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Race fans, welcome to the yard!

It’s a beautiful day for racing, the sun is out at the start of summer, and the temperature on the track is already way up. We are about two minutes away from our start time, and the racers look ready. 

Everyone knows what’s at stake here and no one wants to come in last place. Let’s take a moment to describe the layout. It’s an oblong oval shape with about 300 yards of green grass in its middle. All three of the starting doors are at the opposite end of the track. 

The PA system has just made the announcement everyone has been waiting for, “Yard is open! Yard is open!” 

And they’re off! 

Thunderous sounds reverberate across the yard as everyone takes off at full speed. At the front of the pack is Money Mike and he is flying out of the first turn. Not far behind him is Lefty, followed closely by Slim and Jon-Jon, who has his hat turned backwards to minimize any wind resistance. 

Wait a minute, race fans, hold everything! We’ve got racers running into the grass! 

They’re going to try to cut through the field! Wow, that’s one strategy, but the field is definitely still wet from the sprinklers, and it’s also muddy in some spots due to wear and tear from a recent soccer match. 

Now Tay is making his move across midfield — high knees with good form. 

Oh! Oh no, we’ve got a crash! We have a crash on the track! Slick Rick has knocked down Old Man Moe, slowing down the whole inside track. It looks like Moe has dropped his ID. He’s trying to scoop it up and keep going. That may have just cost the Old Man and Rick the race. 

Coming into the homestretch, it’s crowded in the front as the racers coming across the field merge with the rest of the pack coming around the track. 

Who’s that pulling away? It’s Lil’ Larry! Lil’ Larry is in the lead! He’s almost to the line! Look at his little legs go! They’re not gonna catch him! He’s done it! Who would have thought it?! Lil’ Larry has made it to the most coveted place in prison today: the front of the canteen line. 

Shopping for food and toiletries is one of the few luxuries afforded to inmates in prison. Supply is limited so when canteen day arrives, the yard transforms into a NASCAR Race track. Its finish line is a small metal slot opening under a window through which items are funneled into mesh bags held open by eager inmates. 

Zoom-Zooms and Wham-Whams are prison terms for snacks and sweet pastries. Few things are more important to an inmate’s way of life. Inmates line up in queues 100 men long and often wait for hours to purchase desired items such as Top Ramen, potato chips, soda, ice cream, soap, toothpaste, deodorant and coffee. 

Comfort in prison is difficult to obtain but even more difficult to maintain long term. The small metallic slot beneath the window on the yard is a temporary respite. 

For one day each month, inmates are reminded of some of the small freedoms that they have forfeited by virtue of their past choices. Most recognize this and allow their experience to be an impetus to begin the process of rehabilitation. Hopefully, the taste of freedom fosters a hunger for anti-recidivism. 

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Christopher Bryson is a reporter for the The Mule Creek Post, a newspaper published out of Mule Creek State Prison in California, where he is incarcerated.