You drive through the pine forests down a lonesome road until you top yet another rolling green hill, and stretched out before you is the red brick expanse of the Ferguson Unit of the Texas State Prison. A double line of chain-link fences rings the place, each topped with its own design of barbed wire. Guard towers are at the corners and the centers of the fences' expanse. Jimmy Cagney would have felt right at home here.
Warden Frank McCarthy, assistant James A. Williamson and two of their deputies meet you at the front gate.
Inside the barbed wire, you cross a green expanse to the main building's entryway, a large cool room with a view of the patio and a fountain that doesn't work. Thus far, inside, you could imagine this place to be a community college -- and then they start clanging gates behind you, slamming gates that bring qualms even to innocent visitors.
You pass the chapel and come to the "gym," which is also a movie theater four nights a week. At the far end, leaning against the stage, is a man in a white shirt and pants. Bob Hayes, the greatest receiver in Dallas Cowboys history, is serving five years for narcotics violations.
"I can't believe this," he says as the Cowboys' entourage -- this writer, Tex Schramm, the Cowboy president, a two-man TV crew and photographer Russ Russell -- approach. "I can't believe I'm seeing this." His voice breaks a bit.
He looks five years younger than he did at his trial last spring. His weight is 195, only a few pounds over the days of Bullet Bob. "They had us clean up the gym special this morning," he says. "I said, 'Who's coming? President Carter?'"
Question -- Bob, what has been the most difficult adjustment for you here since you came in April?
Answer -- Establishing who I am. Everybody expected me to be Bob Hayes the football star. Everybody was watching me every minute. Now I'm Bob Hayes the person.
Q -- Almost all of the immates in this unit are 21 or younger, so they must have been little kids when you were starring for the Cowboys. How can they remember you?
A -- They were kids then, true, but the combination of being the world's fastest human and also a star in the NFL -- they knew me.
Q -- What are your prospects for release?
A -- I'm already up for parole. My month is February. I will be here until then. I try not to think about that. I just want to do the best I can while I'm in prison and forget about the outside life.
Q -- Do you ever forget for a moment where you are and think, "Well, I guess I'll go get a hamburger and a milkshake?" Then you think, "uh-oh can't do that."
A -- Sure. Not only that. Just the freedom of getting an ice cold Coca-Cola, glass of water, nice shower, bath in a tub.There's a lot of things when you're locked up you miss when you're inside here.
Q -- How was the impact of coming in here?
A -- It was tough. Because when I got here all the officers were waiting for me. More or less, they were very negative toward me because I was Bob Hayes, the big name.But, you know the personality I have, you know I got by that. And there are inmates in here who are real big on farms, in the units here, that everyone looked up to. When I got here that deleted their popularity. I had to deal with that. There are a lot of rumors that go around and you have to deal with that. These kids are very hyper, they're locked up and they don't have anything to do but talk. Then all of a sudden they got used to me by my being here awhile, they got back to normal. I kind of got personal with a few of them, gave them thoughts of football and they adjusted to me.
Q -- What is your day like?
A -- I get up at 7:30 and go to the gym. We have recreation for the blocks that are not working. Basketball, racketball, weightlifting, chess. We break for lunch and then we have what we call count time.They have to count each inmate four times a day.
Q -- How long does that take?
A -- Sometimes it takes an hour to sometimes all day. Sometimes the row attendant forgets that an inmate has other duty, and they have to find that guy.
Q -- Are you in a cell?
A -- No, I'm not. I'm in a dormitory. We have 109 in there, beds all in a row.
Q -- Did you spend any time in a cell?
A -- My first month I did.
Q -- That was like being in a closet, wasn't it?
A -- Not to me, right then. I was tired and exhausted and I wanted to get my head together and find some peace of mind. If I had been outside in a dormitory, every inmate on the farm would have had to come say "Hi" to me, so they could go back to their buddies and say they talked to Bob Hayes. I finally got it together and asked them to move me. That is hard being locked up in an eight-by-10-foot cell. Now we just live next to each other in the dorm. Now my best friend, my best buddy who works with me in the gym, is Ronald McCaskill from San Antonio. We spread food together. We eat together.
Q -- What do you want to do with your life afterward?
A -- I want to get back with my family. After that, I want to prove to the public that what happened to me was not the real Bob Hayes. I want to prove this through a book or a mini-TV series or a motion picture, what have you. Outside of that I just want to live a normal life, go back to work.
Q -- What kind of job would that be?
A -- The state needs more minorities to work in the state government, and I feel that I can qualify to go out and find those people, interview them and get them interested in state government. Second. You know Harry Margolies and myself -- he owns a computer company in Dallas. Very best friend I ever had. And Harry has offered me the opportunity to work for him. He's more than a friend; I would say he's a brother to me.
Q -- Has anybody here tried to hassle you?
A -- Yes, I've gotten harassed, by inmates who were jealous of me. You find some who are Houston fans. Others that will tell me, "You ain't got no business here -- you're a national hero, you haven't any business doing what you done." They read the papers -- Hayes is a dope dealer, Hayes is a con artist and what have you. But I would say 90 percent of the inmates and the officers have been very nice to me.
Q -- I guess when they found out how easygoing you are it made a difference.
A -- I've yet to have my first fight, and believe me there are fights here everyday of the week. I'm a hero to most of them. I get the "Mr. Hayes. . . How are you doing, Mr. Hayes?" And that causes some resentment, too from some of the inmates. But my only disappointment isthat I tried to get in the "Kick It" program and was turned down.
Q -- What's the "Kick It" program?
A -- Inmates here go out and talk to kids in different high schools around the state about the dangers of drugs. I was denied that because they said the kids would adapt to someone at their own age level more that to an older person. But we were in Washington, D.C., one year and we really nailed those kids. . .
Q -- You mean when you were a Dallas Cowboy.
A -- Yes, Coach Landry and myself, Don Meredith, about 10 of us. I mean, you could have heard a pin drop in that place. I guarantee I could still get their attention.
Q -- But you're an old man now. What, 35?
A -- 36.
Q -- Don't you feel that really is one thing you've got going for you -- you have so much life left after this is over?
A -- And now I'm much smarter than I've ever been, more mature than I've ever been . . . I'm still young. I still have time to find myself.
Q -- What do you do in the evening?
A -- I'm off at 5. We eat chow. From there I go and watch the evening news and then I go to my mail, I have so many letters to return . . .
Q -- Tell me about your mail.
A -- I get mail from Belgium, Germany, Japan, all over South America. Basically all over Europe, Scandinavia, Russia -- Moscow.
Q -- How are they addressed?
A -- Just "Bob Hayes, Huntsville, Texas, U.S.A." I got a letter from a lady in conroe, Tex. She said that when I played against the Oilers in the Astrodome, I threw my chinstrap to her son, and she has never forgotten how happy it made him. He's 25 now and he still has the chinstrap. She said she prayed that God would be with me.
Q -- How'd you do on the softball team?
A -- We're the Ferguson Falcons, but I've called us the Bad News Falcons. We won one game last year and this year we won seven. They said "Bobby, you've always been a winner, now you're with us losers. That's another trip from penthouse to rock-bottom." I can't begin to list some of the real people -- on the outside -- I've come in contact with since this trouble. No phonies. People who will help me get back to the mountaintop. And once I get back to the mountaintop, I'm not going to come back down again.