‘I regret letting a lot of people down who counted on me. Now I’m clean’
Last year’s San Quentin Intramural Basketball League ended in controversy after the commissioner missed several games due to disciplinary issues tied to drug addiction. Commissioner Ishmael Freelon promises the 2017 season, which starts April 23, will be much better.
“I had personal issues with drug addiction that interfered with running the league,” Freelon said. “This year I’m clean, and I’m focused.”
For most of the 2016 season, Freelon was confined to his cell on Sundays because he lost his weekend yard privileges after failing a urine analysis test.
“Drug addiction is an expression of someone having emotional pain that hasn’t been dealt with,” said Jacques Verduin, director and facilitator of a self-help program that takes participants on a healing journey deep inside themselves to come back out transformed and ready to serve others.
Robbie Robins, who is incarcerated and a state-certified drug counselor, said, “It’s different for everybody, but they say a person will relapse seven times before he recovers.”
Freelon said that while struggling through recovery, he missed many league games, including the 2016 Championship Finals. The finals ended in dispute after a disagreement about whether a game in the best-of-five series should count as a forfeit.
After hearing different versions of what happened, Freelon declared the championship a draw between the Bay Area Ballers and The Franchise.
“I take full responsibility,” Freelon said. “I was selfish, and I regret letting a lot of people down who counted on me to run the league, including my family.”
The Intramural League gives the yard’s basketball players a venue to compete and, many say, something positive to do on Sundays. Men of all ages and skill levels form teams. Often teammates who play together on Saturdays with the San Quentin Warriors or Kings end up as competitors in the league on Sundays.
“All races play in this league,” Freelon said. “We need this outlet. It’s a life lesson. It builds up character.”
Freelon, who is also the Kings assistant coach, organizes the Intramural League and refs some of the games. He gained organized basketball experience playing for Bell High School in Bell, Ca. The 57-year-old says serving 35 years in prison has taught him that “just because you lose a game doesn’t mean you lose at life.”
Following that motto, Freelon has picked himself up. He said he has been clean for eight months.
“One of the ways to tell if a person’s recovery has stuck is: Are they being consistent?” Robins said. “Sometimes you can see that they are not the same person.”
Freelon, who has gained his normal weight back, says it is one day at a time.
Verduin says some ways to tell that a person has fully recovered from drug addiction include: the person has learned how to connect with himself and others; he has stared down his demons and made peace; and he looks you in the eye and is connected, present.
Being connected to basketball teams and held accountable by the teams may help Freelon stay drug free.
“One of the biggest things that helps is family. It’s having a support system that keeps the person accountable,” Robins said. “Next, the person has to be ready.”
This year the commissioner wants the support of everyone to make the league better.
“I’ll take all the input I can get on how we can do this better, because this is our league,” said Freelon.
Teams will consist of 10-man rosters for full court games played on Sundays. Coaches should turn in their rosters to Thad Fleeton or Freelon by April 9.