In some ways, the races seemed like any other 5K competitions that take place every weekend across the country. The runners laced up their shoes and stretched in preparation for the run, affixing their bib numbers and hoping for fast times.
What set these races apart was where they took place.
In the first two weekends of May, runners gathered at five different locations in Minnesota and Colorado to participate in the Second Chances 5k, a race designed to draw attention to the challenges faced by men and women after leaving prison. While two of these races were in settings you might expect (a college campus in St. Paul; a park in Colorado Springs), three occurred in correctional facilities across the state of Minnesota.
“It was so cool to know that we were not alone,” said one racer participating at the Shakopee Correctional Facility. “Others were running at Concordia [University], Lino [Lakes Correctional Facility], and Stillwater.”
“I’ve never felt such unity within the prison walls,” another runner remembered. “All of us [were] cheering for each other.”
“For a brief hour I forgot I was in prison and felt fully human again,” said another incarcerated participant.
Those running outside prison were also moved by the event and the reason behind it. “I didn’t expect to learn as much as I did,” said one Minnesota participant. A Colorado runner expressed the hope that the race would produce “more awareness and [create] hope for the people incarcerated.”
Speakers at the Minnesota race included Jesse Wiese, Prison Fellowship’s director of community engagement and director of The Second Prison Project; and John Turnipseed, a former gang member, drug dealer, and pimp who is now a pastor. Both men talked about their experiences as former prisoners, and challenged those in attendance to take a stand for those struggling to overcome the “second prison” that prevents them from becoming productive, contributing members of their communities.
“Great speakers at the beginning,” one participant raved. “Positive vibe throughout.”
The Second Prison Project works to open doors for men and women who have paid their debt to society for past crimes. To learn what you can do to help unlock second chances for former prisoners, visit www.secondprison.org.