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This article was first published by San Quentin News, a prison newspaper that reports on rehabilitative efforts to increase public safety and achieve social justice from inside San Quentin State Prison. Visit SQN’s website or follow them on Twitter. The article has been edited to add clarity and conform with PJP style rules.

Tim Fielder, 55, Freddie J. Lewis, 68, and E.Vick, 85, have almost seven decades of combined experience playing the game they all love: horseshoe pitching. They became comrades at the horseshoe pit, located behind San Quentin State Prison’s baseball diamond.

Horseshoe pitching is a lawn game in which players throw horseshoes at metal stakes in the ground from a distance. 

The trio agrees that no other sport offers a combination of skill and healthful exercise at such a low cost. It’s a multi-racial sport designed for beginners and the pros to enjoy.

“Our location is where negativity does not happen. The COs (correctional officers) know that we are responsible and we keep the area clean,” said three-year San Quentin resident Lewis, adding that the pit welcomes all ages of competitors.

“In this area, things are neutral,” said Fielder. He has been enjoying the peace of the game throughout his 12 years at the prison. “There’s no racial tension and we all just come here to get away from all the negative elements that happen around prison.”

The horseshoe pit of San Quentin (Photo courtesy of San Quentin News)

How could this activity, once considered a farmyard sport, end up becoming so popular that people such as these elders play every chance they get?

It could be its recreational style, along with its easy rules and ways to score.

No politics or any other iffy topics can come between these three buddies while they are enjoying their sport. Vick said that by respecting each other’s views, they don’t allow controversial topics to damage their bond.

They have shared more than 20 years of meeting at the pits, throwing the horseshoes and talking trash to each other in good humor. “I remember teaching this old guy how to play the game. He was just a newbie,” said Vick, the elder of the crew, referring to Fielder.

These older gentlemen consider this sport a way for them to not only enjoy their time together but for them to get some needed exercise.

“We play through the aches and pains we may have. I’m scheduled for a knee replacement soon, but I still get up and play the game because I love it,” Lewis said. “It’s just a relaxing game where you can just be yourself. It also has helped me with my sobriety.”

Since none of them can play the more physical sports like baseball, basketball or football, they enjoy a good horseshoe pitching competition instead.

“We don’t consider this to be an old man sport,” said Lewis, with a smile. “We beat some youngsters earlier.”

Cody Camp, 22, who arrived at San Quentin two months ago, was one of the youngsters who competed with the elders.

“It’s quite the experience playing against the OGs,” Camp said, using the abbreviated word for “original gangsters,” a term of affection and respect for older people inside prison. “It’s challenging because they are so good.”

Camp brought five years of experience playing horseshoes and he said he used to play with his grandfather.

Because this is his first time being incarcerated, he said being able to play a game that he loves has helped him cope with the many aspects of being in prison.

“Playing the game gets my mind off my past and the reason why I came to prison. It also reminds me of being with my grandfather and my family,” said Camp.

Vick shared that sentiment too. “It gives you a positive mindset,” he said. “You are not doing time when you are at the horseshoe pit.”

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.

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Timothy Hicks

Timothy Hicks is a writer incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison in California. He is a staff writer for San Quentin News.