Ravens' J. Lewis energized about impending freedom

OWINGS MILLS – Jamal Lewis' confinement has been defined by a regimented existence built around a strict diet, devotion to exercise and intellectual curiosity, not by bitterness and regret, according to his teammates and coaches. Inside the walls of a federal prison camp in Pensacola, Fla., the Baltimore Ravens' former All-Pro running back is serving the final days of a four-month sentence after pleading guilty to using a cellular phone to arrange a cocaine deal.

Scheduled to be released on June 2, Lewis awakes before dawn to work in the prison tool shop, rehabilitates his surgically-repaired right ankle and regularly checks out books from the library.

Between his busy schedule, impending release and frequent visits from friends and family, Lewis' spirits have remained high, according to several members of the Ravens organization.

Lewis' mother visits every weekend, and his visit list from the Ravens includes owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome, trainer Bill Tessendorf, fullback Alan Ricard, nickel back Deion Sanders and linebacker Adalius Thomas.

"I'm looking at a man that has grown as a person and also has physically kept himself on top of his game as opposed to deteriorating and treating this as a negative experience," said running backs coach Matt Simon, who has visited Lewis twice. "I see how he's found a real positive aspect of this experience. It's motivating. It's inspiring.

"I know he's eager about freedom, but he's been very patient and has looked at the experience as, ‘I'm going to do my time and better myself instead of becoming negative about the system or society.'"

Lewis entered prison Feb. 4 after pleading guilty to a drug crime that dates back to the summer of 2000 before he signed a six-year, $35.3 million contract with Baltimore.

When Lewis is released, his sentence requires that he serve two months in a halfway house and perform 500 hours of community service. Team officials remain hopeful that Lewis may be allowed to serve his house arrest in Baltimore, not Atlanta as the judge stipulated.

"I'm going to see him in Atlanta when he gets out and work out with him down there," Ricard said. "He's holding up, considering the situation. He's ripped up. I was expecting him to be real swollen. He's leaner.

"His spirits seem high. He can't wait to get out obviously. I think it would be hard on anybody to give up four months of your freedom."

Added Simon: "He knows that if he does everything that the court asks, there's a chance they will allow him to come to Baltimore early to do that. He isn't looking to skip anything."

Simon described a typical day for the 2003 NFL Offensive Player of the Year as a spartan life.

Lewis typically wakes up at 4:30 or 5 a.m., beginning a work detail at 6 where he hauls equipment or hands out tools until early afternoon. Afterward, Lewis rehabs his ankle and is now capable of light jogging and running.

"He's been working in the weight room like a maniac," Simon said. "He's in such great physical shape he actually looks younger."

Lewis reportedly weighs about 240 pounds, avoiding junk food and following a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet.

"He's basically purified his system," Simon said. "He's not eating the fatty foods in the cafeteria. He really looks fantastic."

Before the guards shut off the lights at the minimum-security prison, Lewis closes his day by reading a book, usually literature, Simon said.

"He's very focused, very rested," Newsome said. "He's looking forward to getting back with his teammates."

Lewis was accused of helping to broker a drug deal shortly after he was selected fifth overall by the Ravens in the 2000 NFL draft.

Three years later, Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards – the second-highest single-season total in league history – all the while aware that law enforcement authorities were preparing a case against him for the grand jury.

Indicted months after his record-breaking season, Lewis initially pleaded not guilty. Last fall, Lewis' lawyers advised him to accept a plea bargain rather than risk a potential career-ending sentence of five years at trial.

"Jamal is staying strong, he's handling it like a man," Thomas said. "When Jamal gets out, it's, 'Look out NFL,' because he's extremely hungry. He's a strong person, and this isn't going to keep him down."
Lewis served a two-game suspension without pay from the NFL last season and was reprimanded by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. He was fined an additional two game checks for a total of roughly $761,000 in lost salary.

Now, Lewis is preparing to rejoin his teammates in all likelihood during the first week of training camp. When Lewis does get back in uniform, the Ravens say he'll appreciate it even more after what Billick called a life-altering experience.
"Above all, he has a high regard for freedom, which is something we tend to take for granted," Simon said. "Right now he's eager to have freedom again. That's beautiful, too."

NOTES: The Ravens ended their four-day passing camp a day early as the offense dominated during the absence of cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister. Derrick Mason caught a couple of touchdown passes from quarterback Kyle Boller. "The energy was excellent," Billick said. … Offensive tackle Orlando Brown (knee) wasn't at practice, and rookie offensive lineman Lester Brown (knee) sat out of drills.

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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