Chris Lewis, the former Guyana-born England allrounder, has been released from prison after serving six years for drug smuggling.
Lewis, 47, was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment in May 2009 for smuggling liquid cocaine valued at more than £140,000 into Britain hidden in fruit juice tins in his cricket bag. He was stopped at Gatwick airport after a flight from St Lucia the previous December.
A former basketball player, Chad Kirnon, was also found guilty.
“On a physical level jail has not been hard,” Lewis said after his release from High Down Prison in Surrey. “It’s a hard mental exercise to stop yourself from thinking negatively. For 24 hours a day you’re a prisoner. It’s nice to be back –– and I don’t mean being outside –– I mean back being me.”
Far from excluding Lewis from its midst, English cricket –– in the guise of the Professional Cricketers Association –– plans to work with him to educate young players. Lewis will speak to first year county professionals at next year’s PCA Rookie Camp and also join the PCA team on the Association’s programme of pre-season county visits.
This is the latest example of the PCA’s willingness to rehabilitate former cricketers who have committed a crime by involving them in education processes. Mervyn Westfield, who was found guilty of spot fixing, has also addressed young professionals about the dangers.
Lewis, who migrated to England as a teenager, retired from county cricket in 2000 after playing 32 Tests and 53 ODIs. Widely regarded as a talented maverick. He last played first-class cricket the summer before his arrest when he attempted a Twenty20 comeback with Surrey.
He worked for Nottingham City Council and was also involved with coaching in Slough when he retired in 2000 but admitted he became afraid of what the future held and he ended up making poor decisions that led to him being jailed.
“You are playing cricket, perhaps even hoping to get back into the England team, and within the space of a few months it’s actually all over,” he said. “There wasn’t a great deal of information around then for young players about what they should be doing or trying to do.
“Yes, you heard the stories about having to plan for your future because cricket doesn’t last forever but what does that mean?
“At the time I thought that planning was taking out a pension or taking out a life insurance which are things that I actually did. Standing here now you know planning is a lot more and it takes a lot more time and effort.
“You try different things to try to generate cash. You are not talking about the same level of cash as when you played. You are talking about a level of cash that, now you are living a normal life –– to sort that out. Coming back to play T20 for Surrey, that didn’t work and at the same time the old hips played up.
“I had spent a bit of money. I had been away to Australia to train to try to get fit to come back to do the Twenty20 so money had been spent and nothing had been earned. I became afraid of what the future held and at that point the thinking actually went awry.
“I made choices that I shouldn’t have made and that were the wrong choices and that, in the end. I should say sorry for because they were the wrong choices, and I do say sorry for.”
Jason Ratcliffe, assistant chief executive of the PCA, has remained in contact with Lewis throughout his time in prison and hopes that Lewis’s willingness to speak about his experiences will help current county players.
“Whilst we can’t ever condone the trouble Chris got himself into, it’s our duty to help our members wherever we can,” Ratcliffe said. “It’s time to move forward and his story will prove to be a strong message for all current and future professional cricketers.”
Lewis has been quick to express his gratitude.
“The PCA has been extremely supportive right from the beginning of this situation,” he said. “Going ahead, I would like to become a part of that, whether it’s giving advice or whether it’s just tugging on the grey matter to find out what happened at this particular time.
“If any of that can help any young player going ahead I am in. I am in 100 per cent.’’
As his career drew to a close, Lewis made revelations in the News of the World about spot-fixing within the England Test team, also claiming that he been offered money on behalf of Indian bookmakers to help fix an England vs New Zealand match at Old Trafford. He was not in the side at the time.