Embrace Joy and Love on Your Run

09:58 17.09.2023

Markelle Taylor, also known as "Markelle the Gazelle," recently returned to San Quentin State Prison, a place he was once overjoyed to leave behind. Accompanied by volunteer coaches from the prison's 1000 Mile Club, Taylor, who had been incarcerated for 18 years for second-degree murder, couldn't wait to see his brothers - fellow lifers. Taylor earned his nickname in 2019 at the San Quentin Marathon when he qualified for the Boston Marathon after running 104 and a half laps around the prison yard. After he finished his sentence, Taylor sought to return as a mentor to his running buddies still inside. Three months ago, he received approval from state corrections officials and now coaches runners every other Monday at San Quentin.

During his visit, Taylor bumped into an old friend, Sergio Alvarez, who has been incarcerated for 10 and a half years. Alvarez expressed his admiration for Taylor's achievements, saying, "I see you in the paper, man, and on TV. You're doing what's right and speaking out, bro." Taylor values the opportunity to mentor alongside the people who once mentored him, particularly Frank Ruona, who has been the club's head coach for 18 years and plans to retire soon. According to Taylor, Ruona exemplifies the qualities of a good coach - faithful, loyal, honest, non-judgmental, and an accomplished fast runner.

In his new role as a mentor, Taylor brings his own unique qualities. As someone who served a life sentence, he understands the struggles and challenges faced by his fellow inmates. He aims to provide them with hope and support, helping them become better athletes and eventually reintegrate into society. During his coaching sessions, the runners gather on the prison yard, navigating various activities taking place, such as a baseball game and a choral rehearsal. Tim Fitzpatrick, who will take over as the head coach after Ruona's retirement, leads the track workouts. Fitzpatrick, along with his wife Diana, a renowned endurance runner, and Jim Maloney, another coach and restorative justice facilitator, guide the runners through their training, emphasizing the importance of a balanced approach.

Taylor leads his fellow runners around the track, with the trickiest stretch being a right angle that funnels between chain-link fences. During breaks, he catches up with old friends like Darren Settlemyer, who initially suggested Taylor join the running club. Running has had a profound impact on Taylor's life, helping him find mental and spiritual connection. Previously a victim of domestic and sexual violence and battling alcohol addiction, Taylor reflects on his past, acknowledging the misplaced anger that led to his imprisonment. He now feels better about himself and strives to hold onto the goodness in his life.

Taylor's return to San Quentin is part of an extraordinary year for him. He is featured in the documentary film "26.2 to Life: Inside The San Quentin Prison Marathon" by Christine Yoo. The film has taken Taylor to various film festivals, where he has received standing ovations during post-screening Q&A sessions. His natural and warm speaking style allows him to connect with audiences, sharing his story and advocating for prison reform. His experiences with the film have been healing and gratifying, helping him process his past and hold himself accountable for the pain he caused. Additionally, Taylor's speaking engagements contribute to his sense of purpose, well-being, and sobriety.

Despite his newfound success, Taylor faces challenges in his day-to-day life. Like many formerly incarcerated individuals, he struggles to find meaningful and well-paying employment. Currently, he works as a supermarket cashier, earning $17.25 an hour. Taylor believes he has to work harder than others due to his race and criminal background, often facing unconscious biases. However, he remains resilient and is open to seeking help when needed. At a screening at San Quentin, he asked the warden, Ron Broomfield, if he could return as a volunteer, showcasing his determination to make a positive impact on others. Broomfield, an advocate of returning citizens as mentors, supports Taylor's initiative. As the director of adult prisons statewide, he is part of a committee, led by California Governor Gavin Newsom, that aims to transform San Quentin into the San Quentin Rehabilitation Center.

The documentary has sparked interest among runners seeking to become volunteer coaches. The evening workout at San Quentin had 15 runners and 14 coaches, providing an impressive teacher-student ratio. Among the newcomers was Peter Goldmacher, vice president of investor relations at Dolby Laboratories, who was inspired to join after watching the film. Despite dealing with injuries, including a torn meniscus, Taylor plans to run the Chicago Marathon and the New York Marathon in the coming fall. While he aims to achieve personal goals in running, his primary mission is to be an ambassador for lifers and to spread joy, love, and a sense of purpose.

Taylor's journey has been marked by resilience, accountability, and the pursuit of a better future. He continues to attend support meetings for alcohol and drug addiction, recognizing the importance of staying connected to his roots. While he acknowledges that he may not be able to change everyone's perception, he believes that living his best possible self can radiate like a light, inspiring others to do the same.

/ Sunday, September 17, 2023, 9:58 AM /

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