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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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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.

Video: https://vimeo.com/162841836

Website: invictus344.com

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Hooping For Charity

What’s going on y’all? I decided to get back at it with my blog. Before I go any further, I would like to say thank y’all for your prayers over the last few weeks. My wife and I really appreciate it. I didn’t think writing a simple blog would help us, but reading comments and emails from other folks who have been in our position was like therapy. I literally received text messages from people that I know who went through the same thing, which I had no clue about because people don’t talk about these types of issues. It is a sensitive subject; I get it. Having the ability to read other family’s testimonies was a blessing to us. Thank you again!

I’m actually writing this while on the airplane heading back to Baltimore. We just wrapped up another MBA session of school at The University of Miami. I swear I can’t wait until this is over LOL. Next big thing for us is planning this charity basketball game, which is coming up on April 2 in Baltimore. A lot of you all may have been to the games in the past.

It all started with me wanting to bring folks back to where I’m from in Colonial Beach, Virginia (but went to school in Fredericksburg at Stafford High). I wanted to do a fun event for families to attend and my high school was the perfect place because it had a big gym and good location. The first game we put on was a "Pros vs Local Legends" theme. The next few years we did a "Redskins/Ravens" theme (shoutout to Anthony Armstrong), and it was a great time. The only problem we had was that the game would sell out so fast because folks from all over would come. I was disappointed that many people were left out, so we decided to move the game to UMD because it could hold a bigger crowd. The game at UMD was awesome. We joined forces with Ryan Kerrigan and were able to benefit both of our foundations. The following year we decided not to have the game due to a lot of uncertainty with my future, working on my MBA, and dealing with a mobile baby. It was a lot of adjusting and moving, so I didn’t want to rush the game and do it the wrong way.

Now we are back! Each year we try to make the game better than the last. This time we will be doing it at the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore. The game itself has always been a great event for the family It’s pretty fun to watch some football players who think they should be in the NBA play basketball...lots of dunks and plenty of bad shots LOL! We do giveaways and have a pretty cool halftime show. We also announce scholarship recipients during halftime (if you have or know a college senior who has been admitted to a four-year university, visit torreysmith.org to apply for our scholarship).

It means a lot to me when the players volunteer their time to benefit my non-profit, and it means even more to me that the fans come out because it’s another opportunity to interact with them and help our community at the same time. It is our largest fund/fun raising event. This year the support has been amazing considering I don’t even play in Baltimore anymore. I’ve learned over the past year that a lot of people/businesses’ loyalties changes when you switch jerseys. I’m thankful for the people who are still with us and support our philanthropic endeavors in Baltimore, and we have so much planned that you will be proud of.

The love that we have received from fans from all over has been awesome. I’ve received messages from many 49er fans who are coming to the game and some who just purchased tickets to give away. That’s love! I can’t wait to see some familiar faces and meet some new folks as well on April 2nd. It is an amazing feeling to look around an arena with a couple thousand fans, knowing that they are all there supporting OUR community. It’s bigger than the game. I can’t wait to see y’all there. If you have been before, leave a comment and let me know what you thought about it. Stay tuned for some fun giveaways leading up to the game!

For more info, head to torreysmith.org or royalfarmsarena.com. If you are out of town and would like to donate a ticket for a youth group, please go to torreysmith.org and click the link at the top.

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