The following post originally appeared on the Minneapolis Running website, and is reprinted here with permission.
Running is a communal activity. While we compete on an individual level, everyone I know agrees that running is far more enjoyable when done with others. It’s one of the only events I know of where amateurs and elite can compete at the same event, on the same day – where it is not uncommon for 15 minute milers to cross paths with the 5 minute milers. Runners, no matter their pace or professional involvement, encourage one another to become the best versions of themselves.
It is in this spirit and tradition of community and camaraderie, that the Second Chances 5k Run/Walk was born. The Second Prison Project, along with Prison Fellowship, The MN Second Chance Coalition, Concordia University, and the Minnesota Department of Corrections, is sponsoring a family-friendly 5k run/walk coming to St. Paul on May 1, 2016 in hopes to begin a movement to raise awareness and shed light on the hidden potential of men and women with criminal records.
When I was first made aware of this event, I didn’t know about the challenges facing those coming out of our nation’s prisons. After talking with Jesse Wiese, Director of the Second Prison Project, I was amazed to learn about the obstacles these folks face, and how running is a perfect metaphor and opportunity to launch this program.
What Is The Second Prison Program?
According to their website,
The Second Prison Project is a movement of people raising up a collective voice to eliminate the second prison in America and to promote the value of those with a criminal record through acts of service, advocacy, and leadership. It envisions a world with no second prison—a world where men and women are valued and freed to give back at their highest potential.
Did you know there are currently 65 million adults in the United States with some criminal record? It is estimated that 25% of the adult population in America has been touched in some way by the criminal justice system. Sadly,
“…It has become part of the American experience.” Says Wiese.
And while we could debate the politics of reforming this broken system, the purpose of this program is to help the men and women once they get out of that system to move on with their lives and become contributing members of society.
Wiese told me that there are,
“…over 44k legal barriers to a legitimate second chance in life… The entrance into employment is difficult, as is housing, volunteering, etc. In some states, the ability to get food stamps is near impossible.”
The real issue, as Wiese puts it, is the social barriers that people face. The perception and stigma attached is strong in the mind of the public.
Wiese himself has experience first hand of the challenges of those coming out of prison. After spending nearly eight years in prison and subsequently graduating from law school, he has devoted his life to helping society see the value of people who have made mistakes.
“I just saw time and time again, that when people walked this ‘second chance road’, most give up… not that they go back to prison, or start living a criminal lifestyle … but give up their simple dreams. Home ownership, jobs, families … around every turn there are many barriers and it’s very tiring. Many times, you seen men and women settle for that $10—$12/hr job with no benefits … eventually, with no retirement, the government is going to end up subsidizing their livelihood when they can’t take care of themselves anymore. …”
As a country, we have millions of people living in the margins who want to give back, who want to contribute at their highest potential, yet there are too many barriers that make it difficult for this to happen.
“Yes we believe [at the Second Prison Project] in accountability, responsibility, and proportional punishment… these are all important values… but we [as a society] need to see that punishment has an end, and allow people to give back at their highest potential.”
This is where the idea of hosting a 5k comes to play.
Why Minnesota And Why A 5k?
The Second Prison Project is based in Northern Virginia. In 2016, they are starting with two races (in Minnesota and Colorado). When I asked “why Minnesota,” Wiese told me that Minnesota is a very progressive state, and already has a few great things in place that make it easier to give people a second chance here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Their goal is for this to grow into a national movement, eventually establishing a second chance day in all 50 states, raising awareness and removing stigma.
“We chose a run because life after prison is like a race… it’s difficult, it’s hard, and you need people to surround you to be successful … The most important aspect of this race is that there is a finish line … in real life, there is just this long race and no finish line … you never really know when you’ve given back what is owed …”
The inaugural Second Chance 5k race will be held on May 1, 2016 at Sea Foam Stadium on the campus of Concordia University St. Paul. It begins at 9:00 am, with a pre-rally before. Unlike some awareness sorts of races, this one will be chip timed, with awards given out to top finishers.
Something else that’s special about—on the same day, at the same time, there will be two other events happening. The Second Prison Project has partnered with Shakopee and Lino Lakes Correctional facilities to host 5K events at the same time, where incarcerated people will be running for the second chance to be a productive citizen. It’s a way for us to show support and solidarity with those who can’t be there in person.
The Second Prison Project, Prison Fellowship, Concordia University, Minnesota Second Chance Coalition, and the Minnesota Department of Corrections are sponsors for these events.