“Welcome to Hopkins parkrun, I don’t think anyone really wants to be doing a parkrun in here but let’s make the best of it.”
And that is how the third Aussie prison-based parkrun was launched. No press releases and no fanfare, just a committed team with the full intention of getting it right.
The Hopkins Correctional Centre is a medium-security facility which can care for up to 798 male inmates and is located near Ararat, 200km west of Melbourne. Entering Hopkins is reminiscent of entering an airport with x-ray machines and sniffer dogs. Regular visitors even have their eyes scanned as a part of the strict security procedures for identification. The Centre can at times go into lock down mode when a response is called for safety or security reasons.
The introduction of parkrun was instigated by the Centre’s General Manager Scott Jacques, with the Recreation Team doing all the hard yards to implement the program. While none of the staff had ever visited a parkrun, they had already caught the bug and were hopeful that there would be longer-term benefits with a regular and all-embracing physical activity and volunteering program.
The first steps started three months prior, before the General Manager had considered parkrun, with a Couch to 5km program that had more than 40 participants and luckily timed perfectly to finish a week prior to the parkrun launch. There had been talk of parkrun among the prisoners for several weeks and the excitement had steadily grown.
The facility is laid out with a Main Street and roads that link to the Industry Centres, however unless the inmates are at work or with strict approval they must remain on Main Street. The parkrun uses those off-limit roads for the five-loop course which makes parkrun a once a week opportunity to break the monotony of Main Street.
The launch morning commenced at 7.45am with a PA announcement that echoed within the eight metre high walls: “Could anybody who wants to parkrun today go to the Rec Office now.” Despite the chilly four degree morning the dark green-shirted participants seemed to appear from nowhere as they strode down Main Street toward their first-ever First Timers Briefing.
Some things never change as the 62 participants were given a course description, with the walkers and runners asked to keep left. However there was no mention of milestones, prams or dogs on a short lead.
Finally there was a simple ‘ready, set, go’ and at that moment prisoners became parkrunners. The Services Manager joined the Tail Walker for a loop before she helped to marshal. There were a mix of staff and inmates in the other volunteer roles too.
The parkrun itself was a big event for the Correctional Centre, but it was great that it was also uneventful with no security issues and the first finisher clocked at 19.05. The support from other staff and inmates was enthusiastic with many others promising to register for next weekend. And as with any great parkrun, there was a post-event brekkie and fruit was provided before detainees went back to their weekend routine.
At the debrief the Rec Team, other staff and parkrun volunteers took a very deep breath to reflect on the morning and the success. Yep, they got it right and overcame the multiple challenges faced.
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