Inmates organize run to fight cancer

TOPEKA, Kan. - Women who are serving sentences in the Topeka Correctional Facility are sometimes battling serious illnesses, inmate Pam Simmons said.

Simmons said she is incarcerated with breast cancer survivors and other women who are battling the disease.

"I think we've all come in contact with someone who has breast cancer," Simmons said.

She and several other female inmates are taking part in the facility's first-ever Race Against Breast Cancer, which will take place inside the prison at the same time the Topeka community takes part in the race on Sept. 29 at Washburn University.

"It's a very worthwhile cause," Simmons said.

The idea to have the race inside the prison came after Carol Hill and Suzanne MacDonald began visiting ways to get inmates involved in community events.

MacDonald and Hill are volunteers at the prison. MacDonald leads a book group twice a month.

"My original reason I started (volunteering) is because I love to read," she said. "If confined, I would like to read."

The two volunteers discovered they have a love for running. Hill and MacDonald also found out they have been taking part in the community's Race Against Breast Cancer for many years.

They developed the idea of getting inmates involved with the event.

"They (inmates) thought it would be neat to form a running club," Hill said.

There are now two running groups - one at the minimum security unit and another at the medium/maximum unit. The groups run at 8 and 9 a.m. Sundays to prepare for the race.

Simmons serves as one of the committee members for the event.

"The unit is very involved with it," she said about the minimum security unit's participation.

Just like community participants, each inmate who wants to compete in the 5K run/walk must pay the $20 registration fee. Some inmates also are raising more money to donate.

The facility's event, like the community event, will include a balloon release and a warm-up. Runners will be timed.

Inmates are creating a basket that will be auctioned off during a silent auction at Washburn University. The basket includes items handmade by inmates, including an afghan, magnets, doll, scarf, hat and tote bag.

"It touches our hearts and touches home," said inmate Jo Esper, who is training for the race.

Hill agreed.

"We're all women, and that is the common denominator," she said.