SAN QUENTIN (KCBS) — A group of inmates at San Quentin State Prison are chasing a chance at redemption by training to run in an annual marathon held behind prison walls.
Two dozen inmates, mostly lifers, gather on the roughly quarter-mile gravel track that circles the yard at San Quentin. Among them, 54-year-old convicted killer Clifton Williams.
“I’ve been running for a long time,” said Williams. “I mean, I was running before I came to prison.”
Williams has been in prison for 30 years. He was a sprinter in high school, before his life took a wrong turn. Now he runs miles, in circles, thinking about someday, going free.
“Keep my mind away from this place, you know, being locked up,” he said. “My mind is out there on the streets.”
On this day, the inmates’ track club is doing a six-mile run, training for the marathon they will run here in November. Christopher Scull, doing time for robbery, lets his mind drift to freedom, too. “I don’t really think about getting out, I think about my family,” said Scull. “Not so much I’m running from something, but I’m running to. I’m running to my family, my son, daughter, baby’s mama. Stuff like that.”
When they run 26.2 miles, they will have to make 105 laps of the prison yard, all while guards watch from towers. If it’s too cloudy or foggy for the guards to see, their runs are cancelled.
They’re all trying to catch Markelle Taylor, the fastest man in San Quentin. Taylor ran track at San Mateo High School. Now he’s 43, serving 15-to-life for second-degree murder. He’s had lots of time, to think about what he did.
“It’s not about me anymore. It’s about all the victims,” said Taylor. “I’m a victim, and then, people that I’ve caused harm to and everybody I’ve victimized and everybody who was victimized. I dedicate every run, every mile, every half-mile, every quarter, every inch to them.”
Krissi Khokhobashvili with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said every mile these men run is time kept out of trouble.
“Some people might not appreciate seeing inmates, quote-unquote, having a good time,” said Khokhobashvili. “But there are lots of benefits to positive programs like this.”
Their volunteer coach, veteran Marin County marathoner Frank Ruona, doesn’t dwell on what his athletes did to get here. He just sees their steady improvement, and their pride.
“Guys here who when they started had a tough time running a couple of laps, and they’ve finished marathons,” said Ruona.
Taylor shattered the prison record, and he and his fellow inmates are six miles closer to freedom. “I feel like I don’t want to miss out,” said Scull. “I missed out on enough. So I really run like I am focused on that goal.”
To a man, these imprisoned runners say they run for redemption, and dream of freedom – seeing their families again, kicking themselves for winding up on the wrong side of these walls.