Leyton Orient's Elliot Omozusi has told BBC Late Kick Off London and the South East he feared his football career would be over when he was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
The 25-year-old defender was sacked by the O's when he was jailed in 2011 for intimidating a witness in another case.
He rejoined Orient upon his release, having served 16 months of his term.
He said: "The day I got arrested and realised how serious it was I thought 'this could be the end of the road'."
The former England Under-17 international continued: "It was very humbling. It focused me and sent me down to earth with a bump.
"I was looking around thinking I'm going to wake up, because this can't be happening.
"As soon as the judge said 'guilty', bang, that was my lesson learned, straight away. I knew straight away that I messed up."
Omozusi described his time inside as "surreal" but he managed to maintain his fitness after getting a job in the prison gym.
He made six appearances for the League One side towards the end of last season after rejoining the club, and has been a regular in the side which is challenging for promotion to the Championship this campaign.
"I never forget coming back onto the pitch," he said. "It was unbelievable.
"Some people don't even get a first chance let alone a second, so I intend to take it with both hands."
The Hackney-born full-back has been heavily involved with community work for Orient after re-joining the club.
"We came to the conclusion that I have got a story to tell and I could make a difference and potentially help a lot of people," he said.
"We have been doing a lot of estate-based work, in schools and in youth clubs.
"I talk a bit about my personal experiences both being a footballer and going to prison and things like that.
"Growing up in the place that I did, a lot of them can relate to that. It helps me to stay humble, so it's definitely stuff I'd like to do a lot more of and continue to do in the future.
"The whole overall experience has definitely got me to what I want to do, to where I want to be and to the kind of example I want to set to others."
Omozusi has been nominated for the Professional Footballers' Association's Player in the Community Award for the work he does mentoring local youngsters.
Leyton Orient manager Russell Slade believes Omozusi's time in prison was a "real wake-up call" for the defender and has paid tribute to his work in the community.
"He's not in there feeling as though he's been pressed into doing it," Slade said.
"He just wants to do it, he talks about the path that he went down and the mistakes he made, he just doesn't want other people to make those mistakes."