As part of an effort to reach out to the Special Olympic athletic community, inmates at the Sierra Conservation Center (SCC) hosted Northern California Special Olympics athletes in a friendly exhibition softball game. “People don’t expect a warm welcome when they come to prison,” but that’s exactly what the Special Olympics athletes got, according to a recent article in the Modesto Bee.
“This is part of our amends and a way of giving back, it’s also finding skills we had within ourselves that we never realized we had,” Ralph Contreras said.
SCC’s New Professionals rehabilitation and career development group has partnered with Special Olympics of Northern California in the past, but this is the first time that the nonprofit group has worked directly with inmates, the Bee reported.
“I think the athletes need to realize that everyone has their problems—some of them are by choices they’ve made and some are not,” said Judy Burton-Andrews, Director of Volunteers for the Special Olympics.
Some of the Special Olympics team members were nervous at first, according to the Bee.
Trepidation melted away despite the 14-foot razor-wire fences that surrounded them. And then it was just another day on the ball field, said Tuolumne County Special Olympics Area Director Dave DeCheney, the team’s coach.
Inmates at the men’s state prison just outside of Jamestown welcomed a group of about 30 athletes, coaches and family members with the Tuolumne County Special Olympics, the Bee reported.
Special Olympics sports training and completion opportunities provide athletes of all athletic levels the chance to play and be part of a team, according to The Union Democrat.
Staff with the Special Olympics of Northern California and Nevada strive to provide athletic opportunities to children and adults with intellectual disabilities, the Union Democrat reported.
The New Professionals program is one of the more than 40 rehabilitation groups that are held at the prison. Anger Management and Narcotics Anonymous were represented at the exhibition game, reported the Bee.
The opening ceremonies included an abbreviated torch run and the lighting of an inmate-made cauldron — complete with plywood flames. Inmates carried banners during a mock parade of nations.
“They are experiencing how they can change their lives. I’m proud of the other people. They did all this good stuff for us,” said Timmy Robertson, a Special Olympics athlete.
After the game, people at Sierra Conservation Center presented a donation to Special Olympics of Northern California and Nevada, said the Union Democrat.
“It took a lot of courage for the Special Olympics athletes to come to prison today and participate. And it took a lot of courage for inmates to step out of their comfort zones and volunteer,” said Edward Quintanilla.
The inmates raised more than $1,200 for the Special Olympics through business sponsors and community donations. The prisoners themselves donated $500, money earned while working 8 to 32-cents-an-hour jobs, according to the Bee.
SCC houses 2,500 inmates in three separate security levels. The Special Olympics athletes were on the highest security level, where many inmates are serving life sentences. All the prisoners were vetted and cleared by security, reported the Bee.