Prison sports

Sports program at Indiana State Prison provides needed outlet for inmates

2014-06-21T20:00:00Z 2014-06-23T17:50:12Z Sports program at Indiana State Prison provides needed outlet for inmatesAl Hamnik al.hamnik@nwi.com, (219) 933-4154 nwitimes.com
June 21, 2014 8:00 pm  • 

MICHIGAN CITY | Jory Peters played on Gary West Side High School's 2002 Class 4A state championship basketball team that went 23-4 and featured three Division I players.

Today, he sits almost unnoticed in a cell block at the all-male Indiana State Prison, sentenced to 55 years for first-degree murder.

Peters doesn't have a name, anymore. He's simply known as Offender No. 239215, with memories of those special high school years as his only link to the outside.

Indiana State Prison is for offenders whose sentences range from 30 to 50 years. Of the 14 men currently on death row in Indiana, 13 are housed at the Michigan City facility.

For many of the 2,452 men behind bars there, recreational sports help pass the time and keep them from going stir crazy.

Peters is no exception.

"The recreation department helps a lot in keeping your mind from being idle and stuck in one place," Peters said. "Sports helps you to compete so you still feel like a human being."

Peters' is in his ninth month at the prison. He is appealing his sentence.

Basketball is the most popular activity offered at the maximum security facility, and college teams that come to play the offenders are a highlight of the program.

"It's the same great feeling you get in high school," Peters said.

"You still get that adrenaline rush. If we didn't have that recreation department, it would affect my mind. It would affect my heart. It would really damage me."

Indiana State Prison, spread across 102 acres, is old. It opened in 1860 and cannot hide its age inside or out.

The recreation center currently is being renovated, with $18,000 spent on refurbishing the gym floor, while work on the steel support beams is being done by the prison's steel and metal shop. Those costs are absorbed in-house.

"But once the gym opens up and teams start coming in, you'll feel like somebody again," said Peters, thankful for outside activities as an alternative.

'Oprah' making the best of it

Marcus Winphrie played basketball and football at Mishawaka High School. He is serving the sixth year of a 34-year sentence for kidnapping, aggravated assault, assault and escape.

Winphrie laughed as he recalled how a middle school coach used to call him "Oprah" in gym class years ago.

Not that he expects the general public to give him a second thought, he calls the sports program at the prison "super important" and is grateful to have it.

"Everybody has days when you wake up and you're just angry or stressed out, or something might be going on at home — and we're pretty much helpless here," Winphrie said.

"Sports is an outlet for that anger and frustration, so you don't go back to that violent past because you're so tired after working out, all you want to do is go back to sleep and you forget the pain and stuff you feel."

The regular visits by college teams from Grace, Bethel and Moody Bible will brighten any day, Winphrie said.

"I love it. It's like when you're in high school and you've got a game," he said. "You get the butterflies. Your family and the people you care about aren't really there to root you on, but you still feel that.

"Plus, because we're in Michigan City, a lot of those (college) teams have people I know, that I grew up with, so it's even better. They get to see you after years of not seeing you and they know you're not just rotting away."

Winphrie's smile disappears when asked about the most common questions from those college teams.

"When am I coming home? Is it as bad as people say, with people dying here all the time?" Winphrie said, adding loneliness can beat a man down if he lets it.

"Sometimes, the letters stop coming. People stop answering their phone. You definitely feel forgotten. When those different sports seasons come up and you're competing against someone, it keeps you happy and takes your mind off other things."

Inmates offer advice to 'street punks'

Eric Davis is one of the more fortunate inmates.

The Penn High School grad said he has three years remaining on a reduced 25-year sentence for burglary and escape.

Davis appreciates the many activities available.

"Oh, man. If we didn't have sports. I'd probably go crazy. Really," Davis, 28, said. "And I can only imagine the people who have a lot of time (to serve) here.

"We're in an environment where the testosterone level is sky high. Summertime, for whatever reason, brings a lot of animosity, and sports help get rid of a lot of it."

Winphrie has a warning for all those "street punks" who think they're untouchable: Think again.

"This is not a place you want to be," he said. "I'm around people every day who are never going home. They're gonna die here, and that's a hard 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."

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