COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Former Ohio State University star running back Maurice Clarett is speaking out as an advocate for criminal justice reform. He was the headliner on a panel discussion Wednesday called “Smart Justice-The All Star Series” sponsored by the U.S. Justice Action Network.
Clarett exploded onto the Buckeye football stage as a true freshman. He was a key piece of the 2002 national championship team.
But Clarett never had a sophomore season. He was kicked off the team for having accepted improper benefits. A life of drugs, alcohol and criminal activity derailed the chance of any real professional football career.
He was convicted of aggravated robbery and spent nearly 4 years in prison. It was there, he says, that he experienced an awakening.
“Just the isolation and the opportunity to work on myself was great,” Clarett said. “You spend four years on a university campus. I kind of created my own campus there. It was nothing but work, work, work, work and that was good for me.”
Now living in Canal Winchester, Clarett says he is happy and motivated and obsessed with the work he is doing. Last year he opened an outpatient program in Youngstown called The Red Zone. The program offers mental health assistance for drug and alcohol addiction.
Clarett says he aggressively sought help from others in and out of prison. But he says inmates need more access to case workers, social workers and psychologists inside prison and more resources and professional help when they are released from prison. “In this state where we have so many resources, if we just allocate them to professionals being in contact with the most vulnerable people. I think it helped me.”
Clarett says he still thinks about football at times and what might have been. But, he says, he’s now able to brush those thoughts aside.
“When we get to the big scheme of the world and what’s really going on, me not getting into the NFL, me not having success in the NFL is not really that serious,” Clarett says with a laugh.
Others participating in the panel discussion were Gary Mohr, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections and Robert Alt, President and CEO of the Buckeye Institute.