Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Christian Boulley was huffing and puffing, glistening with sweat as he paced down Bannatyne Avenue Sunday morning.
He’d run about 22 kilometres — a bit further than he’s used to — starting outside of the Stony Mountain Institution and finishing at a West End community centre, where he promptly laid down on the playground to catch his breath.
Of all the reasons people run, Boulley and a dozen others thought raising funds and awareness for prisoners’ rights and well-being — which have been threatened by COVID-19 — was a worthwhile one: the half-marathon was in support of the Prairie Province Prisoner Support Fund, organized by an Edmonton group called Free Lands Free Peoples.
"I’m not exactly a runner," Boulley said. "But this was a good cause, and that’s what motivated me."
Since COVID-19 arrived in Canada, there has been growing concern over the conditions within Canadian correctional facilities, which are often organized in a manner that makes physical distancing difficult to maintain. Five federal institutions had outbreaks of the virus, resulting in 360 positive tests and two deaths, the Canadian Press reported Aug. 8.
Jacquie Nicholson, one of the run’s organizers, said aside from those challenges, COVID-19 has likely meant prisoners, who often must buy personal products themselves and pay for phone calls, have less access to funds. The pandemic has also made it more difficult than usual for families and friends to visit Stony Mountain: the institution only resumed visits in July, and the distance to the facility often makes visiting impossible for people without readily available access to vehicles.
As well, those who are released often find themselves with limited support or money to afford basic necessities like housing, food or medical care; the pandemic makes accessing those necessities even more difficult than usual. As of Sunday, the prisoners fund had raised nearly $42,000 of its $50,000-goal.
"Our wildest dream is that we can help a few people coming out of incarceration into this very challenging situation," said Nicholson.
"We care about people in prisons. They’re our friends, our neighbours, and we want to see them do well," she added. "It’s good for the community to have basic needs met. It’s not good for the community to lock people up and release them into a pandemic with no support."
Rebecca Hume, an organizer with local prison abolition group Bar None, which provides rides to prison for families and friends who can’t otherwise visit correctional facilities, ran a 10-kilometre leg of the marathon.
"(During the run) I kept thinking about how this is just one hour of my life," she said. "It took me an hour to run half the distance to Stony, so being able to put my energy into that, knowing that some people don’t have the means to get there, it really put things in perspective for me."
Mark Cardy was the first to arrive at the finish line. He ran about five kilometres, starting at Egesz Street, and as he listened to the Call of Duty soundtrack and Deep Purple, he was thinking about the people he’s known, personally and in his capacity as a parole employee, who’ve experienced the isolation that comes with being behind bars.
"I’m thinking about some of the guys I work with, how much they miss their families, and that really resonates with me," he said.
"So as I’m running, it’s what keeps me motivated. It’s tough to run in the heat, but they kept me going."
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
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