Suspended NFL star Michael Vick left a Kansas prison before dawn Wednesday to begin home confinement in Virginia, one of his attorneys said, the latest step on a journey that Vick hopes will lead to his reinstatement.
Vick, who turns 29 in June, slipped past waiting cameras and reporters undetected to leave a federal penitentiary in Leavenworth after serving 19 months for financing a dogfighting ring. He was headed to Virginia by car to begin two months of home confinement at his five-bedroom house in Hampton before a scheduled released from federal custody on July 20.
He was accompanied by his fiance, Kijafa Frink, and they were traveling back to Virginia with several members of a security team arranged for by Vick's team of lawyers and advisers, a person familiar with the plans told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
The drive from Leavenworth to Hampton is expected to take about 19 hours.
"It's a happy day for him to be starting this part of the process," Larry Woodward, Vick's Virginia-based attorney, said. "He looks forward to meeting the challenges he has to meet."
Ultimately, Vick's goal is to rehabilitate his image and return to the NFL, but Woodward said his first priority "is spending time with his children and his loved ones."
Vick, once the NFL's highest-paid player, is scheduled to report to a probation officer Friday in Norfolk, Woodward said. He will be allowed to leave home to work a $10-an-hour job as a laborer for a construction company and for other limited purposes approved by his probation officer. He will serve three years of probation after his home confinement ends.
Getting out of prison will allow Vick to begin rebuilding his life, repairing his image and working toward returning to the NFL.
Commissioner Roger Goodell, who suspended Vick indefinitely in August 2007, has said he will review Vick's status after his criminal case is concluded. He has said Vick will have to persuade him and the public that he is genuinely sorry for his crime, that he has been changed by his experience and that he is committed to leading a different life.
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Wednesday that Vick has paid his debt to society and merits a second chance. Blank said the quarterback is taking positive steps by wanting to work with humane societies and making other changes in his life.
The Humane Society of the United States said Tuesday that Vick met its president recently in prison and wants to work on a program aimed at eradicating dogfighting among urban teens.
"There's no question Michael's paid his debt to society, obviously," Blank said during a break at the NFL owners' meetings in Florida.
Blank, whose team still owns the player's contractual rights, said he has been in written communication with Vick since the sentence began.
Retired defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who played 13 seasons for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, also said Vick should be given an opportunity to resume his football career.
"We've always been a country of second chances. That's the essence of us, have some contrition for what you did, go pay your price and then come back and become a better person or a little different person, whatever it is," Sapp said last week.
Even if he is reinstated, Vick's NFL future is uncertain. He and the Falcons have parted ways, agreeing to a contract settlement that will allow Vick to sign with another team - if there is one willing to endure the wrath of some fans in exchange for a player who was perhaps the NFL's most electrifying performer.
A public backlash isn't the only risk. By all accounts, Vick has tried to stay in good physical shape, but there's no telling how much his skills have eroded after two missed seasons.
Vick said in bankruptcy court last month that he believes he can play another 10 to 12 years. The NFL career average is only 3.2 years and Vick already has played seven.
One certainty is that he will not command the kind of money he once earned. Vick supplemented his 10-year, $130 million Falcons contract with several lucrative endorsements, all lost because of the dogfighting. The minimum salary for a player with Vick's years of experience is $620,000.
Vick filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan that would have allowed him to keep the first $750,000 of his annual pay, with a percentage of any amount over that going to his creditors. A judge has rejected that plan, in part because of uncertainty about Vick's NFL future, and ordered him to submit a new one.
His bankruptcy lawyers have complained about the difficulty of handling Vick's highly complex bankruptcy case while their client was in prison 1,200 miles away. Having Vick back in the area should help them wrap up the Chapter 11 reorganization case.
Vick's startling fall began in April 2007 when authorities conducting a drug investigation of his cousin raided the former Virginia Tech star's Surry County property and seized dozens of dogs, some injured, and equipment commonly used in dogfighting.
A federal indictment issued about three months later charged Vick and three of his "Bad Newz Kennels" associates with an interstate dogfighting conspiracy. Vick initially denied any involvement, and all four men pleaded innocent. All four eventually admitted their crimes and were sentenced to prison. Vick's sentence was the longest.
The gruesome details outlined in the indictment - dogs were hanged, drowned and electrocuted - fueled public outrage but also brought unprecedented attention to the problem of dogfighting, prompting several states to tighten their laws.
However, some supporters also remained loyal to Vick, contending that while he made mistakes he was being singled out for harsh treatment because of his celebrity status.
Vick also pleaded guilty to a state dogfighting charge and was given a three-year suspended sentence.