By Associated Press
Photo by AP (File)
The male inmates, ranging in age from 12 to 21, were seated in a large assembly room at the Salem facility Wednesday morning. They paid rapt attention as the 34-year-old Moss moved around the room telling them about his life and the "bumps in the road" he has met.
Moss, a Rand native and NFL wide receiver, has had more than just a few bumps in the road. He said he has worked hard to turn his life around and give back to his home state.
After speaking to 130 male inmates, he spoke to the facility’s 12 female inmates before moving on to the eight inmates in the maximum-security ward.
"The decisions you made to put yourself here were a mistake," he told them. "It happens. I’ve been there."
He spoke candidly about the fight in the halls at DuPont High School in 1995 and about the time he spent in jail afterward. The fight cost him a football scholarship to the University of Notre Dame.
The high school All-American wide receiver Moss, then 18, and another student at the school got into a fight over a racial slur the student had supposedly written on a desk. He was arrested and later pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor battery.
He talked about how he got on at Florida State University, had a successful year as a red shirt freshman and then lost that opportunity after failing a drug test. He also talked about how he came back home to West Virginia to get his life back on track.
As part of his work release program after the drug offense, he took two classes at what is now West Virginia State University while spending his nights at South Central Regional Jail. He had those credits transferred to Marshall University, where he walked on the team hoping to make a name for himself. He had dreams of becoming a professional athlete and turned his life around to make it happen, he said.
"Everybody is entitled to a mistake or two or three," Moss said during an interview. "I don’t want them to think my road was easy. I’ve had some bumps in the road.
"I’ve been there. I’ve been where they are. I’ve worn those orange jumpsuits."
Moss spent about 30 days in jail after the fight and roughly three months on work release before he walked on at Marshall. After a successful run with the Thundering Herd, he was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings where he spent several seasons breaking records as a wide receiver with an extensive reach.
He was traded to the Oakland Raiders and then to the New England Patriots [team stats], whom he played with until 2010. After a brief stint back in Minnesota, he ended the season with the Tennessee Titans [team stats]. He will be a free agent in the upcoming season.
Dale Humphreys, director of the state Division of Juvenile Services, approached Moss about speaking with Industrial Home inmates after Moss’ involvement in a basketball game with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and the cadets at the Rubenstein Center in Davis, which is more of a military school for juvenile offenders.
In March, Manchin played with a team of state troopers against Moss and the cadets. The cadets and Moss handily whipped the senator and troopers, scoring 117 points to their 85.
"Randy and the cadets put on a basketball clinic for the troopers," Humphreys said. "He said he was extremely busy, but he put everything on hold and flew up to Charleston, then drove three hours to Davis and played three hours of basketball, talked to the cadets, went back to Charleston and flew back to Florida."
Humphreys said he appreciated Moss’ willingness to spend time with the offenders and noted the athlete’s interest in the state’s children. He touted Moss’ rewards program to encourage school children to make good grades, as well as his multiple charity offerings.
Moss never asked the inmates why they were there and told them he didn’t care about that. He said he wasn’t there to judge. He said that job falls to God.
"A lot of people walk out of jail and they don’t know which direction to go in," Moss told the female inmates. One of them responded that she planned to go to school upon release.
Moss smiled at her.
"That’s good, sweetheart," he said. "You go to school and get that degree."
During his brief session with the maximum-security inmates, he urged them to walk away from violent situations.
"It’s not how hard you can take a punch that makes you a man; it’s what you do after that that makes you a man," he told them.
He understands his visit might not sit well with victims’ families but said he hopes to make a positive impact on the inmates’ rehabilitation efforts.
"I’m sympathetic to those families, I am," Moss said. "I could easily be on both sides of this.
"I have to keep into consideration the families that have been hurt, but remember that these kids are still kids."