Coming Sunday: Marion Jones, a Q-and-A

UPDATE: The full Q-and-A is in today’s editions (linked here).

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If the truth can set Marion Jones free, she’s about to find out.

The most famous female athlete of the 1990s won five medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics — only to return them after an admittance of performance-enhancing drug use.

She did her six months in federal prison for committing perjury and has put herself on the fast track to right her wrongs.

A new, non-tell-all autobiography that came out this week aims to let all those who may have known Jones since her days in Palmdale and Thousand Oaks that she’s changed. That’s also the message conveyed in a new documentary by John Singleton called “Press Pause” that debuts Tuesday on ESPN.

Measured now by her missteps and trying to attone in ways beyond the hours of required community servicel, Jones lives in Austin, Tex., with her husband Obadele Thompson and their three young kids.

Jones took some time last week to talk about a few things in her life — especially what she hopes to accomplish with her new book called “On The Right Track” (linked here) and how the public might react to the documentary about her (linked here).

A sample of the Q-and-A that will appear in Sunday’s newspaper and on our website:

Q: How have you been able to juggle all the family duties?

Jones: My family is doing great. The three kids – they’re 7, 3 and 16 months – I mean, life is definitely busy enough as a mom and a professional athlete and now as a writer. It’s an exciting time for my husband, too. Oba has a book, ‘Secrets of A Champion’ that has been printed and will come out soon. I really have a lot of positive things in my life and really feel blessed.

Q: In the book you wrote about a trip you took while in prison, on the so-called ‘ConAir,’ flown out to San Francisco to testify in a hearing. Part of the trip was a bus ride through Palmdale, where you grew up, on the way to a prison stop in San Bernardino. Have you had any chances recently to stop by any of your old homes so see how things are going?

Jones: Palmdale was where I went to elementary school, and obviously I didn’t get to see much of it on that trip. That really wasn’t very enjoyable. I’d love to get back more to Thousand Oaks and Rio Mesa on a family vacation, but that would be tough.

That all seems so far away right now.

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Q: There’s so much written in the book about the other women prisoners that you encounter at Carswell (right), giving their names, their stories, how you wanted to teach classes to help them better themselves. You’ve said you want to do more now to improve the conditions of women’s prisons. There’s an attitude that the people in prison are there to be punished so the conditions don’t need to be all the supportive. From your experiences, how can you help change that?

Jones: I’m so glad you asked about that. I’m really passionate at this point about the idea of prison reform. You know how people think, ‘They did the crime, let ‘em do the hardest time.’ OK, yeah, you’ve broken a law, you serve your time. But then they are released, and living amongst you, and you haven’t given the tools or resources to be better people, through educations or work skills, so they can provide for their families. Some of these women are in the institutions, and all they’re doing is wasting their time, doing nothing constructive. They’ll just revert to the same lifestyle because they don’t know anything else. It’s very sad.

I was blessed to be a college graduate and have the ability to see that they can do more if they’re given the proper resources, to be part of the community again.I’m doing a lot of research now about how we pour more resources into the federal system. I mean, this may seem like it doesn’t affect you. ‘No one in my family will ever end up in prison.’ But you never know, it could be your neighbor or your son’s girlfriend or someone you work with. You’ve got to have a vested interest in this as a member of society.

Q: So from any of your research, what do you think you can do to make a difference?

Jones: I’m in the process of looking for organizations that I can partner with, get their stories out there, share my experience, use my voice. When I was in prison, some of the women there talked to me and shared their stories with the hope that, because I have a voice on the outside, people will want to hear what I have to say.

Too many times, you’ll hear, ‘Aw, there’s just prostitutes or drug-heads or the bottom rung of our society in there.’ Before you jump to a conclusion and make any ignorant or rash comment, take a break – remember, that’s what I’m trying to get out there – find out what you can about the situation and make a smarter response. I’ll do whatever I can do to talk about awareness and change.

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