MONDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2008 AT 01:29AM

Why I Run In Federal Prison

It’s 8:00 P.M. on Monday, November 24, 2008 and I’m winding down from a laborious day. Last week presented confinement and writing obstacles I hadn’t faced in a while. I’m pleased a new week has finally arrived.

Today the weather was unbelievably clear and sunny; not a cloud in the sky. Shelley, my favorite weather person on NBC Bakersfield’s 5:30 A.M. broadcast, promised today’s air quality and weather would be perfect. As usual, she was spot on. I had chosen the perfect day to embark on the longest run of my short running career, 16 miles.

The dirt track at Taft Camp ovals a softball field, baseball field, soccer field, basketball and tennis courts and a bocce ball court. Oh, I can’t forget the sand volleyball court and horseshoes. Inmates frequently debate the diameter of the track. Some argue three laps around is a mile while the rest say it’s 2-3/4. I don’t really care. To save time in my running journal, I figure 3 laps. I’ve never been able to keep a regular journal for too long, but I’ve religiously kept up my runner’s journal.

Since I arrived at Taft in April, I’ve run an average of four days a week. My routine is as follows: 12 miles on Monday; 10 miles on Tuesday and Thursday and 5 miles of speed work on Sunday. I headed to the track at 7:45 AM. to prepare. Once I began, I knew I could only be stopped by some strange circumstance, such as the Warden closing down the compound due to an inmate escape.

I placed two batteries in my Sony radio, said a little prayer and began. I’m an ordinary runner, a beginner. I don’t run to live longer or to impress anyone with my times. Running helps me live life to the fullest and helps me define and establish clear goals. I’ve found no greater thrill than pushing my body and mind to the limit. That’s the meaning of running and a metaphor for life.

This is one bit of advice I would give to someone who may anticipate a stay in prison. Achieve goals you once thought were impossible. Seven months ago I was miserable. Now I feel as if I’m an Olympic athlete with a bright future. If I can excel in prison amongst the concrete and steel, so can you.

Justin Paperny

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