Meeting Forty-Niners first-round draft pick Solomon Thomas motivated Deshonnte Jones, 21, an incarcerated standout high school running back, to keep pursuing his NFL dreams. The tour of San Quentin State Prison gave the San Francisco Forty-Niners 2017 class of rookies perspective.
“Those guys are where I want to get to,” Deshonnte Jones said. “I got detoured, but when I get out in a couple of years, I’m going right back to school.”
Jones said he had 3,025 all-purpose yards for Taft High School in Los Angeles and made it to the championship game his senior year. College scouts circled him. He wanted to go to the University of Southern California, but he needed to start at community college to bring his grades up. However, one of his brothers was murdered and another died three months later of sickle cell anemia. Without any other male figures in the house, Jones lost direction. He ended up in prison, serving six years for robbery.
“I didn’t care anymore,” Jones said. “I committed a robbery with no gun for $15 and changed everything. It was the stupidest thing I have ever done.”
Jones met and talked with the rookies like CJ Beathard (Iowa) and Thomas (Stanford), who played against each other in the Rose Bowl. Now they may be teammates.
“It’s really great to talk to the people here and get their perspective,” Thomas said. “It’s really life-changing.”
The Forty-Niner organization sends their rookies on a tour of San Quentin every year so they can gain perspective on the opportunities they earned and the potential effect of one bad decision.
“I bring them every year, and the reason I do is that I need you guys to answer whatever questions they have,” said Rev. Earl Smith to 20 incarcerated men waiting to greet the rookies. “I need you guys to straighten them out and lace them to what it is.”
Smith worked at San Quentin as a chaplain before becoming the chaplain for the Golden State Warriors and the Niners. Retired Niner Parys Haralson also escorted the rookies inside the prison. They came with about 25 young football players.
“I think it’s a good experience,” Haralson said. “I think it helps.”
Darrell Williams (West Kentucky) said, “Not everybody is bad, whether they are in prison or not, and we’re living in a different world. All I knew was what I saw on TV. It’s good to be here and see what’s real and what’s fake.”
At the start of the tour, the rookies gathered before the incarcerated men and heard what other prisons are like, compared to San Quentin. They were told about the Prison University Program and self-help groups. They asked questions like, “What’s your day like? What kind of classes can you take here?” Then they walked the yard and went inside cells.
Some of the rookies, like Adrian “AC” Colbert, were only a father away from ending up in prison. “Three of my best friends died from gang violence, and I’m only 23,” Colbert said. “I feel like a lot of men fail because their fathers aren’t there or don’t give a damn about them.”
Colbert met his grandfather in prison on a visit when his father was incarcerated. However, his father turned his life around and taught his son not to follow a negative lifestyle. Colbert played for the University of Texas and the University of Miami.
Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon added, “My father’s from Compton. He wanted better for me.”
Witherspoon grew up in Sacramento. The 22-year-old played for the University of Colorado.
Jones may see the Forty-Niners again thanks, in part, to a program that allows men who committed their crimes as juveniles to do their time in a lower-level prison.
“I got a second chance coming here,” Jones said. “An organization that gives scholarships to foster kids committed to give me one when I’m released.”
Some of the other rookies that visited included: Trent Taylor, Jimmie Gilbert, Kendrick Budne, Zach Franklin, Chance James, Erik Maynuson, DJ Jones, Matt Walsh, Noble Nwachukwu, Richard Levy and Nick Mullens.