Growing up in a small town outside of Jackson, Mississippi, NFL linebacker Demario Davis had never seen a two-parent household that put faith first. His mother had him when she was 16 years old and his father served in the Army. As a child, he was surrounded by drugs, crimes, and gangs.
His football career landed him a scholarship to Arkansas State University, where as a freshman, Davis got caught shoplifting at Walmart. His bond was set at $10,000—a sum he could never afford. Without paying it, he’d go to jail.
Davis’ football coach bailed him out.
“Because I was an athlete, I was able to not go to jail,” Davis told the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday.
It was then Davis said he realized how many people went to prison simply because they couldn’t pay the bill for bail. Had his coach not stepped in, he would have been one of them.
And going to prison, Davis said, “is almost like a death sentence.”
“One-third of the people who die in jail die in the first week. Also, three quarters of the deaths that happen in our country in jail are pre-trial inmates,” Davis said. “So it’s almost like a death sentence to send somebody to jail for that extended period of time without them being convicted.”
Davis returned to college with a renewed commitment to turn his life around. He met a Christian pastor at just the right time, who welcomed him into a relationship with Christ.
Now both an NFL football player and a criminal justice reform advocate, he says there should be no such thing as cash bail for nonviolent offenders, an effort he says the country spends $13 billion on as a result of incarcerating people before their trial.
“I think the momentum is starting to move in the right direction,” he said, pointing to cities such as the District of Columbia, which has eliminated the cash bail system.
On a larger scale, Davis supports the Trump administration’s efforts on criminal justice reform, including the First Step Act, which, according to advocates like John Malcolm, a legal scholar at The Heritage Foundation, “provides modest yet much-needed prison and sentencing reform modeled on successful reforms already passed in red states.”
The solution to keep nonviolent offenders unnecessarily out of prison pre-trial “looks different everywhere,” Davis said, and also requires more than just legislation.
For that reason, Davis said he founded the Devoted Dreamers Foundation, a ministry that equips inner city boys and girls with spiritual guidance, mentorship, athletic support, and education.
“It takes a man to teach a boy how to be a man,” he said.
Davis has been married for seven years and started his own family with a focus on faith first.
He also went on to become one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Last season, as a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, he led the NFL in solo tackles, with over 100.
Davis also enrolled in graduate school to get his MBA.
“Life is 10 percent what happens to you, and 90 percent how you respond to it,” Davis said. But second chances, he said, are still important.
“If I never had that second chance my life would have been completely different.”
CPAC, the largest annual national gathering of conservative activists, runs through Saturday at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside Washington.