, Plax’s third go-round on the field is proof that we can change the direction of our lives. Nothing is set in stone, and even when “they” say you can’t do it, you still can. We can all call an audible in the game of life.