NBA’s Memphis coach among those offering to help Sanford outside prison
From Motown to Memphis, people are reaching out to help Davontae Sanford piece his life back together.
Since Sanford’s June 8 release from prison after serving eight years for murders he didn’t commit, he’s been offered jobs, free driver’s training and GED tutoring. A community group took him on a clothes shopping spree.
While Sanford was incarcerated for a 2007 quadruple homicide he was charged with at age 14, he said he knew his family and attorneys would support him upon his release. But Sanford said he’s surprised by the outpouring of emotion from strangers.
“I literally have people walking up to me almost in tears. I had this one guy break out in front of me and start crying. I didn’t even know what to do. I was, like, ‘I could cry. ... Should I hug him? Should I say thanks for the support?’ ”
David Fizdale, head coach of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, said he also cried when he heard about Sanford’s case.
“For a 14-year-old to have his youth stripped of him in such a manner, it brought me to tears,” said the coach, who has no affiliation with Detroit, in an email.
He directed the team’s marketing department to contact The Detroit News to see if there was anything he could do to help Sanford.
“It made me think of how I would react if I couldn’t help my own son in this situation.
“I will work with the Grizzlies organization to do something meaningful for Davontae and his family. I don’t have any specifics so far, but I just want him to know that people will be fighting for him.”
Support for Sanford has come in many forms.
The Rev. W.J. Rideout of All God’s People’s Church in Detroit took Sanford and his family to a recent Detroit Tigers game — a come-from-behind 4-2 win over the Seattle Mariners, with the ballpark full of dogs for the “Bark in the Park” promotion.
Ray Winans of the Detroit youth mentoring group Keeping Them Alive recently sprung for new clothes for Sanford.
A Detroit News reader reached out offering to take Sanford sailing.
Another said he wanted to raise money to send the family on a Colorado mountain climbing trip.
Sanford smiled when told of the offer.
“I don’t know about mountain climbing,” he said.
Amid the whirlwind of activity after Sanford’s release, and while he awaits the charges to be formally dropped, family attorney Valerie Newman said she and Sanford are sifting through the offers.
“Right now, we’re concentrating on the things that will immediately help Davontae: clothes, job offers, things like that. Afterward, we’ll get to the fun things people are offering.
“A driving school called. Mentors are coming forward. There have been educational offers to tutor him. There have been job offers. Other people have reached out to try to find a place for him to live. The support has been wonderful.”
During a News interview with Sanford outside his former home on Beland, neighbor Jameel Blackshear, who moved into the neighborhood after Sanford went to prison, approached and asked what was happening.
When told who Sanford was, Blackshear passed on information about a possible construction job.
“I heard a little about (Sanford’s case), but I didn’t know it was him,” Blackshear said. “I know how it is after you’ve been incarcerated and you’re coming back into the world. I was locked up, too. You get frustrated when you can’t find a job.”
The offers for jobs and other opportunities are on hold as Sanford waits for his state identification card to arrive in the mail, Newman said. “It’s hard because until he gets that, he’s hamstrung,” she said.
It’s one of the bureaucratic hurdles all ex-convicts must navigate as they rejoin society, prisoner advocates say.
“It’s a pain for anyone getting out of prison, but for exonerees, it’s even worse,” said Ken Wyneimko, who served nine years in prison for a 1994 Clinton Township sexual assault before DNA evidence cleared him.
“When someone comes out on parole, the state will help get their ID, food stamps, job training. But when an innocent person comes out, you don’t get anything. Nothing.
“When I got out, a friend gave me a $500 check to buy some clothes. I walked up to the teller at the Comerica Bank and said, ‘I want to open up a bank account.’ She asked to see my driver’s license and Social Security card.
“Then she says, ‘Didn’t I see you on TV yesterday? You were in prison for something you didn’t do.’ I had a copy of the newspaper; I told her the only way I can prove who I am is this picture in the paper. She said that wasn’t enough.”
Wyneimko set up a foundation in his name to help those who are exonerated when they’re released from prison. “I give everyone $500,” he said. “It’s not much, but it’s a start.”
Wyneimko said he has a check for Sanford. “I brought that, and a bag with some clothes in it for him, to his press conference (at Total Life Christian Ministries Church the day after Sanford was released). But he took off before I could give it to him. So I still have $500 to give him.”
A change.org fund has been set up to help Sanford with living expenses. As of Thursday, $7,883 had been raised toward a $50,000 goal.
Fizdale said he feels obligated to help Sanford.
“I can’t even wrap my head around it, how a 14-year-old could lose his youth behind bars for something he didn’t even do,” he said. “I’ve always felt when I was in a public position, that I would help to bring light to a dark situation.
“This is all about Davontae. We need to do what we can to help him have a great life from here on out.”