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Exclusive: Michael Vick On What He Learned In Jail

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Quarterback Michael Vick is back in the headlines this week, due to his canceling an interview with Oprah. Ahead of booking Vick, she accepted a $300 "bet" with CNN host Piers Morgan that she could land an interview with him before he could. He lost the bet when Oprah confirmed Michael last week. However, Vick suddenly canceled his appearance due to "personal and professional" reason, said his spokesman. Many are anxious to hear from the man who spent close to two years in prison for his dog-fighting ring.

ESSENCE.COM was able to secure an exclusive interview with Michael Vick one year ago...Here is that interview from February, 2009...

ESSENCE.com: I know of your football fame and success, but after being in prison and returning to outside life — the NFL, your family — there is so much written about you, but I'd like to ask you: How are you, Michael? How is this new phase of your life going?
MICHAEL VICK:
I am doing well. It's been a tough road —18 months locked away — but I am doing better because I detached from the people and the activities that were hurting me — that risked everything I'd worked for and that was ruining all of the goals I had attained.

ESSENCE.com: You mention the "people" you had to detach from — you mean your old friends from growing up? Did you somehow feel responsible to take care of them?
VICK:
I did feel I had to take care of my old friends, the people I came up with. Here I was, making all this money and I wanted them to have a shot, too. I wanted them to be in a position to have a good life, too. I felt a responsibility to keep something going for them. I grew up with them, love and respected them. At the beginning of doing this thing for them, i never thought it would end up as it did.

ESSENCE.com: And by that you mean the dog fighting, the Bad Newz Kennels?
VICK:
Yes, it was something they knew, something they did, it was around a lot. I know it is so wrong now. And, I am doing a lot of work with the Humane Society to try to give back, to do something positive, to go against all the negative I did, and that went on in that business. I just felt this pressure to keep the financial end going for those guys, and I've learned to let that go, and let them go, and what I was doing with them. I had to detach from all of it.

ESSENCE.com: Your fiancee Kijafa Frink has stood by you 100% and so have so many of your fans. That support must mean so much to you.
VICK:
Absolutely, that support means everything. It's all you have when you are in prison. I am grateful to my fans, and most of all to Kijafa. I was sitting there incarcerated, feeling angry, disgusted... At first you just want to blame someone else, I just couldn't believe I ended up in that cell and I would get full of rage thinking about the people who put me in that position. But Kijafa gave me support and guidance, and told me how feeling that was only going to hurt me, not anyone I may have been angry with. She helped me to focus on getting better, healthier, stronger in a spiritual way—and that gave me a positive focus instead of a negative one.


ESSENCE.com: But staying positive in prison — that's got to be tough to keep the faith — literally and figuratively?
VICK:
When you are the one in that situation, in that moment of really knowing you have no freedom, there is a period where nobody can tell you anything that gives you hope. I was in a desolate place where I'd never wanted to be, where I'd never pictured myself being, but it's at that low point where you have to keep trying to believe—harder than you ever have about anything before—that you will get out, that this will not be the rest of your life. You have to say to yourself: "I will get out, I will get out..."


ESSENCE.com: And your faith played a big role in helping you to believe that?
VICK:
Yes, and faith had a big role in every aspect of my life before. I found God a long time ago, but when times are really hard and you are faced with the type of adversity that I was, it is harder to connect, to believe that there is a plan, and it's bigger than you are. I tried harder and harder every day to believe, to keep my faith strong. Tony Dungy helped me to do that, and as hard as it was, it is the only reason I was able to maintain my sanity.


ESSENCE.com: You were raised as a spiritual young man. You followed a path of hard work and determination, and you attained enormous success, but you had a curve in the road that had great consequences. How do you think it happened?
VICK:
What happened was my whole life changed in one night. I went from being a guy with no money to a guy with two million dollars.


ESSENCE.com: So the enormous fame, wealth, success came quickly to you. Do you think that created a difficult scenario to keep yourself grounded?
VICK:
I was young, I had no responsibilities and had no clue of how to deal with money. I started to feel superior, like I was of a different status than people around me, that I had more skills, more gifts. The problem with me, and the guys like me in that situation, is that we start to think the whole world revolves around us. And then we get surrounded by a bunch of people who are telling us that the whole world actually does revolve around us—you lose a sense of reality. You think you are invincible.

ESSENCE.com: Did fame make it harder to trust people?
VICK:
I never knew what people's motives were. I was in a whole new world and new people were coming to see me every day telling me how I could invest and have my money make so much more money. They seemed smart, they seemed sincere, I wanted to believe them, but there were so many of them. Are they all honest? Are they all giving me the right information? They find guys like me who come into a lot of money quickly—who grew up without any money—and we are great targets for them. I never knew who to trust.

ESSENCE.com: Did fame make it seem safer, more authentic, to remain friends with your pals from home — who knew you before you were Michael Vick?
VICK:
That was a big part of the reason I stayed close to those guys, yes. And why I felt responsible to give them a way to make a living themselves. But it wasn't the right way for them to be earning money. I just knew that I had cared about them as long as I remembered, and that meant a lot.

ESSENCE.com: You say you turned off into a certain direction, but you've changed and you are back with a greater understanding and a deeper spirituality. What do you mean by that?
VICK:
Once I stopped sitting in anger and trying to blame someone else for why I was locked up, I thought about the the things I had done and I was honest with myself about it. I knew I had done some unethical things, things that were just wrong. I felt bad, and I felt like I wanted to redeem myself. To give back in some way that would come from my heart. There are people who will always doubt me, but this was the truth. I spoke to the president of the Humane Society, and I told him I sincerely wanted to help. I told him my goals and why I had them, and how I felt badly about what I had done in the past. And he welcomed me to help. He gave me the opportunity to make a difference.

ESSENCE.com: You didn't at the time think the dog fighting was wrong—-many people are involved in it and it's nothing more than any other sport or hobby. What would you say to the many people who still feel that way?
VICK:
I would tell them that all forms of violence are wrong, whether it is labeled criminal or not, it's wrong. Whether they see it every day in their neighborhood and everyone else is doing it, it is completely wrong. The time you're spending with the dog fighting could be spent finding something you really like to do—educate your mind, talk to your mom and dad. There's so much ego involved in dog fighting, but why? It's not a skill, it's not something you get accolades for. You don't really get anything good out of it, so go find a way to satisfy your ego in a way that doesn't harm animals or other people. And maybe helps some people out instead. You can feed your ego and do good at the same time.

ESSENCE.com: I saw an interview with, Kijafa Frink, your fiancee, and mother of your two little daughters. Kijafa says of you: "Michael has always been a family man..."
VICK:
Kijafa's right. I love my kids. I love my parents. I always want everyone in my family to be safe, to be well.

ESSENCE.com: You are close to your mom and dad?
VICK:
I am, I keep them in the loop of everything that is going on with me. I went through a period where I did not. My parents split up and I always made time for my mom, but not so much my dad. Then, when my dad was dealing with some issues of his own, he came and lived with me in Atlanta and I took care of him. I always want to take care of the people in my family, and I especially want the best for my children.

ESSENCE.com: You have a son and two beautiful little daughters. When they are old enough to understand, what will you tell them about this chapter in your life?
VICK:
I will be honest with them. I want them to be able to say, "My daddy stood tall, he took responsibility for the unethical things he did and he worked hard to find a solution to reconcile and make things right. He took wrong things he did and turned things around. He did a lot of good."

The most important thing about making mistakes is to learn from them and to turn things around. You always have a shot to turn things around and you've got to work hard to take it.

ESSENCE.com: The Philadelphia Eagles were lucky to get you, but Philly fans are notoriously tough. You seemed to adjust very well, how did you do that?
VICK:
Going to Philly was a good thing. I never knew if or when I would ever return to the NFL. I had an indefinite suspension. I was grateful to get the opportunity to return.

ESSENCE.com: You had a tough upbringing, not a great environment for a growing boy. You once said in an interview: "I would go fishing even if the fish weren't biting, just to get away from the violence and stress of daily life in the projects." It's sad to think of a little boy feeling that way, but there are lots of boys out there now who feel much as you did. What would your message to them be?
VICK:
I'd tell them that whatever it is they want to be—it doesn't have to sports, it could be a doctor or a dentist—they can do it. And violence can't be a part of it—not to any person, any animal, or in any way. It's tough because they can get isolated, it's easy for a young guy to get all caught up in the negative things of his neighborhood and make that his life, to stay in that box. But I'd tell any boy who's feeling that way, that he can get out. If I can do it, the he can do it, too.

ESSENCE.com: It's Superbowl Sunday this weekend. Last year you watched the Bowl in prison, what a difference a year makes. How do you feel about that?
VICK:
It was very hard to be sitting in there watching the game on TV. But as hard as it was, it was really really motivating. I just watched and wanted so badly to be out on that field. I got even more determined to do the right things, to get myself back on track, and to redeem myself and get a second chance to show people I was worthy of it.

ESSENCE.com: You've seen the recent scandal of another famous athlete, Tiger Woods. What are your thoughts on that?
VICK:
I think that is such an unfortunate situation. I think a lot was probably blown out of proportion. But Tiger is smart, and he's a good man, I think people know that. He knows what he has to do. And he will move forward and do that. I see him working hard to devote himself toward saving his family. He has always had such a clean, good image and I am sure he is contrite and wants to make things right. I believe people will see that eventually.

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