President John Kennedy told us that physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body. Fitness also provides the basis for dynamic and creative intellectual activity. If our body feels lethargic and bloated, our mind doesn’t operate at the highest capacity. To reach our highest potential, we’ve got to treat our body as if it’s “our temple,” as leaders have advised for centuries.
With decades to serve, I adjusted my fitness strategies depending on my environment and the stage of my sentence. As time passed and situations changed, I changed my fitness routine.
While in the county jail, I couldn’t access a recreation yard. During those 11 months, I lived in a pod, locked in a cell or a “day room.” Those circumstances didn’t prevent me from working out alone, doing pushups, squats, knee bends, and running in place. I learned to live in jail and grow despite the restrictions imposed by the institution that held me.
After the US Marshals transferred me from the jail to federal prison, I saw the exercise yard. The yard liberated me with free weights and bars. A running track circulated fields for softball games, tennis, and basketball courts. The prison provided everything a person needed to get into phenomenal shape.
Yet resources alone do not lead a person into better physical shape. Each person must work to improve health. Some people train as if they’re Olympian athletes.
Other people didn’t train at all. They got fat and lazy.
I had turned 24 by the time I got to the penitentiary. Staying fit would become an essential part of my exercise routine. Exercise would strengthen me for the long climb through the 9,500 days I had to serve.
For the first several years, I trained with weights. Like others in prison, I
pushed myself with heavy weights, measuring progress on the bench press and squat.
By the time I turned 30, I wanted to change the routine.
Anticipating that prisons would hold me until I was 49, I switched from weight training to running as my primary exercise. For strength, I did pushups and some bar work.
When I crossed into my 40s, I increased my running distances. When I passed into my mid-to-late 40s, I began running marathon distances. I didn’t run fast. I ran long.
As with other areas of my life, I defined success at the start of the year, declaring how many miles I would run and how many pushups I would do.
I kept an ongoing journal, just as I encouraged Prison Professors’ program participants to journal their way to success.
That disciplined effort kept me on pace to improve.
Running marathons helped me to build the endurance it would take to persevere as I climbed through the final years of my sentence. When I walked out of prison in 2013, fitness remained a part of my life.
I couldn’t devote the same time as when I served the sentence, but I would step on the scale daily. Every day I would hold myself accountable and live by my goals.
A commitment to physical fitness helped me through 26 years in prison, and that disciplined strategy continues to help me today.
- What does a commitment to physical fitness mean to you?
- In what ways does your commitment to fitness contribute to your mindset?
- How can you measure your level of commitment to fitness?
- How has your commitment to fitness changed from three years ago?
- How would you anticipate your schedule to change three years after your release?
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