It’s almost that time of year again. Football time!

More specifically, RED’s Flag Football Tournament time! Every year, Rehabilitation Enables Dreams (RED) hosts its annual Flag football tournament. This year, leading up to the tournament we wanted to share with our readers the experience of attending the flag football tournament in a series of posts. In this series, you’ll hear from former players, coaches, volunteers, family members of players, and fans.

This first installment is from my personal experience attending my first Flag Football Tournament. It was by chance I even attended. Let, me tell you about it:

My First RED Flag Football Tournament

My friend’s “Masterplan”

It was the fall of 2016. One day, Blue, a friend of mine whom I’ve been cool with since childhood, shot me a text with some unexpected content. He asked me if I’d be interested in playing in a flag football tournament.

A few months prior I had taken my first steps outside the barbed wire fences of federal prison. I converted my prison shower slippers into house slippers, and I was working out in my prison sweats. I was still what inmates call “fresh out”.

I informed Blue that I was still struggling to find gainful employment and as a result did not have medical insurance. Thus, I didn’t think it was wise to engage in contact sports with a risk of injury. When I got six months to being released from prison, I lived this way; I stopped playing in the prison basketball league and removed myself from contact sports with a high risk of injury. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was going home and didn’t want to leave prison injured. Now that I was home, I was still utilizing this strategy. I was exercising and staying in shape, but I was steering clear from contact sports. For the fie of me, I couldn’t understand why Blue was still engaging in these sports. He was a successful profession, husband, and father now. He couldn’t afford to come in limping Monday morning or have a shiner around his eye, or worse, miss work because of an injury. In my eyes, the days of playing physical, contact sports were over for us.

After I turned down Blue’s offer, he said, “Well, I think you should still attend the tournament. The founder’s got an incredible story and I think you two will hit it off.”

I still had so many things to do to get my life back in order. So many questions to figure out about how to be a returning citizen and succeed with my second chance. My confidence and self-esteem were not as strong as my first day of release. The numerous rejections and unforeseen obstacles were taking their toll.  Needless to say, I was reluctant to meet any new people, because I knew one of the first questions people ask when you meet a stranger is “So what do you do?” And in my case, being underemployed and working on my MBA while living in my mother’s house was something I wasn’t necessarily comfortable divulging.

But, give Blue credit, he knew how to push buttons and get what he wanted. He sent me an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article about the founder, some guy named David Lee Windecher. The first thing I did was read the catchy header “Lawless to Lawyer”, and then I scanned the images embedded in the article. “Hold up, this guy became a lawyer after a life of crime…. That’s what’s up!” The article had my attention.

After reading the article and being blown away by the story of a poor Latino immigrant who changed his life around and was now the redhead, big beard rocking, badass lawyer I saw in the first pick had me intrigued.

“Aye, Blue. When is it? I’ma roll.”

Day of the Flag Football Tourney

This year, the tournament had taken place in the Georgia Dome (RIP). I had attended a football game before, but for the tournament we were on the actual field the Atlanta Falcons scored touchdowns on. I walked around the field, in awe of how massive it was not that I was standing on it. Memories of old Falcons great like Jamal Anderson doing the “Dirty Bird”, Michael Vick looking like a human joystick and giving defenders headaches, and Jesse Tuggle delivering bone-crushing tackles to any opponent that thought they might have an easy first down came rushing to me. It was an experience.

Being in that environment would make any athlete want to lace up their shoes and run around on that field. As a former athlete, I still get the itch when watching sporting events to want to play and compete. Luckily, I had a contingency put in place. To make sure I didn’t talk myself into playing or Blue didn’t try to pull a fast one and try to get me to sub in now that I was in attendance, I intentionally wore loafers, lol. There would be no “masterplan” working on me today.

When the first games of the tournament were about to start, the first thing that I noticed was how family-friendly it was. There were many children and family members in attendance. Blue brought his wife, and his newborn son, and his parents even came to show support and cheer him team on. This was the case with a number of other players. It was not just an experience for the participants, it was an experience the whole family could share in.

The competition was fierce. The referees made good calls and enforced the rules. The DJ kept the party going from before game one up until the champions were decided. And, the announcer kept the crowd engaged and informed. I glanced into the stands form down on the field by the sidelines and saw the pride on many of the family members faces. Their loved ones were not only showing they still had a bit of athleticisms left in the tank, they were also competing in the name of a worthy cause, eliminating recidivism amongst youthful offenders.

Blue’s team came up short that year. Ask him and he might say they could have used a tall, rangy guy to play wide receiver, {coughs} “Me”, lol. One thing that was certain, everyone enjoyed themselves and the experience was special. And, to see everyone come out and support a worthy cause that I believe is vital we pay attention to, made a real imprint on me.

I met David that day, and almost 3 years later we’re still rocking with each other.  Who would have known I would meet a friend, mentor, and brother in arms for the fight for criminal justice reform because my buddy wanted to recruit me to be on his flag football team. As I look back on it, I’m eternally grateful for my friend Blue, and now as I reflect on it, I can’t help but think if this was his “masterplan” all along.

I can’t wait to see what not so accidental introductions occur at the next flag football tournament this year.

If interested in participating, be it as a player, volunteer, or maybe you just want to donate to the cause, click the link here for more details: RED Flag Football Tournament.

See you at the tournament October 5, 2019!

There are many additional issues that come up when talking about recidivism and what factors lead to more crime. It’s imperative that we expand the conversation to get deeper into what causes recidivism, and how we can help to stop a person from going to prison to begin with.

To donate to our cause, click the link Stop Recidivism, or the “Donate” button at the top right-hand corner of the web page. Thank you for standing with us.

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