A man performs a pull-up as part of his prison workout.
Photo by Gordon Cowie on Unsplash

This article was first published by Endeavor, a newspaper at Everglades Correctional Institution in Miami. Aside from the headline, it appears as it was published and has not been edited by PJP.

My lungs were burning. A stabbing pain in my side kept reminding me I was too old for this foolishness. And my 46-year-old legs were beginning to rebel, refusing to keep the pace I had mentally ordered. But I only had a quarter mile to go.

It was hot for March. The heat could not keep these 10 men away. Neither could the sore muscles, the blisters, or the fat I was carrying equal to the weight of a small child.  We were training for the Murph and it was personal.

The Murph is a CrossFit workout — once referred to as the Body Armor — created by fallen SEAL veteran Lt. Michael P. Murphy. The lieutenant sacrificed himself for his team in Afghanistan in 2005, an action portrayed in the movie “Lone Survivor,” starring Mark Wahlberg. Since 2001, the Murph has been done on Memorial Day to both honor Lt. Murphy and all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. The event also raises money for various organizations including the Lt. Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation.

Fast forward to the recent past, summer 2021 to be exact, when three residents — Jeremy Haygood, Brock Smith, and Sam Sutter — came across the routine in a Men’s Health floating around the dorm. Interestingly, they were considering switching up their own workout and were looking into CrossFit. It was serendipity (look it up).

The trio created a three-month training program — get this — just to be able to complete the workout. Three months were trimmed to 10 weeks and in the end, about six men completed the Murph for the first time at ECI.

A few months later, in December, the then 10-15 resident group decided to do a Murph Challenge event right here. But for that they needed to train. These are the guys between the pavilion and the softball field doing insane exercise combinations.

I joined the group in February. A self-proclaimed “fat guy,” I was hesitant to alter the relationship I had built with gummy bears.

I finally finished that quarter mile. What happened next is what keeps me coming back. Exhausted and trying to catch our breath, we made a big circle. Sutter delivered a post-workout wrap-up encouraging everyone with genuine passion for the process and the people. Then we prayed.

Sweaty and exhausted, believer and unbeliever, everyone raised fists and connected with the man on each side. They thanked God for the workout (a sentiment I could not mirror at the moment) and they prayed for each other. This, more than anything, impressed and encouraged me.

“There are so many parallels between fitness and the Christian walk,” Sutter later confided. “In both arenas, if you’re relying on self or other people, you’re going to be let down. The only person you can lean on and not be let down by is Jesus Christ.” This counter-culture viewpoint is refreshing even at an incentivized prison.

The group does not have an official name; they do, however, have a whiteboard. Wellness Specialist Hankerson and Chaplain Smith both sponsor them. And soon flyers will be posted inviting the compound to join them on Memorial Day for the Murph Challenge.

In the meantime, everyone is invited to join them Monday through Friday mornings on the recreation yard. You can’t help but be changed by the group and the routines. You don’t have to believe in CrossFit, Jesus, or even yourself. Just go. To borrow a saying from God Behind Bars volunteers from Vous Church: “You can belong here before you believe.”

Once a program acquires a whiteboard in prison, they achieve legitimacy. It is known.

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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Gustavo Guerra

Gustavo Guerra is a writer for Endeavor, a prison newspaper at Everglades Correctional Institution in Miami.