Jump to content

Plaxico Burress Sits Down To Talk About His Life Behind Bars


Recommended Posts



ROME, N.Y. – The man who used to wear No. 17 for the New York Giants and caught the most famous touchdown pass in team history passes through a massive steel door, and now he is walking toward you. He has green prison-issue pants and a blue-shirted corrections officer with him step for step, as if the guy were a defensive back. The irony isn't lost on No. 17, who used to run free in secondaries, a 6-5, 230-pound handful, and now can't shake free of anybody.


Once inside the visitor's room of Oneida Correctional Facility, the officer heads to the guard station. Plaxico Burress sits down at a little square table. He looks straight ahead at the three brown gates, razor-wired walkway and two metal doors that separate Oneida's 955 inmates from the outside world, and starts talking about his son Elijah.


Elijah is 3 years old and a big Giants fan. He watches most every game, with a helmet on his head, a ball under his arm, and, of course, a No. 17 Burress jersey on his back. He cheers for Brandon Jacobs, his father's best friend on the team, and for all the guys. Mostly, though, Elijah keeps asking his father why he isn't home and why he doesn't play for the Giants anymore.


"What do I tell him? How am I supposed to answer those questions?" Burress asks at the outset of a 90-minute interview, his first with a print reporter since he went away. He touches the soul patch on his chin and looks down for a moment.


"You can't go any lower than being here, other than being in the ground," Burress says. "It's about as tough as it gets, on a personal level. You learn a lot about yourself. You try to think about the bigger picture, about life outside these walls. You just try to find a way to get through."


It's Week 2 in the NFL and the Giants are in Indianapolis and another football season is firing up without Plaxico Burress. He expects no sympathy for that, nor for his current living situation in the outskirts of this small, struggling upstate city, where his number is 09R3260 and he works as a porter and mops linoleum floors, and spends up to 16 hours a day in a 12 x 12 cell in Building 19, Dorm V. His room has a sink, a toilet and a locker, and a steady influx of books; he reads The Bible faithfully, and about two books a week, his recent favorite being Dick Gregory's autobiography, Callus On My Soul.


The one-year anniversary of Burress' incarceration comes this week. He will not be celebrating it. He will, rather, take it as another day of punishment, another day closer to the freedom that he lost because of a spectacularly poor decision he made on Nov. 28, 2008, the night he went to a Manhattan nightclub called the Latin Quarter with an unlicensed gun tucked in the waistband of his sweatpants, the object being to keep himself safe. Except the gun went off, a bullet went into his thigh and the legal damage was infinitely worse than the wound, Burress pleading guilty to a felony gun possession charge that sent him away for two years.


Among his other misjudgments, Burress committed his offense in a state with perhaps the stiffest gun laws in the country, and in a city where both the mayor – Michael Bloomberg – and the district attorney - Robert Morgenthau - both publicly stated that Burress should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Factor in the intense media coverage, and even the disgust of local football fans for the way Burress tainted the Giants' image and messed up their season, and it produced what Peter Frankel, Burress' attorney, calls "a perfect storm of negativity." One legal source familiar with the workings of the Manhattan D.A.'s office said that fully half of the almost 400 prosecutors in the office thought Burress should have gotten no time at all for his crime, given the specifics of his case and that this was his first offense.


"Do I think he would've gotten two years in jail for this anywhere else? Not in a million years," Frankel says.


Nobody needs to remind Burress that there has never been a New York fall quite like his, from pass-catching icon to convicted gun felon. Nor does he need to be reminded of the financial hit he took, either; his incarceration cost him four years and a possible $27 million on his Giant contract.


"You can't change history, no matter what you try to do," Burress says. "I didn't do anything to anybody. I did it to myself. I committed a crime. I broke the law. That's why I'm here. I can't do anything about it, so you have to try to change your outlook, think about positive things. If I'm so intent on going back to that moment, then I'm not making any progress. I'm not moving forward."


* * *


Plaxico Burress turned 33 last month. If there is any positive associated with his imprisonment, it's the health of his body. For Super Bowl XLII against the Patriots, Burress took painkiller injections in his ankle, knee and shoulder before the game, and again at halftime. Pain was so constant that he says he would've contemplated retirement in the next couple of seasons if it didn't improve. With a two-year hiatus from the pounding, he says he hasn't felt so fit and fresh since his high school days in Virginia Beach.


Burress came into prison weighing 240 pounds. Now he is a hard-looking 224, the byproduct of four-times-a-week workouts, lifting weights in the prison yard (even in January or February) and doing 300-yard sprints in 50-yard increments. He even runs routes and has a few fellow inmates (Burress is in so-called protective custody because of his high profile; he is one of about two dozen prisoners who is separated from the rest of the Oneida population) throwing him passes.


"Everybody thinks they are Elway here," he says, smiling.


Burress believes he is in such good shape that he could play in an NFL game next week. That won't happen, but playing in the league in 2011 is at the top of his things-to-do list after his release, which could come as early as next June 6. Burress has twice applied for a work-release program that would free him earlier and enable him to hold a job and be in a less restrictive environment, but he has been denied both times. Frankel, his attorney, expects to file a final appeal of the decision Monday. It's basically a legal Hail Mary at this point, particularly because the New York State Department of Correctional Services approved fewer than 2% of such applications last year. Frankel, for his part, thinks Burress' release application is "a win-win for all concerned," because Burress has committed to working in gun-violence prevention programs, talking to young people in high-risk populations about the danger of carrying a weapon.


Whatever happens, Burress can't wait to get back in the huddle.


"I'm not just going to come back and play. I'm going to come back and play at a high level," Burress says. "Nobody is going to be more dedicated than me to getting back to a championship.


"I feel like I let a lot of kids down (because of what happened). It's something I can't erase. All I can do is get back to the football field and play at a high level. That's the only way I can redeem myself, so to speak."


* * *

From shoulder blade to shoulder blade, Plaxico Burress has a tattoo that reads, "Everything happens for a reason." He's not sure what the reason in this case is, and hasn't since the day of his sentencing, when he cried in his wife's arms. He just knows that waking up in prison each day is perhaps the greatest challenge he has ever faced. He purposely doesn't count days, and doesn't wear a watch. He used to have everything and be able to go anywhere, and now he mops floors and lives in a box with bars and needs permission to do everything but go to the bathroom. By all accounts, he has been a well-behaved inmate; the only blot on his record was for lying to a guard about having permission to use the pay phone so he could make a call right away.


"It's one of those things that can make you or break you," Burress says of prison life. "You have to overcome it mentally." What he has learned, he says, is that he's a lot stronger than he thought he was, and that his list of the important things in life has gotten considerably shorter. Burress has missed a year of Elijah's life; he missed the birth of his daughter, Giovanna, altogether, Tiffany Burress, Plaxico's wife, giving birth to her during his incarceration.


"It was a very, very happy moment, bringing a new life into this world, but it was also a very, very sad moment, because (Plaxico) wasn't here to share it," Tiffany says. Giovanna is 10 months old now. Tiffany and the children visit Burress once a month, and in many ways it only makes being away from them harder.


"Everything you think that matters in life really doesn't, other than your wife and kids," Burress says. "Everything else is secondary."


It is the thoughts of his family that Burress says will sustain him through the final 260 days he has left in the custody of New York State. Unlike so many of the inmates he has met, he doesn't have to rebuild a life; he only has to resume one. With a wife who has her own career as a personal-injury lawyer, two bright, beautiful kids, a handsome home in New Jersey and a high-profile, high-paying career to return to, presumably, what more could Burress want? When he gets overwhelmed or depressed, starts sinking in a pit of remorse and regret about what he did and what he chucked away, these are the things that keep him strong, along with the kindnesses of people along the way.


Mike Sullivan, the Giants' quarterbacks coach, was a great ally and advocate when he coached the receivers and has been all of that and more during the incarceration. Sullivan visited last winter. His mother, in San Diego, sends Burress homemade salsa. GM Jerry Reese has written to him and so has his predecessor, Ernie Accorsi, who signed Burress as a free agent from the Steelers. And then there is Brandon Jacobs, who, apart from Burress' wife, has been more loyal to Burress than anyone, calling two or three times a week, checking in on Tiffany, picking up Elijah and letting him scramble around a real-life fire engine with Jacobs' own kids.


Even after a year of imprisonment, Burress says he gets as much as 100 pieces of mail a week, from fans near and far, young and old. He can't even fathom that people are still writing to him, still thinking of him, still wanting to connect with him about his heroics in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3, 2008, when Burress played with severe pain and caught Eli Manning's Super Bowl pass in the back left corner of the end zone to beat the Patriots with 13 seconds left.


"You don't realize the effect you have on people in different phases of their life. It's humbling," Burress says.


* * *


When Plaxico Burress gave the eulogy at his mother's funeral eight years ago, he said that one of the things she taught him was that God will never put anything in front of you that you can't handle. He thought about that the first day he entered Oneida Correctional Facility, and the big brown gates slammed shut behind him. It didn't seem real at first. He couldn't believe where he was, or what he had lost. He kept hoping he'd wake up, but the bad dream wouldn't go away, and the refrain from his mother kept playing in his brain: you can deal with this, otherwise God never would've let it happen.


Freedom is less than nine months away. Plaxico Burress doesn't want to be a sad story; he wants to be an uplifting story, about someone who made mistakes and overcame them. He says he is sincere about wanting to carry an anti-gun message to kids, because if he can save even one life, wouldn't that be worth it?


In the meantime, the former No. 17 of the New York Giants tries to be positive, to not think about what he did, but what he will do. He imagines about what it will be like when Tiffany and Elijah and Giovanna come to bring him home, and how it will feel to hear the gates slam with him on the outside, to make his way down the razor-wired walkway and be out of Oneida Correctional Facility for good. He can see the scene now, Elijah running toward him, running fast, waiting to jump into his father's arms.


"And the best thing is, I won't have to answer his questions anymore," Plaxico Burress says.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

I feel bad for the guy....he had the book thrown at him. Sure, it was a stupid decision on his part. But he's paid the price.



I think he got a rotten deal, horrible.....we are the most incarceration happy country on the planet and most of it can be traced back to making recreational drugs illegal and all the crime that causes as addicts commit them to get drugs


the other thing I regret is his accomplice- Pierce went scot free.........he knew of the gun and went along with the stupidity.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I feel bad for the guy....he had the book thrown at him. Sure, it was a stupid decision on his part. But he's paid the price.



If Mayor for Life Bloomberg had a conscience....he would ask himself ....hey I am a multi billionaire...I get driven, flown carried everywhere in my life...I have both official and unofficial body guards armed to the teeth. Now if my daughter committed a first time felony that only hurt her...now wouldn't I as Daddy Dearest expect her to get a pass? I am so glad the Walking Human Stroke finally...finally left office with his bullshit. Now we have a less political DA whose father also was a big shot in Washington like Daddy Morgenthau was during WWII. Time he left...should have happened 20 years ago.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...