We run a lot of races here at Run Oregon. But some of our proudest and most amazing experiences happened with the walls of the Oregon State Penitentiary at their monthly races “inside the walls”.
We just received word that registration for the 2019 season is now underway and that attendance has dropped since we first covered this story back in 2015 (which was subsequently added on to by Runner’s World and then KATU). For a few years afterwards, they were maxing out at their 20-person limit, but have been down to 3-4 since then. We STRONGLY encourage you to read our historical previews and both Matt and Teresa‘s recaps to gain some perspective and take the challenge yourself.
2019 will again feature six Friday 5k/10K races and one half marathon. All race times begin at 1130am (show up between 1015 & 1045am) and the Annual High Wall Half Marathon will start at 8am (arrive by 715am). The full schedule is:
- April 26th
- May 17th
- June 7th
- July 19th
- August 16th
- September 6th (Half Marathon)
- October 6th
Some other details (see the end of this post for more details):
- All events are free of charge
- Per the supervisor of the program: The supervision level is direct and vigilant but accommodating.
- Both males and females are able to attend, but must be over 18 years of age
- No headphones or cell phones allowed
- No blue, camouflage, or muscle clothing allowed. Modest dress only. Consider bringing an extra set to be sure.
- No physical embrace with the inmates, but handshakes are OK.
Here are a few snippets from our experiences:
As you’re waiting for the run to get started, the inmates mingle and introduce themselves. Every single inmate I chatted with was friendly, respectful and incredibly grateful. Honestly, I would never have known they were in prison, except for the setting and their assigned prison blues.The men I spoke with were polite, articulate and quickly put me at ease; they didn’t deny they had made mistakes.They did want to be seen as people, though, and this program provides that opportunity. Inmates and Outsiders running alongside each other…
I thought it was a crazy suggestion to go run in the Oregon State Penitentiary and you can imagine what my family and friends thought, but I’m so happy I listened and ran with my heart. It’s hard to explain what makes this run so special, I think you have to just go experience it for yourself. No one will ask you to be their pen pal, for your phone number or make you feel in any way uncomfortable. They are simply grateful that people are willing to take the time to come run with them and their gratitude shows. If you can find happiness inside the gloomy walls of the penitentiary, I think it’s a sign you can find happiness anywhere and maybe that’s what I love.
The support of the inmates was unlike any I have ever experienced…With each lap, and each time I lapped a fellow runner, I was met with a hearty congratulations and encouragement to keep it up. A constant barrage of being cheered for by name for 40 minutes was pretty incredible stuff.
I noted that, at times, the two women participants ran alone and sometimes side-by-side with inmates. As I passed them, I could hear them just chatting – about life inside and outside the walls – without incident and with care and compassion for each other. It was a two-way street. As we were walking out, the women expressed their glowing experience to me and stated how glad they were to run within the walls. They never felt threatened or made to feel awkward in the least – quite the contrary in fact. They vowed to return.
The one constant question that people have been asking me since the run is, “do you know what they were in for?” The funny thing about it is that I initially thought this would be the only thing on my mind. But in the end, I ended up never really thinking about it. I mean, it’s a prison – there is a reason why people are there. But, for at least an hour or so, it didn’t really matter. It was just like any other race; an opportunity to meet people, interact, and have a silent bond of “being a runner” and accomplishing a common goal with complete strangers. We were just people – just runners – and that’s exactly what these guys are hoping for an hour each month.
Do yourself a favor this year and get to one of these events. You will be better for it and will NOT forget it.
The Oregon State Penitentiary Running Program (Salem)
When: 1130a on the above listed Fridays
Where: Oregon State Penitentiary
Register: FREE; Participation is by application only (See Below for FAQ’s and Registration Info) Please note that deadline for registration is 7 days prior to each race and will require a background check. Fill out and email it to:
Steven Finster, Athletic Club staff supervisor