Trulon Henry has an interesting story to tell, one that may ultimately warrant national attention. The safety from Washington, D.C., is now attending classes at the University of Illinois and is on a football scholarship. He sees a light at the end of the tunnel, a long tunnel that at first seemed to have no ending.
Henry was an outstanding football player at Woodrow Wilson high school. It appeared he would have a bright future in the game.
"In high school, you're talked about as one of the best to come out of the city this year. Me and Vernon Davis were probably the top two players coming out. To see him go to the NFL, and we grew up on the same block.
"Our neighborhood school was Roosevelt. But he wanted to go to Dunbar because it was a better program. I actually went down there with him for a short period of time. I felt as though Woodrow Wilson would be better for me because I played running back and linebacker.
"The coach there was gonna allow me to play two positions. Coach Craig (Jefferies) at Dunbar just wanted a linebacker. He didn't need a running back. I went for the glory."
Then one day, the 18 year old Henry chose to follow a friend who wanted to commit an armed robbery. Desperate for money, Henry went without considering the consequences. He was captured shortly afterward. He had never done anything like it before, and he never wants to do it again. But years in a West Virginia federal prison were his future.
He is asked about his experiences frequently. He is willing to discuss them for a very important reason.
"It's not as bad as people think. If I was trying to hide it or something, it would be terrible. I don't mind explaining it. I think about it all the time. If I didn't, I'd take this for granted. If I didn't think about it, I wouldn't work so hard.
"My teammates ask me the same questions. Everyone's curious to know. I don't mind sharing it because there's both good and bad. There's some good that happens there. And there's a lot of bad.
"If I express myself to you and tell you how it is, then maybe you won't make that mistake. Or maybe you can tell somebody you have a friend that was there, and it's not the way to go. I would hate for my worst enemy to go there."
You have a lot of time to think in prison. Henry thought about most everything except football.
"I tried not to think about it. You're kind of sad and stressed out."
His days were filled with monotony.
"I worked detail, like cleaning the shower. Everyone has to have a job. I worked all day basically. They didn't have weights, so I did pushups, situps, dips, everything using your natural body weight. So it was a different kind of workout than what we do now. It gives you a different kind of look. We were allowed recreation time. I chose to jog."
His friend Davis (older brother of Illini Vontae) was becoming a star in the NFL, and all he could do was watch it happen.
"I'm happy for him, but I kept thinking, 'I need to be there.'"
The prison had football teams, but he stayed away from them until his last year there.
"All the time I was working out I wanted to play, but not in there. I kind of said maybe I lost it. So my last year I gave it a test, and I killed it. There's like a thousand people in the compound, so there were like ten teams. People from Ohio were the Cleveland Browns. I think we were the Redskins."
For all his bad memories, it was especially tough for him when brother Arrelious Benn played with Illinois in the Rose Bowl. He was out of prison but unable to attend the game.
"I watched the Rose Bowl from a halfway house. I was almost in tears. My mom was at the game, and I was back and forth calling her. Someone started to turn the TV because it was starting to get ugly. I said don't turn it, and as soon as that happened Rejus (Benn) scored a touchdown."
College of Dupage decided to take a chance on him. He proceeded to be two-time MVP and named an All-American at safety.
"I started hearing from Coach (Ron) Zook and Coach (Dan) Disch after my first season. I was heavily recruited by Kansas State. Arizona came to my spring practice. People were coming in after that first season."
But despite his success, his background still scared off potential suitors for his services. He had to sell himself, and he was fortunate to have help.
"Yeah. Coach Fred Fimbres at DuPage did a good job with that. He was like my mouthpiece, my agent. I talked to him about every day. He knows me. He knows in great detail what's going on with me.
"Basically, he had to sell me to people because of the age difference, the criminal history. But the tape showed also. He knew I was a good guy who did a bad thing. He was like, 'I know this guy, you can take a chance on him.'"
Henry is driven to prove himself. He also wants to have his own Rose Bowl memories.
"I'm in stage one, trying to get back there. I think we have a good team. I know how to play this game, I've just got to prove it."
Whatever he accomplishes in football, Henry is a success for every day he stays out of prison.
"They call it a revolving door. You go out and come back in. But I came out and ran away from that door. My mom is proud."
Part 2 will discuss his first experiences with the Illini.