“The prison system in the United States generates roughly 74 billion annually. The high turnover is due to the fact that around 2.1 Americans are currently incarcerated. Since 1972, the number of people in US prisons has grown over 700% and now costs the taxpayer $39 billion to maintain every year.
For youth offenders, basketball can offer a focus to help them straighten out their lives; but, for many long-term prisoners, these leagues are a valuable way to escape their daily troubles. According to Joycelyn M. Pollock, some correctional professionals view the ability to participate in healthy competition as an indicator of rehabilitation. And this isn’t a new phenomenon: Concord Reformatory in Massachusettes organized the first sports programs for prisoners back in 1886.
Whether participants or spectators, many prisoners engage with organized sports. Inside, gamblers take part in bookmaking operations called “tickets”. Inmates bet on the games, offering food items and drinks as collateral. When prisoners don’t have anything of value to offer, they’ll wager push-ups. The exchange of goods and services extends as far as your imagination; stolen food, stamps and a variety of contraband all serve as currency.
The prison leagues even have their own celebrities. “Pee Wee” Kirkland was originally drafted by the Chicago Bulls, but he turned down their offer down because he was making more money hustling on the street. After he was arrested a few years later, “Pee Wee” found himself playing in the Anthracite Basketball League, representing Lewisburg penitentiary.
Former AAU star and playground legend “Hook” Mitchell spent several year playing ball in San Luis Obispo’s California Men’s Colony. His story was so well known that there’s an entire documentary dedicated to it (“Hooked: The Legend of Hook Mitchell”, 2003).
You may even find professional athletes participating in the games. While serving time, Michael Vick stayed in shape by playing football with other prisoners. Allen Iverson, JR Smith and Plaxico Burress are just a few of the notable athletes who have spent part of their career in jail.
For some, prison leagues can even be a valuable training ground. Lee Benson, arguably one of the bestplayers in the CBA history, credits the development of his mid-range game to the years he spent playing on prison teams in Ohio.
Unfortunately, some officials believe that recreational activities have no place in prisons. Back in 1998,Wayne Garner of the Georgia Department of Corrections voiced his opposition to organized sports.
“Number one, a prison needs to be a place they want to get out of and don’t want to come back to,” said Garner. “If it’s not more difficult in prison than it is out, you’re beating your head against the wall in the effort against (repeat offenders).”
Though Garner no longer works for the Department of Corrections (he was elected Mayor of Carrollton in 2003), the threat still looms overhead. If programs like these disappear, we could be robbing the next Lee Benson of his future.
If prison is truly about rehabilitation, then it’s important for the people in these prisons to have healthy outlets, and that’s what these programs represent. As one inmate told visiting documentarians:
Article from http://sports.politicususa.com/2015/12/30/organized-sports-in-the-us-penal-system.html