Word gets around: West ‘raises profile’ as speaker to college football teams, lands book deal

Published 9:42 am Monday, July 9, 2018

By I.C. Murrell

Port Arthur News


BEAUMONT — When Alabama football coach Nick Saban gives a video endorsement of Damon West as a speaker, it speaks volumes to other college football programs in need of such inspiration.

When a publishing company approves of a story West penned from his days in prison to days of freedom, volumes could be sold.

“It’s a fantastic story of redemption,” said Alex Glass, West’s literary agent. “It’s not what Damon went through as far as his kind of success early in life and then his issues. Those elements of the story are incredible enough.


“What’s extraordinary is what did he after, and how he changed his environment to help him change his life.”

The fact that West is making the most of a second opportunity in life after serving only seven years of a 65-year sentence in state prison for his role in Dallas’ “Uptown Burglaries” isn’t breaking news.

West, 42, had spoken to four major-college football programs before Clemson — which has played Alabama in the past three College Football Playoffs — heard him last August. It was the recommendation of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, an Alabama graduate, that gave West a foot in the Crimson Tide’s door.

Since then, national runner-up Georgia, Tennessee, Florida State, Houston, North Carolina, Texas, Texas Tech, Arkansas and — this past Tuesday — Miami have welcomed West to their meeting rooms. His message is usually about becoming an agent of change, as a fellow prisoner once inspired him to do, and making good decisions in life, and he shares his story of going from Thomas Jefferson High’s standout quarterback to starter at North Texas before an injury ended his career, to letting an opportunity as a stockbroker for a Dallas office of UBS slip away because of his use of methamphetamine.

Following his prison sentence, West became a paralegal at Beaumont’s Provost Umphrey Law Firm and has spoken to high school students, civic organizations and prisoners, in addition to college football teams.



The son of a longtime sports editor, West will soon become a published author.

Post Hill Press, which has offices in New York and Nashville, Tennessee, recently offered West a deal to publish his first book, “The Change Agent.”

“I kept thinking every step of the way with my literary agent — and I had my editors look at it — I kept waiting for someone to say, ‘Well, we need to get a ghostwriter,’” West said, “but no one ever said it. So, the entire book is written by me.”

No publishing date has been set, but West expects the book to be released by next Easter, which is April 21. He estimates 375 pages of his draft were submitted to Post Hill.

“I typed it out double-spaced in Times New Roman 12, so that was the font and everything,” West said. “Originally, it was 450 pages. We chopped it down.”

“The Change Agent,” West said, gives more detail about his family — his father Bob, mother Genie and brothers Brandon and Grayson — and his hometown of Port Arthur. He graduated from Jefferson in 1994 in the same class with current Mayor Derrick Freeman.

“Port Arthur is in there a lot,” said West, who now resides in Port Neches. “I’m a product of my city and thankfully so. I talk to these college football programs, and I’ll tell the room, ‘You know, I was raised in a giant melting pot of a city, and that saved my life to be able to be in front of you today and not get sucked into that world in prison that everything is viewed through the lens of race.

“ … All my friends were everything under the sun. I’m thankful for Port Arthur for that upbringing I got.”

He remains thankful for his family and faith community, including Kolbe Prison Ministry, which allows him to share his message to prisoners, as well as Jefferson County Precinct 7 Justice of the Peace Brad Burnett and Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office investigator Marcelo Molfino for helping to give West a platform to become a speaker.



“This whole deal of mine has been a grassroots effort. They hear my story and they’re gravitated toward it because they see the value of it helping other people,” West said.

Just maybe, West’s story will land on a Hollywood screen.

“That’s our hope, absolutely,” Glass said.

Glass and West declined to give specifics about prospects for a screenplay, but West said he did talk to a screenwriter who was interested. Glass only added he was focused on the publishing element and would work on “the film process a bit later on.”

The blessings don’t stop there for West.

He also landed Paul Kreiter, an agent from American Program Bureau, a firm that represents celebrity speakers. In August, West will speak to the American Correctional Association. He calls it his most important speaking engagement to date.

“What they do is have guidelines for prisons,” West said of the ACA. “When I was in prison, I was a clerk. Every department I was in, I helped as a clerk to help the department become compliant with ACA. And now, I’ll speak to them as a free man.

“For me to be selected as a keynote speaker, my profile has definitely been raised from going to college football programs to corporate America.”

The gig is only fitting for someone pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice at Lamar.

“I’ve raised my profile as a speaker to also go out and go to law school one day,” West said. “I’ve always aspired to go to law school and be an attorney.”

Texas and Mississippi are the only two states that don’t allow convicted felons to practice law, according to West. Then again, nothing has stopped him from defying odds in his second chance.

“If I get to law school, I’ll find a way to make it happen. Look at my life so far,” he said.