Prison sports

Roosevelt grad Mark Hubbard helps keep the peace among prison population

2014-06-21T17:30:00Z 2014-06-21T21:01:31Z Roosevelt grad Mark Hubbard helps keep the peace among prison populationAl Hamnik al.hamnik@nwi.com, (219) 933-4154 nwitimes.com
June 21, 2014 5:30 pm  • 

MICHIGAN CITY | Mark Hubbard has been at the Indiana State Prison since 1990.

But the 1983 Gary Roosevelt High School grad is able to go home each night because his job is recreation director at the maximum security facility.

A physically imposing figure, Hubbard spent time in the Navy before being hired at the prison. He oversees a variety of sports available for the 2,452 offenders, and no two work days are the same.

"We offer a lot of exercise programs; passive and active sports programs ... competition and activities in basketball, softball, mushball," Hubbard said.

"We have runners. We have boxers. We have horseshoes, badminton, handball, volleyball, weights, pool. You name it, we pretty much have it here."

Hubbard said he held a "Biggest Loser" competition last year, and some participants lost as much as 40 percent of their body weight.

The 102-acre all-male facility is maximum security behind the wall and medium minimum security outside the wall, which houses 380 offenders.

This is no country-club lifestyle, however.

The Indiana State Prison is for offenders whose sentences are 30 to 50 years. Of the 14 men currently on death row in Indiana, 13 are here.

"We have a lot of good athletes here," Hubbard said. "We have guys who, if they hadn't done the things they did at that time, had a good shot at playing at some college level."

Basketball is the most popular activity, with NAIA Division II power Grace College joining Bethel College, Moody Bible College and Ancilla College as frequent visitors who compete against prison teams.

Hubbard shared a complimentary email from legendary Grace basketball coach Jim Kessler, who has more than 500 wins in 35 seasons. It read:

"We have never had any kind of ugly incident. The offenders play quite physical, of course, but that is fine. Never any cheap stuff — in fact, we are more likely to encounter dirty play vs. other colleges. The State team polices itself, because it does not want to lose the privilege to play outside teams."

Kessler said players traditionally form a mixed circle afterward, holding hands and having a member from each team pray. They hang around briefly, talking, and quite often Grace players know some of the offenders.

"We leave feeling blessed for our freedom and with a huge sense of compassion for our brother who made some really bad decisions," Kessler's email said.

The prison staff of 526 supports Hubbard's efforts to lessen the high stress of inmates and maintain a peaceful environment throughout the cell blocks.

"This gives the guys a way to vent or to exert energy," he said of activities offered. "They can go back in (the cell) and relax, plus it's a fairly nice form of competition.

"They all still love to compete, so there's a lot of bragging rights around here. It's all friendly, and it's very important they stay in shape and their body is fit."

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