As a youngster growing up in Atlanta, Jamal Lewis would make the occasional trip to his mother's place of employment. Given that it was a prison, this was not a typical day at the office.
Years later, when Lewis was a rookie running back with the Ravens, he still remembered those visits to his mother, Mary Lewis, who was a warden at the Georgia Department of Corrections.
"I used to go up and visit with her at work," Jamal Lewis said in the middle of the Ravens' Super Bowl run in 2000. "I've been around it, watching her in control at the correctional institution. I knew I didn't want to be in those situations."
As revealing as those visits may have been, Lewis nevertheless found himself on the wrong side of the gavel more than once since those formative days.
When he was indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury on charges of drug conspiracy for an episode that pre-dates his rookie season, it was the latest warning sign in a career of peaks and valleys.
During his time in Baltimore, Lewis already has served a four-game suspension for a violation of the NFL's substance and alcohol abuse program in 2001. NFL policy dictates that suspensions are handed out for second violations. A player is entered in the program for his first violation, but is not disciplined.
First-time offenders are not publicly identified in the program, either. Because of the confidentiality clause, the substance abused is not disclosed at any time.
Lewis got in hot water legally during his first year at the University of Tennessee in 1997 when he was sentenced to three years of probation and a $1,000 fine after pleading guilty to shoplifting charges.
Lewis, who was the NFL Offensive Player of the Year last season after rushing for 2,066 yards, is charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine from June 23, 2000, to July 19, 2000.
He was 20 years old at that time and did not sign his first NFL contract until July 23, 2000, on the day the Ravens' training camp opened.
Lewis' Atlanta attorney, Ed Garland, was emphatic in expressing the running back's innocence.
"Mr. Lewis wants everybody to know that he did nothing wrong," Garland said. "He was not part of any drug deal and any contention that he was is false."
Lewis' latest troubles leave his immediate future with the Ravens in doubt. If convicted of the drug conspiracy charge, it could bring him an indefinite suspension depending on a decision by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
The Ravens will hold their collective breath in the meantime.
"We believe in due process," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a statement last night, "and Jamal will have his day in court. There are two sides to every story. From what we know of the charges, these seem out of character for the Jamal we know."
Lewis' suspension in 2001 did not impact the Ravens on the field because he had already suffered a season-ending knee injury in training camp. His suspension took effect in November and he was not allowed to have contact with the team until the penalty was lifted in December.
Upon his return to the team's training facility in Owings Mills, Lewis said: "My teammates know I messed up and I wouldn't do anything else to hurt them. They've got confidence and faith in me."
The shoplifting incident occurred during his senior year at Douglas High School in Atlanta. In March of that year, he and a 17-year-old female were charged with taking a $109 polo shirt from a store at the Cumberland Mall.
Store security officers said they watched a store clerk drop the shirt into Lewis' shopping bag without charging him.
Then 18, Lewis was given first-offender status. That allowed first-time offenders' criminal records to be erased if they complete probation without incident. The case was adjudicated in Atlanta's Cobb County.
Although Mary Lewis declined to take phone calls at her home last night, she told The Sun in a 2000 interview that Lewis had been brought up to recognize right from wrong and attended parochial schools.
Speaking of the shoplifting incident, she said: "I had to step out as mother and warden and say, 'You are aware of the laws, you are aware of right and wrong.' He was reared in the Catholic faith, attended St. Paul's from birth, attended St. Joseph's Catholic School."
According to a woman who identified herself on the phone last night as a personal assistant to Lewis' mother, Mary Lewis no longer works for the Georgia Department of Corrections.
NFL policies on substance abuse, personal conduct
Provides for testing, treatment and discipline of players who are found to be abusing alcohol, prescription or over-the-counter drugs or illegal drugs. Repeat offenders face increasingly serious consequences.
A player enters the intervention program after a positive urine test, self-referral or behavior such as a substance-abuse-related arrest.
In Stage 1 of intervention, the player is evaluated and undergoes treatment and testing. If he fails to comply or tests positive, he is subject to a fine and enters the next stage.
In Stage 2, the player may be subject to unannounced tests up to 10 times a month and must continue treatment. The first time he has a positive test or fails to comply, he can be fined if he successfully completed Stage 1 or suspended for four consecutive games if he did not successfully complete Stage 1. A second failure can result in a four-game suspension for those previously fined or a six-game suspension for those previously suspended. Offenders may also have to advance to the next stage.
In Stage 3, a player who has a positive test or fails to comply with treatment may be banished from the NFL for a minimum of one calendar year.
A person arrested for or charged with prohibited conduct will be required to undergo clinical evaluation and, if appropriate, additional treatment. Failure to comply with evaluation and counseling obligations is punishable by fine or suspension at the discretion of commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Any person convicted of or admitting to a criminal violation, including a plea to a lesser offense or a plea of no-contest, will be subject to discipline by the commissioner. That could include a fine, suspension without pay and/or banishment from the league. Anyone convicted of or admitting to a second criminal violation will be suspended without pay or banished for a period of time determined by the commissioner.
Lewis on the field and off
After a stellar career at Douglas High School in Atlanta, Lewis announces he will play football at the University of Tennessee.
A published report reveals Lewis had been charged with a felony in connection with shoplifting seven months earlier. Lewis pleads guilty and pays a $1,000 fine.
Lewis finishes his first college season with 1,364 yards rushing and is named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year.
After rushing for 497 yards in Tennessee's first four games, Lewis suffers a torn lateral collateral ligament. He sits out the rest of the season.
Lewis enters the NFL draft after his junior season and is selected by the Ravens with the fifth pick overall.
On the eve of training camp, Lewis signs a six-year, $35.3 million contract.
Lewis is named the Ravens' starter in the fourth game and runs for 116 yards and a touchdown.
Lewis helps lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory. He finishes the regular season with 1,364 rushing yards.
Lewis tears the anterior crusciate ligament in his left knee during a preseason practice and is lost for the year.
After violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy for the second time, Lewis serves a four-game suspension while on injured reserve.
Returning from his knee injury to play in all 16 games for the Ravens, Lewis rushes for 1,327 yards and six touchdowns,
Lewis sets the NFL record for rushing yards in a game, running for 295 against Cleveland.
Lewis rushes for 114 yards in the Ravens' final regular-season game to finish the season with 2,066 yards, the second-highest total in NFL history
Lewis in indicted on federal drug charges in Atlanta. He is accused of helping arrange a drug deal involving cocaine in the summer of 2000.