Inmates at the state prison in Mount Pleasant who earn pennies a day in their jailhouse jobs have raised a whopping $5,000 for the Relay For Life, which opens this morning within the prison walls.
Gail Huskins, treatment director at the state correctional facility, says more than 500 men and 140 women inmates will be walking on the track at separate times to raise money — and awareness — for the American Cancer Society.
"I have worked in corrections for 30 years and this is probably the most awesome experience that I’ve had," Huskins says. "It just has built so much camaraderie. They’ve really taken ownership of the Relay for Life and just have embraced everything."
The track will be ringed with non-lighted luminaries, decorated to remember cancer victims and cancer survivors in the inmates’ lives, while she says several of those prisoners taking part in the relay have had cancer, too.
"There are teams of ten and we have a thing going where they can compete against each other to see who can walk the most laps in a day or the most minutes," Huskins says. Much of the money came from an auction of items inmates value, things like tennis shoes, in addition to donations from inmates’ family members.
There will also be a few carnival games that will be set up in the prison yard. Huskins says they’ll be watchful for any wily inmates who may try to use the relay events as an opportunity to escape. "We have a very secure location. We’re always very security-minded. That’s our number-one job. All of these activities are taking place within the confines of the prison setting so the chances of any of that kind of stuff taking place are pretty slim."
It’s the third year the women inmates at Mount Pleasant have taken part in the Relay For Life and the first year for the men. Huskins adds, the women are making lap quilts for use at the new American Cancer Society Hope Lodge that is opening in Iowa City this September.
Relay for Life events are held nationwide, but she says this is the only one in the U.S. being held within a prison. To find out more about this and other Relay For Life events, visit the Relay for Life website .