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Behind Bars: A Powerful Experience

Hey, everybody. Sorry I haven’t blogged in a while, but it’s been a hectic few months rehabbing my arm (which is doing great), getting ready for the season and working on our ShowerPill business. But I had to tell you all about an amazing experience I had while I was training out west at Cal…

Thanks to Kevin Parker, a buddy of mine who works for the Cal football program (and has been a friend since I was in school there), I was introduced to the San Quentin Squires Program back in college. Basically, the program is a juvenile delinquency deterrence initiative that brings underprivileged and at-risk youth to San Quentin Prison to expose them to the realities of prison life. I was blessed with the opportunity to participate again last weekend…and man, it was powerful.

I visited the prison, which is outside of San Fran, with a group of at-risk middle and high school kids from the local community, as well as with Josh Johnson (who’s now a quarterback with the Ravens) and Kansas City corner Marcus Peters. Some of the inmates who were on “good behavior” showed us around the facility and spoke to the kids about the importance of making good decisions. Once you get to San Quentin, you’ve done something pretty bad. And since one bad decision can land you in a place like this, the inmates really encourage them to avoid this life path. Some of them – I’m talking murderers in there for life – shared their stories and made sure that the kids understood that jail is not a cool place to be. It’s sort of like a “scared straight” approach, but not entirely. It was more like a “you don’t have to do what I did” warning message.

Seeing their daily routine firsthand was scary enough. We had a chance to stand inside their prison cell, which is like the size of a New York City closet. You’ve got a bunk bed and a roommate. If you’re on the top bunk and turn to the side, your shoulder is touching the ceiling. And the toilet is right in there with them. There are all kinds of rules in the showers, which are segregated by ethnicity. I didn’t actually try the food (I didn’t need to go in too deep like that!), but they said it’s horrible.

We had officers walking with us on our tour, but it’s all pretty open. You’re amongst the prisoners out there in the prison yard, which actually looks like it does in the movies. When you walk through the yard, through the basketball courts, it’s all segregated by sections. You’ve got the Mexicans, the Polynesians, whites, blacks…they are all separate. As we were walking through, inmates were running up to me, hugging me, whispering to each other about me, yelling, “Hey, yo, Forsett. I had you on my fantasy team last season.” I was like, WHAT, you all have fantasy football in here!? It brings a new perspective to a season-ending injury when you have an inmate telling you he had you on his fantasy team…and I know I didn’t get any points for this guy. You know I had to apologize. It was a surreal experience that these guys know who you are and are playing fantasy football (I guess they get some type of good behavior privileges).

The average sentence at San Quentin is 20 years to life, but the facility is also used as a holding place. So we also talked with some of the incoming guys, orange jumpsuits and all, before they got shipped out. There was just a fence separating us, and these guys were yelling out all kinds of stuff. “You don’t want to be like us! You don’t want to be in here! You don’t want to make decisions like I made!” Some of these guys were saying they have kids the same age as the ones in our group who they don’t get to see. One guy started breaking down right there in the sand, crying out, “My mother just had a heart attack and I couldn’t go see her in the hospital.” It got really emotional. They’re people too. They are people who made some terrible decisions, but to see that vulnerability, especially in the middle of the yard among some pretty tough bad guys, it was eye opening for a lot of us.

Seeing something like that makes you so appreciative for what you have. San Quentin is located on a beautiful piece of land in the Bay Area, with a backdrop of the Bay. When the inmates get their daily hour of free time outside, many of them watch the boats pass from inside the gate. For some, seeing those boats and those passengers is a constant reminder that they are shackled down. They were telling us, “I got properties, I got money, I got all this stuff…but I don’t have my freedom.” They just want to be home, sitting on the couch, playing with their kids. After hearing all of this, you really don’t want to take anything for granted. And I think it resonated with the kids too…that you forfeit your freedom when you go to jail.

After touring the place, we broke up into small groups to give everybody a chance to open up and share their feelings. I walked in and one of the kids was crying, pouring his heart out. Apparently this group was one of the more emotional and communicative ones, and I was grateful for the opportunity to connect with them too. These are kids who come from the inner city and are accustomed to seeing drugs and violence all the time. Josh and Marcus are both from Oakland, so we wanted to emphasize that it is possible to come out of a neighborhood like theirs and become successful. With good decisions, they can make it out. On the flip side, many of the inmates, who came from basically the same types of environments, made bad decisions. They are trying to rehabilitate themselves and become better people, but they are already locked up. We were literally talking to murderers who are trying to turn over a new leaf, trying to do better. It was crazy.

For me, it was especially powerful hearing both the kids and the inmates’ stories.

I’ve spoken at jails and juvenile detention centers before, and I’d say this experience was particularly life changing. I’ll definitely be back. I’m always about inspiring and encouraging people, regardless of their background or circumstances. When I’m speaking, I try to impact and inspire everyone, from inmates to corporate execs. It doesn’t matter who you are; everyone deserves some inspiration.

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Undrafted: A Blessing In Disguise

I went undrafted. And now I’m heading into my 9th NFL season. Even though things worked out for me, each April the NFL Draft brings back memories of feeling not good enough. That feeling lights a fire under me year after year.

Let me give you some background. Coming out of college, I was projected to be a third to fifth-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Back then, the draft was only two days long (the first through third round was on the first day and the fourth through seventh was on the second). That has changed as the years have gone on. Anyway, it was an exciting time. I had just completed a solid, four-year college career at the University of Central Florida, where I was named first-team All-Conference two years in a row and second in voting for Defensive Player of the Year. After going to school in Orlando, just two hours from where I grew up in Tampa, I was used to having my family nearby. Waiting to find out if I’d be going to a team somewhere across the country made it a nerve-wrecking – but exciting – time. I was ready for the next chapter in my life.

On the first day, I remember thinking how happy I’d be if my name was called, but I didn’t want to have too many expectations. I knew for sure that I’d be getting called on the second day. Now it’s the second day, and I’m sitting there watching the draft on TV with my family. When the rounds kept passing me by and the phone wasn’t ringing, it started getting stressful. I actually had to leave the living room and get away from everybody for a bit. I couldn’t believe that my name hadn’t been called yet. You see certain players that you played against and guys that you never heard of get drafted and you’re like, “What is going on here?!”

Toward the end of the draft, I started getting calls from teams telling me that they would either draft me in the seventh round or they’d be interested in me as an undrafted free agent. I was getting calls left and right about that, but at the time I didn’t want to think about what would happen if I didn’t get drafted. I was in disbelief.

When you are projected to get drafted and you don’t, it kind of makes you reassess your life and your work ethic. It was an eye-opening and humbling experience, that’s for sure. I was definitely depressed, but after that subsided, the feelings of being “not good enough” lit a fire under me…a fire that continues to burn and keeps me going heading into my 9th NFL season. Since day one, I’ve had the mindset that there’s nobody who’s going to outwork me.

Looking back, I think it was all a blessing in disguise. Sixth and seventh rounders are practically free agents too, but when you are a true free agent, at least you get to choose where you want to go. You can see what teams do and don’t have, and what might be the best fit for you. I think that it was a blessing that after the fifth round I didn’t get drafted. I was able to make the best decision for me.

Think about it…you’ve got guys like Damon Harrison and Victor Cruz, both undrafted free agents, who made those big second deals. And I think there’s only one first rounder from my class who plays my position still in the league, and that’s my good friend Chris Long. I’ve outlasted everybody else. There are probably more undrafted guys still playing from my year, like Wallace Gilberry. It’s funny how that works out.

So with the NFL Draft getting started today, I have a few pieces of advice for these young players, whether or not they get drafted. Bottom line – it’s all about putting in the work. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. If you can outwork guys, even players who may have more talent than you, you can outlast them. And make sure you are versatile because playing more than one position will keep you in the NFL longer. There are so many moving parts in this league, and you have to be able to adapt. People that play in a box usually find themselves out of the league pretty fast. Also, as a rookie, latch on to a vet, and learn as much as you can. That will help you get your foot in the door. That’s what I did.

If the draft doesn’t go your way, you’ve got to flip the switch right away. You can’t get down and depressed about it. You can’t cry over spilled milk. Okay, so you didn’t get drafted. What are you going to do about it? My Dad would always say, “How bad do you want it?” To this day, I have a piece of paper on my bedroom door with my goals written on it, and I’ve got that question at the top. I think about that – how bad do I want it ? – every single day. I refuse to lose because nobody is ever going to outwork me. And in my mind, nobody is going to do the job better than me. You’ve got to think (and act) like that if you want to make it in this league.

As for my current situation, I’ve had a few offers, but I’m waiting to find the best situation for me. I’m not really worried; I know my value and what I bring to a team. It’s year 9 for me, and teams know what I can do. Of course I’ll be interested to see how the draft plays out and which way teams may lean. I don’t usually watch the first round because it literally takes for-e-ver, but I’ll be talking to my agent to get a review of what players went where. I just want to make sure I make the best decision for me and for my family. It’s not something I take lightly.

Good luck to all of the potential draftees these next few days. And remember: it’s all about how hard you work, not if and how high you get drafted.

Take it from me.

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It's Time To Make A Change

What’s going on, y’all? It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been on here and a lot has happened. The charity game was awesome, Chanel and Baby Kameron are doing well, and we started back training with the team! I can’t tell you enough how thankful I am for everything that’s happening around me. It’s surreal in a lot of ways. I’m glad to be back in the Bay with the fellas. My family is back East, so I’m out here extremely bored when I leave the facility lol. I’ve been reading more and taking extra care of my body to make use of the time. It has been rewarding.

With some of my extra time I’ve been more active on social media, following the presidential debates, and staying up to date on our current events…which actually inspired me to write this post. It seems like when I wake up every morning I read a headline about another senseless act of violence. While no individual situation is the same, most could be avoided. It may sound cliché, but I often look myself in the mirror and wonder what else I can do to help the problem. My non-profit is reaching kids, but what else can I do? I ask myself and talk to my wife about this all the time.

A few months back director Lee Morton told me about this film project he had been creating. He described it by saying, “Invictus 344 is a story that aspires to shed light on what is otherwise overshadowed...those in Charm City with heart and hustle. It's a story of a Baltimore teen, pushing through the noise of the inner-city environment through the motivation of basketball and inspiration of family. We created Invictus 344 to elevate and bring hope to Baltimore.”

I had no clue this short video could be so impactful. It felt real. I’ve heard a lot of the same words spoken by the young boy in the video myself growing up. And after spending a few years in the Baltimore area, visiting schools, and talking to students throughout the city, I know that too many kids are living this short film daily. Too many young men and women are trying to “make it out,” a lot of times with little support and limited resources.

The video is a simple, yet powerful, three-minute movie to inspire and bring awareness to this epidemic. A video alone won’t change what is going on, though. It will take a collective effort from everyone to change what is going on in the city.

There are so many great organizations out there trying to make a difference. So many people rallying against violence so that the kids in the city have a chance. There are people in the field, at schools, and in the community, who are acting on, not just talking about, bringing change to the city. The 300 Men March organization is in the trenches fighting against gun violence and mentoring young men. The Living Classrooms Foundation is all over the city providing opportunities for children and adults who are otherwise overlooked.

I admire everyone who is trying to make a difference in these neighborhoods. Keep pressing on. It is obvious that more needs to be done. How do you think WE can fix this issue? What are you doing to help? Please check out the video below and leave a comment letting me know what you think.



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