An interview with Free Minds member Antwan, by Zoe, Free Minds Intern. This interview was originally published in Volume 11, Issue 2 of the Free Minds Connect.
Zoe: Can you tell us about your incarceration and your history with Free Minds?
Antwan: I was incarcerated at sixteen in 2006 and charged as an adult. I was in the juvenile block when I heard about Free Minds. I was never a big reader back then, but I was a very outspoken person. I had an influence on the block. It was a new program on the block so everyone was rebellious to it. I sat down and saw their outlook and their vision to cope with incarceration. I relayed the message to the other inmates and was a positive advocate on the block for the book club.
When I came home after six and a half years as a juvenile, I did the Free Minds reentry program and served as an outreach coach. I went into various junior high schools and high schools to talk to youth, sharing my experience, and listening to their stories too, giving them an outlet. It opened my mind to work with youth and I learned a lot about myself. I can’t change the world, but I can spot somebody who can. Free Minds has the vision and the motivation to help me see another outlet in life. I found out this was my calling in life, giving back and uplifting the youth. Helping people on and off the field. Some of the youth I work with don’t have a father figure. They don’t have anyone else.
Zoe: Was there a transformative moment in your life that led you to Free Minds and to coaching?
Antwan: I am the last child out of five. Over the years before and during my incarceration I lost everyone but my mom to gun violence. I lost my father, my three brothers, and my sister. They were all murdered one after the other. There was a repeated cycle of death that traumatized me. That trauma had an impact on me. It caused me to lose hope in life. Working with the youth and seeing the impact I can have on an individual child’s life, and having an impact on a team’s life, it gave me back my hope. I really mean something now.
Zoe: When you were released from prison did you know that you wanted to be a football coach?
Antwan: I always played football and had a passion for football. Always. Even throughout my incarceration, I played football. So, when I came home I had a son who was seven at the time when I came home. We tried basketball, but he wasn’t too big at basketball. We gave football a try. We went to the field and saw a lot of other little kids playing with the school. When I picked him up from school I saw them there. So my son joined the team. My son would have bad moments at practice, but whenever I was there he had an excellent practice. So I started to stay on the field more and more. A lot of the other kids would adapt to how I was coaching my son. So I started to coach them too. After one season, all of the parents wanted me to be the head coach. So, I became the head coach.
Zoe: And you now coach through the school your son goes to?
Antwan: Yes! I have been doing it for three years. I have been the head coach for two.
Zoe: How has the team grown or improved over the years?
Antwan: The process has been phenomenal. The build up process is what it is all about. I have had these kids since they were five years old, and they are seven now. So the growth and the experience and everything we have accomplished, the traveling, it has been beautiful. They have been getting better and wiser. The level has been getting tougher and tougher. I love them like they are mine. I have twenty-six players, they are all my sons and daughter. I have twenty-five boys and one girl.
Zoe: What are your goals for the Hornets and your own career goals for the future?
Antwan: Last year we got to the DC state championship. We came up short, 12-6. So this year we are going to win the championship and bring it back home to DC. That’s what I want to do for the Hornets. It’s going to be a group process and a lot of fun. Over the years we will continue to grow. We got new helmets coming in, thanks to help with fundraising from Free Minds. So it is going to get better and better each year.
Zoe: Do you have any other career goals or are you just focusing on football?
Antwan: I want to use this as one of my paths. As I said, the kids are seven years old now and I have them until they are thirteen years old. I want them to be my way into the high school field. To be a high school head coach and so forth. So if they blossom I can go to college coaching and from there NFL coaching. It starts here though.
Zoe: So you can go up with the team you know and help to mold them.
Zoe: What do you love the most about coaching?
Antwan: The love back man, the interaction. Me and my voice having an impact on them. Me being so important to them. That feeling right there is unbelievable!