Sarah Hayes and Gina Virgilio are both in prison for murder. They’re also participating in Running Free Alaska, a running program for women inmates.
Virgilio says she was in a drug-induced psychosis when she killed her boyfriend Michael in 2012. After six years in prison, she is still awaiting a trial and sentence.
“Had I not come to jail, I would have failed in life because I had no strength mentally, emotionally — anything. I was doomed,” she explained.
In the midst of postpartum depression, Hayes killed her three-week-old daughter Pepper. She says coming to prison saved her life.
In 2012, grad student Tim Alderson wanted to study the effect of running on inmate mental health. Running Free Alaska was his thesis project. He says that training for a marathon is similar to dealing with various life circumstances, and it teaches you how to handle your worst days.
The program holds biannual 5ks, 10ks, and half marathons and inmates train for months ahead of the October races.
Hayes says that to be able to get better at running gives her a sense of accomplishment, and “lays down a new perspective that I can accomplish something hard…”
Virgilio says running has helped her build confidence.
“My perceptions, my beliefs, my morals, values, are different and they’re real,” she said. “They’re not that easily compromised.”