Times sportswriter Al Hamnik's story on athletic facilities in prison Sunday contained some solid advice for youths from regretful prisoners. Heed their warning and step back onto the straight and narrow.
Indiana State Prison, where the new athletic facilities were built, houses male offenders whose sentences range from 30 to 50 years — and sometimes death. Thirteen of the 14 men on death row in Indiana are housed at that prison.
For prisoners, sports programs can provide a needed outlet.
"The recreation department helps a lot in keeping your mind from being idle and stuck in one place," prisoner Jory Peters said. "Sports helps you to compete so you still feel like a human being."
Peters played on Gary West Side High School's 2002 state championship basketball team. Now he is just a number, Offender No. 239215, while serving a 55-year sentence for first-degree murder. Peters is appealing his sentence.
Marcus Winphrie, who played ball at Mishawaka High School, also spoke of life behind bars.
"Sometimes, the letters stop coming. People stop answering their phone. You definitely feel forgotten," Winphrie said. "When those different sports seasons come up and you're competing against someone, it keeps you happy and takes your mind off other things."
Eric Davis, too, looks to the sports programs in prison as a needed break in the routine.
"Oh man. If we didn't have sports, I'd probably go crazy. Really," Davis said.
Winphrie offers some important, urgent advice for "street punks" who believe they are untouchable:
"This is not a place you want to be," Winphrie said. "I'm around people every day who are never going home. They're gonna die here, and that's a bitter pill to swallow.
"My best friend is here. He got 110 years, and he's only 28. I'm only 23, and I had my 18th birthday in jail."
For troubled youths headed in that direction, it's time for a U-turn before it's too late.
Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, clergy, educators and others must make sure troubled youths see this message. Don't be afraid to force them to hear it, even if you're uncomfortable doing so. This is a message that must be heard.