By Lt. Mike Tuntankit, AA/PIO
Avenal State Prison

Inmates at Avenal State Prison (ASP) Facility F walked to raise money for the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Relay for Life. It was a first for the prison and also one of the cancer society’s largest fundraisers from any state prison in the region.

According to ACS representative Maira Aguilar, it was the most successful fundraising event any prison has had within her jurisdiction, raising $9,000 for the cause.

ASP Community Resource Manager (CRM) Dee Lovette organized the event, with the help of inmate Dich, program coordinator.

The event started at 8 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 21, when 295 inmates on Facility F assembled to raise money for the fight against cancer.

Pleasant Valley State Prison’s Color Guard opened up the ceremony, paying tribute to those who fought and continue to fight the battle with cancer.  As the men marched, a remarkable rendition of the National Anthem was played by an inmate with his electric guitar. All in attendance stopped and paid respect as the flags passed them by, blowing in the wind.

Thirty-five inmate teams participated, displaying their luminaria bags around the track to represent a loved one or friend affected by cancer.  Team pictures were taken and the inmates were excited to begin their first Relay for Life.

Throughout the event, there was a live band, multiple speakers, games and activities to keep the day exciting. Officer Zavala captured photos of the profound event.

ASP managers were present and said this event was one of the most amazing things to witness inside a prison.

Inmate A. Rodriguez, one of the facilitators for the event, said the event was important for all involved.

“It it’s not easy to find your humanity in a prison, but when it is found, as many have here at Avenal State Prison Facility F, life becomes harder,” he said. “When you are detached from your humanity, the true battles of life are seen as ‘It is what it is.’ When that essence of life is found, it becomes clear what the true fight is, and the pain of that clarity hurts to the marrow of our souls.”

Inmate Rodriguez said Relay for Life united the inmates behind a common cause.

“We lost all races, gang affiliations, color, and creed to join as one in Relay for Life,” he said. “Together as one we were able to hold that hand, bring light to the darkness, stunt the pain, and bring hope, inspiration and celestial love, as we walked together celebrating and honoring those that we have lost and those that are still in the battle. We were able to surpass our goal and set a record that proves when humanity and a true cause join together as one, we’re able to bring love and make a difference from behind these walls. … This new way of thinking provided us the opportunity to reach out to society, as who we are meant to be, sons, brothers, uncles, fathers and grandfathers.”