The Sacramento Kings showed love to Folsom State prisoners during a special night of community healing. In a circle within the prison chapel, they shared life experiences before celebrating Folsom’s newly renovated outdoor basketball court.
Kings players, owner Vivek Ranadive, coach Luke Walton and others joined filmmaker-turned-social activist Scott Budnick to hear personal stories from incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals at the Play For Justice event Dec. 12.
“My recent visit to Folsom State Prison hit me in the gut in a wayI have rarely felt before,” Ranadive wrote in a Sacramento Bee op/ed. “140 years of captivity, fear and hopelessness hung in the air.”
Similar to San Quentin State Prison’s style of public tours, the out- side visitors, including Sacramento City Council member Steve Hansen, walked through one of Folsom’s housing units—to see for themselves how California treats its prisoners.
“The men—two to a cramped cell that looked like a cage—stared at us with hollow eyes,” Ranadive wrote. “I know there are victims on the other side of the equation…
“But seeing men in such conditions is something I will never forget.”
What seemed to move Ranadive the most, however, was the time spent in the circle listening to voices of incarceration.
“Each person spoke with honesty and integrity—more than I encounter in daily life,” he said. “There were no excuses.
“Each took complete responsibility for their actions and—even when the hope of leaving prison was slim— worked hard every day to better them- selves.”
Organized through Bud- nick’s REPRESENT JUS- TICE, the Play For Justice group also featured former Kings center Vlade Divac, current Kings forwards
Trevor Ariza and Marvin Bagley III, developmental coach Rico Hines and others.
Ariza pointed to prisoners in their cells and noted how some were physically bigger than him yet unable to fully stand up within their own living spaces.
The Represent Justice Campaign launched itself alongside the Budnick- produced film, Just Mercy, which co-stars Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan and Sacramento native Brie Larson.
Larson and the cast intend to participate in future Play For Justice initiatives, reported The Undefeated, an online publication.
“We know that showing the humanity, resilience and transformation of those be- hind bars leads to more empathetic and humane laws— and a system more rooted in justice and rehabilitation,” said Budnick, as quoted by The Hollywood Reporter.
Represent Justice and Budnick later delivered a Christmas treat to 11 young men and women housed at the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, taking them by bus on a field trip to the Los Angeles Lakers’ practice gym Dec. 23.
Lakers forward LeBron James and Just Mercy ac- tor Michael B. Jordan hung out with all the youths and joined them in a roundtable discussion.
Later the kids split up into 5-on-5 Play For Justice teams, coached by former Laker Champions Robert Horry and Metta World Peace, and played ball on the training facility’s hard court.
“Many of the [visiting youth offenders] said it was the first time they felt free in years,” said Budnick. “The day was a reminder that people cared about them.
“They felt heard, loved and had a sense of hope and inspiration for their futures.”
The Kings’ Folsom event had also included a Play For Justice basketball game— right there on the prison yard. The game showcased a restored outdoor court under a newly added pavilion roof complete with full-scale lighting.
“We’re proud to be the first participant in the Play For Justice initiative, which is shining a bright light on the unique issues facing incarcerated people in communities around the country,” said Ranadive.
The Milwaukee Bucks plan to bring Play For Justice to correctional facilities throughout Wisconsin, starting in February and featuring Bucks guards Sterling Brown and George Hill.
Brown currently holds a civil lawsuit against the city of Milwaukee, after the po- lice used a stun gun on him during a publicized arrest for allegedly double-parking in a disabled person spot.
“My teammates, coaches and I are honored to take part in this unique criminal justice initiative to hear the stories of our community members and the challenges they face on a daily basis,” said Brown.
Nike also came on board to donate shoes and other gear to the incarcerated Wisconsin athletes, whose families will be allowed to come watch them play.
“We are looking forward to sharing in this experience with them while also identifying how we can further this important conversation nationwide through basketball,” added Brown.