Ted Hart, WCMH - COLUMBUS (WCMH) - Former Ohio State University star running back Maurice Clarett is speaking out as an advocate for criminal justice reform. In Youngstown last year, he founded The Red Zone -- an outpatient program that offers mental health assistance for drug and alcohol addiction.
He was the headliner Wednesday on a panel discussion 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 he never had a sophomore season because he was kicked off the team for having accepted improper benefits. A life of drugs, alcohol, and criminal activity derailed his chance of any real professional football career.
Clarett was convicted of aggravated robbery and spent nearly four years in prison. It was there, he said, 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 in central Ohio, Clarett said he is happy, motivated, and obsessed with the work he's doing.
Clarett said he aggressively sought help from others in and out of prison. But he said inmates need more access to case workers, social workers, and psychologists inside prison and more resources and professional help when they're 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 said he sometimes still thinks about football and what might have been. But now he's 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 said with a laugh.