The New England Patriots had a few special guests watching practice Wednesday, but blending in with corporate partners, college coaches, and Jon Bon Jovi was William Allen – invited on behalf of veteran safety Devin McCourty.
Allen spoke to the team about managing life's up and downs, self-improvement and the power of changing your mindset. It would have been an inspirational visit for anyone, hearing from a man who was sentenced to life in prison without parole at just 21 years old, who then turned his life around to receive a commutation almost 28 years later.
But for McCourty and the Patriots, without their help, the man before them might have still been confined at the Old Colony Correctional Center.
"When you see something like that and you realize this guy was in prison for 28 years, and all of us getting involved, he's now free a year and some change later," McCourty said after minicamp.
"I wanted the guys to get a chance to see him and talk to him, because all these guys signing their name, getting involved, was a big difference in (Allen's) life. I think for him to come and thank them, and for them to see something they committed time and their name to come full circle and see that impact, that was amazing today."
McCourty first became aware of Allen's situation through Tahsaan Hall, a former director of the ACLU of Massachusetts' Racial Justice Program.
Allen was convicted of first-degree murder in 1997 after a jury found him to be a joint venturer in a 1994 armed robbery that turned fatal. The killer, Ronaldo Perry, plead guilty to second-degree murder and was released on parole in 2011. Today, Allen would not have been prosecuted for first-degree murder or sentenced to life without parole due to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's 2017 decision on Commonwealth vs. Brown.
Even before the change in law, though, Allen decided to make a change. He took accountability for his part in the murder and participated in numerous rehabilitative, educational, and service programs in prison since – despite not seeing himself ever getting out.
Admittedly, McCourty didn't see a light at the end of the tunnel either but used his platform to advocate for Allen anyway.
Several Patriots coaches, staff, and players signed a letter urging Governor Charlie Baker to recommend Allen's commutation. This past January, a clemency petition was granted.
"He's like so many other people," McCourty said. "One bad decision that at 20 years old changed his life. I think the beauty of it is that all he cares about is his story helping somebody else come out of prison and get them from behind those doors. That's all. When I watched his testimony he said, 'I'm here to not just walk through the door, I want to break the doors off the hinges so that everyone behind me can get their sentence commuted.' If you've been in prison 30 years, and you've been rehabilitated and done so many different programs, he gave so many different men and women hope."
It was a great lesson for the Patriots, who either took part in Allen's cause last season or saw how their new teammates could drastically change someone's life.
But for anyone, the pep talk at practice gave tremendous perspective.
"He really sees all the bright side of everything he went through," McCourty said of Allen. "And it's the reason he's the individual he is today."