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Saturday, October 18, 2008

2008 Race for the Cure at Coffee Creek Correctional Center

For the past year Trisha has been volunteering and mentoring at Coffee Creek Correctional Center. This is her story of getting involved and how it lead to a new tradition of a 5km Race for the Cure event at the prison.

Prison for me all began with a dog named Chewy.

In September 2006, both my kids headed off to school and I was asking God what I should do with my newly discovered free time. Somewhere in the back of my mind, the idea of teaching a computer or business class in prison surfaced. I don’t know why God placed prison on my heart. My only previous experience with Department of Corrections had been when I took a wrong turn while going to Ibach Park. I accidentally ended up at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville thinking the lights and expansive parking lot must indicate that the kids and I had arrived at the park. NOT!

I shared to my friends a desire to get involved in some way with the prison and the female inmates. All too soon it was May and I still hadn’t made any effort to move forward. Marnie, a friend of mine kept prompting me to take action and contact the prison, but I brushed her off: I was too busy, not prepared, I’ll do it next month.

Turns out God was getting tired of my excuses too. In June, Darin was running a race on Father's Day in Tigard. While we were at the finish line waiting for him, the kids spotted a puppy, Chewy, and couldn’t resist petting and playing with him. I exchanged smiles with Chewy’s owner, a petite Korean woman, named Christina. We shared that usually we were both at church on Sunday mornings. Christina then began to tell me about her ministry with Oregon Women’s Prison Ministry (OWPM) and her calling to "love on" female inmates. I mentioned that during the past year I had been thinking about getting involved somehow at the prison.

This was more than enough of an opening for both God and Christina. Christina immediately told me I needed to come to prison with her, in fact she could arrange for me to go that very week. I was somewhat taken aback – I mean things aren’t supposed to happen this fast and of course I felt I still had to ponder and pray. Really it was just continued inaction on my part, but thankfully God is patient and persistent.

I met with Christina over the summer. When the kids were back in school again, I joined OWPM, volunteering with the female inmates every week during the Tuesday chapel services in the medium/maximum security facility at Coffee Creek.

This past spring, at the request of some of the inmates I met, I started a jogging group. We call it a jogging group since the term ‘running’ has other connotations in the prison environment :-) .

This group is not connected with OWPM. My dream for the jogging group was for us to meet and jog together out on the prison yard, but due to safety concerns about having a volunteer on yard with the general prison population, this was not an option.

So I meet with 12 inmates twice a month in a classroom setting. We’ve covered topics such as nutrition, speed work, hydration, and the Olympics. The women ask me questions about topics such as injuries, protein drinks, running shoes, that I then research for them.

The inmates record their mileage in jogging journals and I must say they are an inspiring group of ladies. They jog on the prison yard, which basically consists of a concrete ‘sidewalk’ around a patch of sand and some picnic tables – I so want to take them out on the trails, since their scenery consists of rows of chain link fences and razor wire. Ten laps around the yard equals a mile. And if an inmate is in lock down and can’t get out to jog, some of them do their jogging on the spot in their cells. The inmates have aptly named our group the Concrete Gazelles.

In August we were discussing upcoming races and the group mentioned Race for the Cure. I asked if they wanted to participate in the race and all of them were enthusiastic about it. Of course we would have to do the race on the prison exercise yard. I talked to the Coffee Creek program administration staff and they were extremely positive (big thank-you to Liz and Amanda) – we were even able to offer the inmates ice water (something that isn’t normally available). And since the yard would be only open to race participants, I would be allowed to jog with and support the women. Once again I was amazed at how fast everything came together – we only had approximately a month lead time to coordinate the event and everything went incredibly smoothly.

Next I talked to the Susan Komen Foundation (Race for the Cure organizers). They were extremely positive (a big thank-you to Caity McKean). Since the inmates have very limited funds, the Komen Foundation offered a reduced registration rate. I really didn’t want this to be a free event. The goal was for the inmates to take it seriously and have pride in giving back to the community.

We put the word out in the inmates’ newsletter and over 75 women signed up and they raised close to $400. It was a blast for me to go down to the Race for the Cure expo and pick up all those race numbers. Due to prison regulations the women weren’t permitted to have the race t-shirts or commemorative pins, but they were allowed to keep their bib numbers and the signs on which they could write who they were jogging in memory of/celebration of.

We were able to do the race the same day as the outside world, on Sunday September 21 at 1pm. Decked out in an orange safety vest and wielding a ‘Go Girls’ sign, I was honored to be out on the J/K yard to jog with and cheer on the women. I taped their numbers (no safety pins allowed) on their shirts and poured out cup after cup of ice water. The inmates did 31 laps to make the 3.1 mile race distance and it was very cool to see many of them work hard. And even more exciting, one of the inmates participating was a breast cancer survivor. It was a treat for me to jog with the inmates from the jogging group and talk to them about their running experiences. In the end we made a high five cheering line for the last of the women completing the race and some of the inmates asked even me to sign their bib numbers.
The positive attitudes and excitement demonstrated how such an event can bring people together, whether inside or outside prison walls.

Thank-you to all who were praying and supporting us and the event.
Please let me know if you have any ideas for running related topics that I can discuss with the group or good running related movies (Darin's note: running related movies link here).

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