107. Penance


California’s oldest prison houses some of the most dangerous men in America. These men, most of whom’s crimes cannot even be disclosed amongst the prisons populace, are all either doing life sentences or are on death row. It is, to all intents and purposes, the end for them. So why do a handful of these men find a sense of freedom and forgiveness that many of us, in every day life, struggle to see?

Every year, a select few inmates run the San Quentin Marathon. This marathon, which loops the inner prison yard just over 104 times, is often stopped by the sirens alerting all prisoners to hit the ground or pay the consequences; delivered by the gunmen in the towers. GQ recently published an incredible article that heard from some of the men running at the event. 

Darren Settlemeyer, who is 49 and is set to be released at 99 explains his involvement as:

‘I’m trying to be the best person I can be, with what I have left’ 

(GQ America, March Edition, 2016) 

43 year old former nurse, aptly named the Gazelle, on completing this incredible ordeal states simply that the entire time he is thinking: 

‘About my family, my kids, running for everybody…, uh my victims, everybody’ 

(GQ America, March Edition, 2016) 

In short, both men find a sense of redemption, freedom and peace from the run. They will likely die within the small walls of their cells and have no control over changing this reality. It is too late. 

Yet, they find fleeting freedom.

Cut to John/Janet, office workers, trapped behind their respective desk, hating it, daily grind, boring… Ergh. 

They feel utterly trapped, reports, finance, spreadsheets… They feel.. not unlike a prisoner in San Quentin. 

But they are free

They could walk out of the door and go to the beach at any time. They could walk out of the door and change their respective career paths to do something they find more valuable. They could walk out of the door with a smile and carry their lives to another continent. 

They are free. 

Yet, they sit silently at their desks  dreaming of a freedom that ‘the Gazelle’ in San Quentin can never have. 

Crippled by doubt and fear.

(Photo – Eli Woodbine, Toronto, 2016) 


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