Half-marathon highlights physical, emotional distance between Manitobans in prison, families

Runners laced up for a half-marathon outside a prison just north of Winnipeg on Saturday morning to raise money and awareness to support incarcerated Manitobans and their families.

Participants ran 21 kilometres — the distance from Stony Mountain Penitentiary to Winnipeg. Proceeds from the event went to support Strength in the Circle, an Indigenous men’s group in Winnipeg that welcomes members who have been in jail or prison.

The run started on Highway 7, outside Stony Mountain Penitentiary, and ended with a picnic and celebration at Burton Cummings Park, close to Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre.

Jacquie Nicholson, one of the organizers of the run, said it was intended to bring attention to “not just the physical and geographical distance, but the social and emotional distance that separates incarcerated people from their supports.”

“It’s a way to draw attention to isolation,” she said. “I think that’s something we can all relate to after two-and-a-half years of COVID.”

Inmates ‘don’t stop being our community members just because they’re locked up,’ said Nicholson. (Andrew Wildes/CBC)

The event had already brought in around $4,300 as runners were still crossing the finish line. That’s more than double the initial goal of $2,000, Nicholson said.

Most of the runners were motivated by a desire to rethink what community safety really means, she said.

“Putting people in prison as a means of dealing with community harm, the idea that that is going to make us safer or keep us safe — that’s not something that most people here really agree with,” said Nicholson.

“[Inmates] don’t stop being our community members just because they’re locked up.”

The half-marathon was organized by Bar None Winnipeg, a prison abolitionist group that runs a free ridesharing program that helps people visit ones in Manitoba prisons and jails. 

Buck Doyle, an organizer with Bar None Winnipeg, says the group’s rideshare program was a direct response to requests of inmates at Stony Mountain following a strike in 2019.

“I personally think the government should facilitate getting people to see their loved ones,” said Doyle. “It shouldn’t be up to a volunteer-run program for people to see their families.”

Proceeds from the half-marathon will support Strength in the Circle, an Indigenous men’s group that welcomes members who have been to jail or prison. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC)

The annual half-marathon is usually in support of Bar None and another organization, they said. However, Bar None did not require donations this year, which is why it chose to support Strength in the Circle.

Jonny Meikle is the founder of that group, which connects and supports Indigenous people through fitness, friendship, and traditional cultural practices and ceremony.

Meikle says his organization has yet to receive any core funding for its operations, and the proceeds from Saturday’s run will help support community-led programming and a land-based culture camp that is in the works.

“We want to challenge ourselves as men to be vulnerable, to take care of ourselves first, to take care of our healing first, so that we can retake that role of protectors in communities.”

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