Taking up running has completely transformed the lives of women at this prison, helping them overcome trauma and find freedom behind bars.
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These inmates are running 5ks, 10ks, and half-marathons as part of a running program for incarcerated women.

Gina Virgilio: ‘On the track, my mind has no tension, no stress, no dark thoughts. Some people say it’s a runner’s high. But I think it’s like almost like a meditative state or a oneness. I believe that. ‘

Sarah Hayes: ‘My view of the world has completely shifted. I come out of a run and I can handle anything. Like I used to think of little problems as so big and now they’re like ok well that’s not so bad.’

Gina: ‘You break your mental will. You do. On the half -marathon, that’s the one that I’ve ran, you can break barriers down in your own brain. I can go from rags to riches story. From jail to the Boston Marathon.’

Sarah Hayes and Gina Virgilio are both in prison for murder. They’re also participating in Running Free Alaska, a running program for female inmates.

Gina: ‘Had I not come to jail, I would have failed in life because I had no strength — mentally, emotionally, anything. I was doomed.

The first time I heard the word meth I think I was 20. I didn’t even know that drug existed. I was clean for like six months maybe seven months. I went to a barbecue and I knew there was gonna be drugs there. I tell myself like, oh you didn’t, but at the end of the day, I did. I got high. Never got that high before. It was a lot of meth I did. And after that night, something changed mentally for me. When you’re in a psychosis, you get messages. I got messages from every single thing. All day, every day. I was going crazy.’

Gina says she was in a drug-induced psychosis when she killed her boyfriend, Michael, in 2012.

‘My mental state was the same. Far after being here — many, many months.’

In U.S. prisons and jails, more than two-thirds of female inmates suffer from some form of mental illness.

Sarah Hayes: ‘I think I’ve always had trouble coping — never really knowing how to navigate life. When I was about 30, I got baby fever just so bad, and it seemed like everyone in the world was having babies. I spent my whole 40 weeks thinking any minute now the shoe’s going to drop, like something is going to be wrong. It kept me from any kind of attachment. When I delivered her I still had this detachment and I never got that kind of [sigh of relief] everyone talks about, you know, you’re just there, and you’re in love and the experience. I wasn’t at all there. It’s like something’s just weighted down The anxiety of it and just the uneasiness, like, this doesn’t feel right. And no one to talk to about it.’

In the midst of postpartum depression, Sarah killed her 3-week-old daughter, Pepper.

‘In the hours and days after, I didn’t get any of the relief that my whole body and being told me I would get. Nothing. It just got worse. It got worse. I was imploding, self-destructing, and coming here saved my life.

I had a really great attorney and she encouraged me. She’s like they have a running project. She’s a runner and she’s like you need join, you need to do that. I couldn’t even run a lap when I started but I was able to build up.’

Many mentally ill inmates don’t receive proper treatment, and their conditions often get worse.

#Running #Prison #CriminalJustice #Run #Women

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