You can count the incarcerated athletes of San Quentin among those who will be the happiest whenever “normal” programming resumes.
The ongoing COVID saga is putting the hurt on them in more ways than one – from their practices and games, to their training and conditioning, to their mental health and rehabilitation.
“These lockdowns are miserable,” said North Block’s Delvon Adams, “We don’t get to interact with the other ballers on the yard. It’s like if you was only ever talking to your girlfriend, and so then you start arguing.”
Adams is a standout player on the SQ Warriors basketball team and also the starting quarterback for this year’s championship-winning Madden football team.
He said he has to get creative to stay in shape during the COVID lockdowns, especially given the importance of cardio to his game, and the importance of sports to his well-being.
“Sports is an outlet for me, a way to have fun and help my mental. I put on all my protective gear, put on my ‘bionic knee’ – it’s like my armor – and then I go into battle,” Adams said.
He can be spotted during a game by his various ankle, knee, and elbow braces and sleeves, and even gloves and an N-95 mask.
Adams said he stays motivated by being grateful, always remembering some of the people he knows in prison are dealing with so much worse. Apparently, whatever he is doing is working, because whenever he is on the court or on the field, he’s always balling out.
The importance of sports to maintaining physical and mental health, as well as contributing to rehabilitation, is a consistent theme expressed by the North Block’s athletes.
“Sports is my release,” said San Quentin A’s baseball player Carrington “C” Russelle. “It’s been proven how much it helps with mental health. It really contributes to our rehabilitation and to our ability to stay motivated.”
Yet the frequent COVID outbreaks and restrictions are making it hard for athletes to get on the Lower Yard or compete with outside teams. And that’s on top of whatever physical damage they may have sustained from repeated COVID infections or complications during the course of three major outbreaks at the prison.
“I didn’t know how much it was affecting me,” Russelle said about the first COVID outbreak and its 14-month lockdown in 2020 and 2021. “I gained 20 pounds and it was hard for me to run more than one lap. My lungs and throat were hurting, burning like they were on fire.”
Tommy Wickerd, president of SQ’s 1000 Mile Running Club agreed, saying he has been frustrated by the all the setbacks as the prison tries to get back to normal.
“Twenty pounds on, 20 pounds off, 20 pounds on, 20 pounds off. It’s been really hard to stay in shape and have any kind of consistency in the program. It starts to affect you mentally,” he said.
He also noted the club really misses the presence of its outside coaches, and vice versa. Over the last two years, the coaches have only been able to come inside for a few practices and races.
Adams said SQ’s basketball teams were also suffering from not having the presence of teams coming in from the outside.
“We miss them 100 percent. When they come in, it’s like a visit for us. That’s my sports family. They bring good vibes and good energy; they give us hope,” he said.
Among the outside basketball teams that come into to play are members of the Golden State Warriors organization. Adams was part of the SQ basketball team featured in a documentary called Q Ball made by former Warrior Kevin Durant.
“Yeah that was a highlight, you know, being part of a program you don’t get nowhere else. People can ‘Netflix and chill’ and watch us play,” he said with a smile.
Incredibly, he noted the last time they played an outside basketball team was on Sept. 5, 2019, when Q Ball was being filmed. He said he’s tired of just playing the SQ Kings and the same guys from North Block again and again.
In regards to COVID protocols and outside athletes and coaches, Adams had a request to prison administrators, “Get ‘em back in. We need ‘em.