Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis sounded humble but happy as he addressed reporters in Atlanta yesterday morning, the day after he completed a four-month prison sentence. The 2003 NFL offensive player of the year said that he is ready to move on with his life and career, and acknowledged that the last few months have not been easy.
"It has been a hard transition," said Lewis, who was flanked by Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome, Coach Brian Billick and team president Dick Cass. "Some people think that because it's four months, it's not a long time, but going day to day, that is a long time. It gives you a lot of time to actually think and reflect on things that are really important in your life. . . .
"I've learned a lot and I can't wait to get back to the football field and just do what I do best."
Lewis, 25, was indicted on federal drug conspiracy charges in February 2004. He pleaded guilty in October to using a cell phone to help a childhood friend facilitate a drug transaction in the summer of 2000, after he was drafted by the Ravens but before he had signed with the team. Federal prosecutors agreed to drop more serious drug conspiracy and attempted cocaine possession charges.
He said that he does not regret pleading guilty, even though U.S. District Court Judge Orinda Evans suggested during the sentencing hearing that Lewis probably would not have been convicted had his case gone to trial.
"I don't think that I'm a victim," said Lewis, who checked into a halfway house yesterday for a two-month term. "I did what the government asked me to do, and I'm still going through it. This is the last phase of it. . . . I did what I did and I stood up for what I did and I took responsibility for my own actions, and I'm the only one accountable for that."
Lewis looked fit in his crisp white shirt and said that he is in "great shape." He underwent surgery on his ankle Jan. 10, less than a month before he reported to the federal prison camp in Pensacola, Fla., and said that his rehabilitation went well. He has been running for about a month and expects to be 100 percent ready when the Ravens open training camp on Aug. 1.
Lewis and the Ravens are hopeful that he will be allowed to join the team for its mandatory minicamp, which will be held June 13-16. Jerome Froelich, Lewis's attorney, has put in a request with the probation department and the halfway house, and said that a decision should be made in the coming days.
"You need to get into football shape, and that has to be done in a certain environment," Billick said. "So we'll deal with whatever the system says he has to do, but it's our hope that they understand that there are certain circumstances that in order for him to go forward and do his job, there's some certain things that he needs to do."
Lewis said that the thing he missed most during the past four months was his freedom. He was woken up every morning at 4:30, and he spent his days working in the tool room, reading and working out. He said that he watched the NFL draft on TV and was happy with the offseason additions of the Ravens.
"You have to stand there and get counted three times a day," Lewis said. "It's not about a Jamal Lewis; it's not about the football player. You know you're just another number in the prison cell."
His mother, Mary Lewis, a former warden with the Georgia corrections department, came to see him every weekend. Different members of the Ravens organization -- including owner Steve Bisciotti, trainer Bill Tessendorf, and teammates Deion Sanders, Adalius Thomas and Alan Ricard -- also visited.
"I told [his teammates] before I left, I'm only going to be gone for four months, so you don't have to come see me. Just do what you have to do, because I know how it is in the offseason," Lewis said. "After being there for about two, three weeks, I was like, man, I wish one of these guys would come see me or something and hear what's going on."