Love letters from prison to Oba in Jones’ new book
AUSTIN, Texas – Marion Jones wants you to know she’s sorry.
Not so much about the performance-enhancing drugs she took – unknowingly, she says – when she was the most famous and lauded track athlete in the world, a winner of five medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, medals she no longer owns.
What Jones really wants you to know is she’s sorry for lying to federal investigators about her drug use. That, and her role in a check-fraud scam, are what landed her in prison for six months in 2008, during which she spent a month and a half in solitary confinement after fighting another inmate.
“I surely wish that I could go back and change certain things in my past, on one hand, but then I wouldn’t be who I am today, someone who I’m actually really proud of,” Jones said in an interview with The Associated Press, her gaze steady. “If I hadn’t gone through certain things, and because I had those six months or whatever – just a lot of quiet time – if I hadn’t gone through it, I don’t know if I would ever have that much time to reflect. A lot of people don’t.”
Jones also wants you to know how that self-reflection changed her as a person. Her priorities, her goals, the way she defines success, the way she makes decisions each day – all are rather different now, due in part to what she says is her faith. She emphasised that repeatedly during an hour-long interview with the AP at a park near a school her children attend, and in her new book, “On the Right Track,” which comes out Tuesday and quotes several biblical passages.
“My story is unique, in that the first part of my life, my journey, I hit the pinnacle of my career, and it was a very public career, and then I made decisions that cost me all of that,” Jones said. “And so I was at that low point. But I didn’t give up. I kind of developed a way to get out of that, and I’m on my way back up.”
Sitting on a wooden bench facing the park’s pond, Jones, who turned 35 this month, still looks like an elite athlete. She played for the WNBA’s Tulsa Shock last season, but isn’t certain if she will be asked to return for another. One thing’s for sure: She can still flash that famous wide smile — the one so familiar to anyone who followed her feats on the track a decade ago.
Her 213-page book, written with Maggie Greenwood-Robinson, is based in part on letters Jones wrote to her husband, Obadele Thompson, while she was in a federal prison in Fort Worth. The book contains a harrowing depiction of Jones’ stay.
“I didn’t have a sentence that was a slap on the wrist. I wasn’t sentenced to an institution that I kicked back in a hammock for my time there,” she said, punctuating that point with a chuckle. “It was tough.”
Jones writes about fearing her life was in danger during a five-minute tussle with a roommate. Jones says she emerged uninjured, but the other woman’s face “was bruised and bloody.”
In the interview, Jones called her ensuing trip to solitary confinement “probably the worst part of my life.”
“There were moments while I was there, where you just feel like you cannot go on: ‘How in the world can I make it to tomorrow?'” Jones said.
She writes in depressing detail about prison conditions and specific personnel; about inmates using empty toilet paper rolls threaded through toilets as a sort of telephone; about being chained to her seat during a “ConAir” flight with other prisoners on a trip to another jailhouse.
“What transpired during the period when she was incarcerated was both a crucible but also a wonderful opportunity,” said Thompson, who won a bronze medal for Barbados in the 100 meters at the Sydney Games and married Jones in 2007. “She’s not one of these people who’s bitter. She’s not spiteful. She’s not looking to get even with anyone. She’s just turned it into something positive. She’s used it to take the next steps in life, to rebuild.” (AP)