SAN QUENTIN (CBS SF) — Behind the walls of San Quentin State Prison, inmates are finding hope and help through a running club that’s been around for 14 years.

Frank Ruona coaches dozens of inmates several times a month at the prison’s 1,000-Mile Running Club.

“I admire the fact that they come here and work at their running. They work at trying to improve their lives,” said Ruona.

One recent day, Ruona introduced his athletes to visitors he brought in for encouragement: southern California’s Skid Row Running Club; many of its members formerly incarcerated.

Ruona’s trained San Quentin runners since 2005, when a prison educator requested volunteer coaches.

“Nobody responded, so I said, ‘Well, I’ll give it a try,'” Ruona recalled.

There was no track in the lower exercise yard so Ruona measured out a quarter mile around the baseball field. 105 laps is a marathon.

At San Quentin, Ruona’s brought the same techniques he’s used as track coach of the 700-member Tamalpa Running Club.

He ran with workouts, races, and even marathons to build self-esteem and teamwork.

Assistant coach Kevin Rumon says Ruona treats the inmates with respect.

“He is reliable, he’s solid, and when he says he’s going to do something, he’s here. And I think a lot of these guys maybe haven’t had that,” said Rumon.

To inmate Tone Evans, Ruona is a role model.

“It gives me more than hope. It reinforces everything I’m hoping to do, and hoping to be: it’s a life of service,” Evans said.

Ruona’s service extends to parolees:

When Markelle Taylor was freed in March, Ruona helped him get a job in construction, and trained him for races like the Boston Marathon.

“He’s been there all the way, like a father to a son. Very supportive, and very helpful and he’s been looking out for me,” said Taylor.

Ruona says he’s proud of dozens of parolees he’s advised over the years.

“It makes me feel good that number one, that they got out, and that they’re doing well on the outside,” Ruona said.

The coach says that he’s learned that he is his brother’s keeper and that he can make a difference helping people who want the opportunity to redeem their lives.

He’s also shared his experience and helped the Washington Corrections Center form their own prison running club in 2017.

So for coaching inmates through San Quentin’s 1000 Mile Running Club and beyond, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Frank Ruona.

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