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Another day in Prison

David Yon, April 27, 2012 

Ninety runners took part in the Gadsden 5K run — inside the Gadsden Correctional Facility on The Field

On this day we run — as one
Merging one step at a time,
The differences float away.

For a morning we all glide
Inside the razor wire,
One group on the run.

It is counterintuitive, that moving through the security screens, through the locked gates and inside the razor wire could make you feel so free.  A little over a month ago I wrote about a visit we made to the Gadsden Correctional Facility to talk with the prison running club.  The all-women’s prison has a core of women dedicated to running, thirsty for knowledge and eager to prove themselves.  Their immediate goal was to escape the quarter mile around “The Field” that is their running turf and compete in a 5K that covered the most ground possible. 

Life is so complicated so often.  It is one of the great treasures of running though, that when you put on a pair of shorts and running shoes the complications fade away and barriers between people break down for awhile.  Our occupations, our mistakes, even our misdeeds give way to the joy of being in motion. 

The bond between the 18 runners from outside and the 72 inside formed quickly.  The 18, mostly GWTC members, gathered in the prison’s administrative office, most with at least a small case of nerves.  After all, at least two gates would lock behind them.  But the look of delight and anticipation on the faces of the resident runners put most of the visiting runners at ease.  Within a few minutes of arriving on The Field, runners were mixing and chattering away. 

And then Mary Jean was shouting: “ready, set, go.”  In mass, 90 runners began to circle the familiar ground of The Field.  And then the first bit of magic happened.  Just before the runners completed the circle around the field, a gate that normally stays locked to restrict movement was opened, and instead of breaking to the right for another loop as the runners usually had to do, they ran through the open gate.  For those of us who run the streets and trails of Tallahassee unlimited, it may not have seemed like much.  But if you were there, you could feel the electricity in the air.  As GWTC runners Sheryl Rosen and Chuck Davis led the crowd through the gate the runners became a group.  Behind the leaders, Teesa Strand, Angie Willis and Casey Commander were determined to show they were strong racers and they did just that by finishing first, second, and third among the residents and third, fifth and seventh overall.

Sheryl was a hero before she even arrived on the scene.  While marking the course the week before I had told the women about the fast woman who had promised to run.  They had set up betting pools as to how fast she would run, how tall she was, how much she weighed and more.  After the race, women crowded around her peppering her with questions.  She answered as many as she could with a huge smile.  Dana Stetson, Jeff Bryan and Anne Priddy ran with inmates and encouraged them every step along the way.  And the warden, he probably ran closer to five miles.  He ran one runner in and then went back to get another and another until the last one crossed the finish line.

As our group was being led out of the prison, after all the celebrating was done, someone asked the warden, “Isn’t this a lot work?”  He quickly answered “Yes, but I think it is worth it.”   And then the runner asked an even better question, “Isn’t this risky for you?  What if something goes wrong?”  The answer came quickly.  “Yes, but I am not afraid to take a chance.  Not if it can make a difference in someone’s life.”

Thanks to you, warden, and to Traci Norris for giving us the chance to be part of that program.  Can’t wait for the next chance – when Traci joins us running!