Coach Bruce Ferrall times a Wall of Fame challenge participant in the 20-yard shuttle run.

CDCR coaches encourage students in Wall of Fame competition

By Krissi Khokhobashvili
CDCR Public Information Officer II
Photos by Lt. Monica Ayon, CMC

A friendly competition is spreading through state prisons, as CDCR’s physical education coaches help their inmate students demonstrate how important a healthy lifestyle is.

In addition to teachers, principals and librarians, each state prison employs a coach, whose job is to educate inmates in physical fitness and overall wellness. At California Men’s Colony (CMC) in San Luis Obispo, Coach Bruce Ferrall has taken it to the next level, playing to his students’ competitive natures with the Wall of Fame, which invites inmates to perform various exercises in an attempt to set and beat records. The competition is completely voluntary, but it has proven wildly popular with inmates both in terms of a fun activity and the chance to prove they’re the best – until a record is broken.

“It’s a great, productive way to keep them busy,” Ferrall said. “As a recreation coach, I think it’s ideal to keep them busy with constructive, athletic activities. It’s perfect.”

An inmate demonstrates proper form for a box jump in CMC’s gym.

The Wall of Fame began at CMC, where Ferrall times students doing exercises like planks, plyometric burpees, runs, squats, wall-sits and pushups. While the exercises are timed, strict focus is paid to safety and proper form, so much so that Ferrall and the Office of Correctional Education (OCE) created a DVD demonstrating the correct way to do the exercises.

“It has to be objective, as far as the form,” Ferrall said. “When someone does a wall sit, they have to know how to do it properly – no cheating, no misinformation out there.”

The Wall of Fame became so popular among the CMC inmate population that Ferrall brought it up at a statewide coaches’ training last year. Utilizing CDCR’s SharePoint technology, he was able to make a spreadsheet available through the statewide intranet, allowing coaches to use the same metrics at their institutions – and join in the competition.

Coach Chau Wilson of California State Prison-Sacramento (SAC) said she joined the competition not only to demonstrate her students’ abilities, but also, and more importantly, to involve them in a positive activity. Wilson, who has worked at SAC since 2007 as an academic teacher and then coach, regularly organizes activities for inmates such as poetry slams and physical fitness contests.

“One of my primary goals has always been to give the inmates something positive and constructive to look forward to,” she said. “When I heard about the Wall of Fame competition, I was excited to give my students another avenue to develop more skills and gain a sense of competence. It’s also very gratifying to see them work so well together and encourage one another to accomplish a shared goal.”

And accomplish goals they did. Under Wilson’s guidance, three SAC challengers have unseated CMC inmates from the top spots in the plank, plyometric pushups and wall-sit categories, respectively. In a competitive twist, coach Wilson participated as well, tying the 10-minute record time in the wall-sit category.

“It was both rewarding and thrilling to see SAC set a few new records,” Wilson said. “However it is also just fun each week to push the men to work harder and to, every now and then, jump right in with them.”

Coaches who wish to get involved with the Wall of Fame should email Farrall for more details.

CDCR coaches’ jobs are multifaceted, from facilitating sports tournaments and training sessions to organizing skills competitions and fitness classes to coordinating outside volunteers who come in to share their sports and fitness expertise with the inmates.

At CMC, Ferrall also serves as the Physical Fitness Test trainer for CMC’s inmate firefighter crews. When he’s not in the gym or organizing sporting events, he’s outside with the inmates, conditioning them for grueling work on the fire line, including running and hiking with full gear on.

“Frankly, I have the best job in the state,” he said. “They pay me to exercise!”

While Ferrall is tickled to see other institutions joining in the Wall of Fame competition, he also warned CMC that its records will be short-lived.

A CMC inmate gets in the right form for a plyometric pushup.