For the incarcerated, athletics and physical wellness can become a pathway to rehabilitation and renewal
Sports are more than just sports. The reason why? Guys in prison use sports not only for health and physical fitness, but also as a tool to help them rehabilitate themselves and become better human beings.
Through sports, many people have elevated their lives from poverty, hard times and psychological abuse. Sports help them cope with the mental angst that a hard life can create. For the people in prison, the mental, physical and emotional aspects of sports are a pathway to reaching their goals and becoming the individuals they want to be.
The San Quentin Field of Dreams is located on the prison’s Lower Yard. On the compound you can find baseball, football and soccer being played; the basketball and tennis courts are filled with SQ residents competing and building brotherhood.
For other sports fanatics, the yard is peppered with spaces that we call “real-estate,” with sections for boxing, handball, the horseshoe pit and exercise bars. The 1000 Mile Running Club run lap after lap around the uneven track.
The Prison Ministry, an organization run by volunteers Don Smith and Bill Epling, bridge the outside sports world with the SQ prison population by bringing in an array of outside teams to compete and minister to the incarcerated on the life of Jesus Christ.
The San Francisco 49ers and the Golden State Warriors organizations tour the prison, courtesy of former SQ Chaplain Earl A. Smith, another person intrinsic to sports at the Q.
From the confines of San Quentin, we get to meet and compete against some great athletes. Famously, the Golden State Warriors and San Jose Earthquakes’ annual games against their front offices. However, COVID put a brief pause on these programs due to the prison’s various lockdowns.
Over the last two years, many SQ athletes have caught and recovered from COVID. They have worked to maintain healthy lifestyles by working out or just getting in some practice on the courts or on the field. Despite the hurdles of the pandemic, they continue to do what they can to try and maintain a positive mindset and stay ready for the day when the prison gates reopen and allow life behind the wall to resume some sense of normalcy.
Even when programming inside SQ is paused, sports are an integral source of inspiration for the guys inside. Prison residents have witnessed their favorite athletes become mediators and leaders of many different social justice movements. The incarcerated have watched some professional athletes use their platforms to protest and speak out against oppression and police brutality. Some have even gone to prison for fighting for their beliefs.
Furthermore, some athletes in the outside world have made bad choices that landed them in some challenging circumstances. But, they still found a way to rise above the ashes and succeed as athletes. For the people in blue at San Quentin, to see their resilience in the public eye is inspiring.
Athletes prove to the world that they too are just as normal as the rest of us—even from behind the wall. Because everybody makes mistakes and no one is perfect. However, an athlete’s ability to rise above the madness seems to always shine through.
With all of the highs and lows that come with loving sports, it is clear that, to all the athletes—free and incarcerated—Sports are more than just sports.