Chris Uggen's Blog: run jimmy, run

Monday, November 07, 2005

run jimmy, run

the ny times reports that jim deupree, a florida prison inmate, was assigned a number for last weekend's nyc marathon. mr. deupree would run "not through New York's five boroughs with 37,000 other entrants, but in the razor-wire isolation of the prison yard of the Jackson Correctional Institute. He would circle a dirt track, one that measures about two and a quarter laps to the mile, until he completed the marathon in about 60 laps. He said he had trained 50 miles a week and hoped to complete the race in four hours."

although florida prison officials were distrustful, i'm heartened by the story. i especially liked reading that new balance tried to send 80 pairs of running shoes to jackson prison. count me in for a half-dozen pairs if it will help prisoners get what i get out of running. in fact, i'll mail off my size 10 nikes right now if inmates can put them to use. on the basis of countless pre-race conversations but no hard data, i'm convinced that many runners are in recovery from something. running seems to scratch some kind of itch for them that they'd heretofore only reached through self-destruction.

at 14, i only ran when chased (which was not infrequent). still, i remember being completely transfixed by the jericho mile, a made-for-tv movie about a running prisoner. the setting was a dusty folsom prison and the recurring theme song was the stones' sympathy for the devil. the bassline is perfect for running -- gathering steam and confidence at an intense pace that is almost out of control. the jagged guitar solo at song's end somehow conveys the funky-good pain one feels at race's end. the protagonist, a murderer named "rain" murphy, was played by peter strauss, who looked and ran like a gnarly thirtysomething miler. well, at least he looked a lot faster than the skinny-legged boys playing runners in most movies. the critics also praise the jericho mile for its use of inmates in many scenes and for dealing squarely with the racial tensions at folsom, despite this gem of dialogue:

"Without me coaching you, without Captain Midnight filling your hoochy soul with funky inspiration, how are you going to be champion?" ~Stiles to Murphy

looking at the movie's stills, i'm starting to think it had a bigger influence on me than i had realized (studying prisons, running, bad 70s hair) . for some of us, running offers both the joy of wild freedom and the satisfaction of self-control. i can't help but think that at least some inmates might be wired in a similar way. run on, jim deupree.


At 7:47 AM, Blogger michelle inderbitzin said...

While i don't clearly remember the plot or the sparkling dialogue, I do distinctly remember seeing The Jericho Mile when I was quite young. It fits in my memory with other prison movies I saw in those formative years like Cool Hand Luke and Brubaker--maybe they were the start of my own interest in prison culture.

I think the NY Times story is really good--there's a lot going on there. It's even more impressive when you realize that Deupree is nearly 70 and is continuing to run in shoes that are literally falling off his feet.

It also shows the extreme distrust many prison officials have for the inmates. It's too bad that they won't allow donations of shoes or anything else that might improve the conditions of confinement and life inside. I guess it speaks to current ideas about the purposes of punishment; incapacitation is clearly not thought to be enough for convicted criminals.

all in all, a really interesting story and post--even for those of us who don't count running as one of our hobbies or pleasures.

At 9:02 AM, Anonymous chris said...

hey doc, i know that gary lafree is planning to show such films throughout next year's crim meetings in LA. i'll suggest the jericho mile if it is not already on their list. speaking of cool hand luke, i just read a profile on the young ex-prisoner who wrote the book and screenplay. he sounds a lot like one of the glueck men that laub & sampson document so well.

i'm sure there are logistical difficulties building tracks inside prison walls or fences, but it could have all sorts of benefits -- stress release that might aid inmate adjustment, sunshine to combat vitamin D deficiencies, and pride. it could even encourage civic reintegration: some minnesota prisoners have even organized walk-a-thons to raise money for children's groups or other agencies on the outside.

i was shocked at mr. deupree's shoes too. basic running shoes aren't that expensive to begin with, but they could be provided at close to zero cost. because runners discard good shoes so quickly, i could imagine organizing a shoe drive at major marathons -- people could bring their old shoes (and maybe get a powerbar in return) when they pick up their race packets the day before the marathon. some manufacturers would likely donate discontinued models, or sell them cheaply as well. in any case, i know that many prisons are removing weights from the grounds and looking for recreational alternatives. i'd love to pilot a running program.

At 9:59 AM, Blogger michelle inderbitzin said...

Hey Chris,

My guess is that getting shoes donated would not be a problem. Any obstacles would probably be coming from the institution (depending on the state, the particular institution, the people, etc.), and getting those involved to buy into the idea. I think it would take some creative spin to sell the running program you might pilot.

Two thoughts on directions to spin: first, my understanding is that weights are being removed because of the injuries associated with their use. If you could show, or at least strongly suggest, that running could provide health benefits without major risk of injuries, the potential monetary benefits might be compelling. Corrections' budgets are so strained, saving money on health care should be attractive to pretty much everyone involved.

Second possibility: given punitive attitudes toward inmates and the public's general fondness for boot camps, you might spin running programs in prisons as a discipline-oriented activity to those on the outside, while promoting it as something quite different to those on the inside.

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