From Criminal Court To The Basketball Court

Man’s journey takes him from prison to college basketball court

KEITH JARRETT
Asheville Citizen-Times

Bonnie Speight had seen her oldest son in prison but never on the basketball court.

That all changed Tuesday night, when the mother of six stood in the middle of a darkened gymnasium at Montreat College and watched her son walk slowly toward her, rose in hand and a smile on his face.

She didn’t cry, but she wanted to as she got a big hug from her son.

“I thought to myself, ‘You’ve crossed a bridge. You have been through so much, but you came out on the other side,'” said Speight, who made the five-hour drive from Greenville earlier Tuesday with family members to see her son play.

The journey for Tim Lewis – from armed robbery to prison, from a GED student to college graduate, from a life in crime to a crusader determined that others not mimic his mistakes – was also long.

But for mother and son, it was a trip worth taking.

“I regret what I’ve done, but I wouldn’t be the person I am today if not for what happened to me,” said Lewis, 25, who speaks at churches, prisons and any other group that will listen to his story.

“Prison was a steppingstone,” Speight said. “If it took that to make him the person he is now, then that’s God’s will, and we bless him for that.”

As a teenager growing up in Greenville, in the middle of three older sisters, two younger brothers and no father, Lewis watched his mother struggle to make ends meet with a variety of low-paying jobs.

He had a different way of making money – robbing people at gunpoint.

“I was playing by my rules,” said Lewis, who will graduate in the spring with a degree in sports management.

“I was immature and hanging out with the wrong guys. I wanted to impress people with the nice things I had, and I had this misconception that it was OK to take what I wanted.”

Lewis declines to reveal how many robberies he pulled but said he was facing 14 years in prison before a lawyer worked out a deal that included more than two years at the Western Youth Institution in Morganton.

During his incarceration he began attending classes in Bible study, found a mentor in a local pastor and began the process through religious faith of turning his life around.

“I visited him for the first time in prison about a year after he went in, and I knew,” Speight said. “I knew he was different, that he realized he did wrong and that he wasn’t going to do that again.”

Lewis earned his GED in prison and began taking classes at a community college after his release. He was discovered by Montreat coach Bill Robinson playing in a church recreation league.

On the court, Lewis, a 6-5, 225-pound forward, has been an all-conference player the past two seasons and has career averages of 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds a game while shooting 60 percent from the floor.

“People have asked me if I was (hesitant) to bring him here,” said Robinson, who became emotional during the senior night ceremony honoring Lewis and four teammates. “From the second I met him, there was no hesitation.

“I knew there was something different about him. He’s meant so much to this program. He’s been a leader on campus and this team, and he brought a humble attitude. He brings a character that in the years I’ve coached, nobody has been any better.”

Lewis, who along with teammate Noble Anthony had his jersey retired Tuesday night, hopes to play professionally in Europe after graduation and plans to start a sports ministry so he can continue spreading his message of taking advantage of a second chance at life.

“Tonight (was) so perfect,” he said. “I got to tell my mom I loved her (so near) Valentine’s Day and to thank her for standing by me.”

And a proud mom, standing by her son, was so happy she made the trip.

“I’m overwhelmed, trying not to cry,” she said. “I never gave up on him, never stopped believing in him. He’s done so good.”

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