The offseason for WNBA rookie Marion Jones has been anything but typical. After completing the season with the Tulsa Shock, Jones has celebrated her 35th birthday, will be releasing a book tomorrow and is the subject of an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary next week. The book, "On the Right Track" and the documentary "Press Pause" give a glimpse that few have ever seen into the life of Jones.
"What I'm most excited about these next few weeks with the doc and the book coming out is people are going to see a side, see some more of Marion, that they probably never had any idea about," Jones said from her busy offseason unfolding in Austin, Texas. "This is going to show a side that - hey, I put my pants on like everybody else, and cut me and I bleed. I've been through struggles and it's been a lot harder than people ever imagined, and I haven't shared it."
In "On the Right Track", Jones doesn't ease the reader in with small talk and happy thoughts, rather she shares memories from the day she stood on the steps of the Westchester County Courthouse in 2007, crying as she read a statement of what had just transpired inside the courtroom - a guilty plea for lying to federal prosecutors. Jones recounts memories of the day four years earlier that led to the plea in the first place, the lie itself and how her rushed and unwise decision to be untruthful changed the course of her life.
In the pages that follow, Jones takes the reader through a childhood in California, where she learned she was fast by racing the boys as a 6 year old precocious child. The path winds through scenes of loss and grief of losing a family member and her coping mechanism that eventually was on display for the world - playing basketball and running track.
Jones talks of making Olympic teams and winning Olympic medals, reaching a pinnacle of the ultimate heights in the track and field establishment. And then, just as quickly as the highs had been reached, the lows of failed relationships and the BALCO scandal knocked her down, but not out. And this is the purpose of her book - to share her story of mistakes and miscues and how she's learned to pick herself up and get on the right track.
"Most people wanted this nasty, salacious, tell-all, point fingers type of book that I just wasn't interested in because all along I never think those type of things help anybody," Jones said. "All along I wanted to make sure that whatever I do is going to benefit somebody, benefit a lot of people and particularly young people.
"I want people when they put the book down for it to have touched them."
Instead of a quick buck and a few more minutes of fame while drudging up a story fit for a tabloid, Jones has a higher purpose in mind. To help pull people through their own struggles by seeing her own, no matter how big or small that struggle might be.
Jones chronicles her struggles of deciding to tell the truth, and accepting her punishment by the courts of a six month prison sentence. She takes the reader through arriving at her destination of Carswell Federal Prison, and becoming one of the seven hundred female prisoners housed there. Marion Jones-Thompson no more, just Federal Inmate Number 84868-054.
Jones recounts stories from the inside of being a baker in a bug-infested kitchen for 13 cents an hour. Of teaching women how to write essays so they could pass their GEDs. Of visits from her husband, Oba, and calls to her children. Of her fellow inmates and how they came to be incarcerated at Carswell. Of racism, conditions, and the harsh reality of being in prison. Of being in lockdown for 48 days.
She writes of a trip to California on Con Air to be a trial witness in the BALCO case, a trip that ended without her testimony even being heard. The emotions of missing her children's birthdays, her style of parenting and letters she's penned to her children. Later, about that day when she was able to run free from Carswell, into the arms of her waiting family. And intertwined throughout the book is her strong faith that guided her path through the dim days in Carswell to the brightness that now she now walks through.
"I made a vow to myself when I was in Carswell, when I was away - how can I change all of this, Marion? It's your responsibility now," Jones said. "You've had for however many years, all these people from around the world supporting you, loving you, caring for you, praying for you, and you let them down.
"Now how are you going to make up for it, Marion? And my decision then was this is how I'm going to make up for it. I'm going to constantly put myself out there, even if it's hard sometimes, to try and make the lives of people better."
Since her release from Carswell, Jones has been striving to fulfill that vow, and one such way is through the Take a Break program she discusses in-depth in the book. A program in which she speaks to youth about the merits of making good decisions.
"Slow down, take a step back, consult people who will give you proper advice and then make a wise decision," Jones says she tells the youngsters she speaks with. "Take a break."
Jones also touches on another way she wants to make an impact - by dedicating herself to seeing that much-needed reforms to America's prison system take place, particularly with the resources given to prisoner education and true rehabilitation.
And she talks about how she's moved on in her own life. A life in which not only is she a wife and mother to three, but now a WNBA rookie with the Tulsa Shock. A return to the highest level of competition in a sport she left after a successful collegiate career at North Carolina.
The book ends with reflections of blessings - those from living an "ordinary" day and those sent from God. Blessings that might be disguised to the eye of the beholder, but can blossom with faith and perseverance through the face of adversity.
"I'm putting myself out there," Jones said. "I don't have to do this, I don't have to drudge up these memories and the stuff that's hurtful. But I genuinely want to help people not make the same mistakes that I made."
Follow her lead and get on the right track.
Stay tuned to Swish Appeal in the coming days for more on Marion's basketball future, her Take A Break program and desires to help the prison system, and her thoughts on second chances.