"How many of you guys got kids?"
About half the men raised their hands, and Vick, who has three children, recounted the agony of telling his oldest child that he was going away. "You brought them into the world," he told the inmates. "They look up to you. You owe them. They deserve better. They deserve better!"
Vick continued. "Use your mind. Use your brain. Educate yourself. No excuses. It's about faith. Believe in yourself."
It's easy for Vick, with his multimillion-dollar skills, to tell men with grim futures in a terrible economy to have hope, but they latched onto his words nonetheless. "After falling so far, he got his mind right," said inmate John Anzaldua. "He showed me that a person can live life right after making such a big mistake."
"I cry many a night," said inmate Willie Wilson. "But what he said was awesome. These guys need some hope."
At one point, guards led Vick into solitary, where inmates who've violated regulations are housed in 8-by-10-foot windowless cells—just a shelf, a narrow bunk and a metal toilet. Prisoners here get three hours a week outside their cells. Vick reached through the bars to meet one 18-year-old inmate who'd been in jail for three years and wasn't due out until 2019.
Vick told him he was still young, still had time to get educated. "Keep your head up," Vick said. As he moved on to the next cell, the young inmate peered out. "I thought they was lyin'," he said. "Michael Vick was here!"
On the bus back to Tampa, Vick reflected on the experience. "I'm really happy I came," he said. "Those guys are so young. So young. When you're that young, you think you're a grown man, but you're really not. The kid I saw in solitary, he's going to be 26 when he gets out. He's got time to develop a strategy.
"He's got time to change his life."