Escape and Victory: Sport in Prison

The Madrid I penitentiary center in Alcal de Henares is one of the three exclusive prisons for women that exist in Spain -next to vila and Alcal de Guadaira-. The woman currently holds the 7.2% of the prison population in our country and their reintegration into society is more effective than in men. ‘MARCA la difference’, the women’s sports magazine broadcast on MARCA’s YouTube channel, got to see firsthand what daily life is like for inmates and the impact sport has on a life deprived of freedom.

The first thing that attracts attention when crossing the access doors to the center is the size of the spaces, the luminosity and the lack of security. -at least visually- that it exists. “It has nothing to do with TV movies”, reaffirms Jess Moreno, center directorwhich ensures that series like ‘Prison Break’, ‘Orange Is the New Black’ or ‘Vis a Vis’ distort what real life is like in the prisons of our country, especially in Madrid I.

415 detainees between 19 and 85 years old

Sport in prison, an inside lookMartha Garcia

The center was inaugurated in 1978 as an open space where rehabilitation projects for drug addicts could be launched, although over time it was exclusively dedicated to women. It has 62,478 square meters and 423 cells where there are currently 415 inmates, 60% of whom are foreigners, the youngest being a 19-year-old inmate and the oldest an 85-year-old.. “That it is a center exclusively for women is an advantage because the cultural, educational and treatment offer is aimed at them. It is true that in a certain way, this can run up against the roots that we are trying to maintain so that the prisoners do not leave their zone of social and family influence, but they have the advantage of not feeling in the minority in a center for men,” says Jess.

The inmates of Madrid, I have a wide range of formations (studies from the doctoral school at the distance university, in addition to courses in hairdressing, painting, ceramics, crafts or languages) and work (bakery, laundry, kitchen or IT), amn of access to leisure (they have a library with more than 19,000 copies and a theater troupe -Teatro Yeses-) and play sports. “Our policy is to support our prisoners towards a healthy life and in the same way that we promote access to education or culture, we also do it with a healthy life, avoiding addictions, eating balanced and doing sports. It’s essential for the body and the mind because you develop social skills and you learn to respect yourself, to share and to work as a team,” explains the director.

Varied sports offer


Jess Moreno, director of the Madrid I penitentiary center in Alcal de Henares.Marta Garcia (BRAND)

Sport in prison is a bridge for future reintegration by contributing to the modification of behavior and the assimilation of the positive and universal values ​​it grants. Madrid i two indoor soccer teams and one basketball team managed in collaboration with the Real Madrid Foundation; another pickball in collaboration with the Spanish Pickleball Association; other volleyball and handball managed by the center, as well as aerobics, crossfit and GAP classeswhich are promoted and managed by interns.

“We do not maintain the frequency of competition that we would like. Usually we compete with inmates from other centers, never with street entities or at the federated level, but we have also attended some inclusive sports exhibitions” , he said. Chema Antn, Center Project Manager. “They have the competitive spirit of anyone, but there’s a lot of togetherness and camaraderie. They have the playfulness of laughing and having fun playing sports, and they’re having a great time, but they still want to win, of course,” adds the manager.

Defined profiles

Prisoners from Madrid whom I interviewed in 'MARCA la difference'.

Prisoners from Madrid whom I interviewed in ‘MARCA la difference’.Marta Garcia (BRAND)

The profile of the detainee in this center is that of a woman aged 25 to 40, mostly foreign, who has suffered physical or sexual violence and whose most common crime is drug trafficking.. With the exception of the 1% who live in solitary confinement and the 12% who do not participate in any activity, the usual thing – according to officials and inmates – is that inmates adapt without problems to prison discipline. “When you’ve been here for so long, with the same schedules, everything becomes very repetitive, so having the possibility to change activities is something important,” he says. Katerina, an Italian who has been at the center for two and a half years. “In the morning I do a cooking class and in the afternoon I take the opportunity to play sports”, he underlines.

The percentage of prisoners who practice sports is 30% and the vast majority practice more than one activity. “Before going to prison, I did a lot of sports because my family is very athletic. I played basketball and I was a black belt in taekwondo. Here it helps me maintain my physique and distract my mind, it helps me bear the pain.” he says. Julia, who in a few days will be three years old in Madrid, I. “After doing sports, I feel good, it will be dopamine, but I manage to sleep better and not think about my problems. Before, I was hiking, but here, I do all the sports possible to stay active and busy. Also, it helps me meet other people.” people who are not from my module and to socialize within the life that we lead here”, adds Monica, who has been at the center for two years and ten months.

respect the modules

Cells of the Penitentiary Center of Madrid I.

Cells of the Penitentiary Center of Madrid I.Marta Garcia (BRAND)

Unlike other centers, where the wide concrete walls prevent light rays from reaching the detainees and the strict organization hinders the free movement of people, those baptized as respect the modules -in which half of the prison population is installed- from Madrid I invite life outside their cells. “I’ve been to other centers where everything was covered and you only saw the light when you went out into the patio and the organization was more serious, more military. Here you leave your room and you have gardens, open spaces and the officials are very friendly,” says Vanesa, an inmate in prison for a month. “Sport helps me not to think about what I’m leaving out. I have three children and I miss them a lot,” she sighs.

Sport is the engine to change the world and the lifeline of some prisoners who look with fear and concern to the future. “My time in prison made me a different person and sport gave me values ​​that I did not know until then: camaraderie, self-esteem, self-love… There are people who have a good temper and others who are more aggressive and the sport serves to unite. As a volleyball instructor, I learned to be patient and to teach, to give opportunities. Also to valuing things, no matter how small”, emphasizes Serli, a Brazilian who is about to serve four years in prison. “At the end of the sentence, I want to return to my country to start from scratch and I would like it to be in a sports school”, he confides. This is the mission of Madrid I, to offer an extra life to all those who pass through the center. escape and victory.

‘MAKE the difference’: complete program 5

‘MAKE the difference’: Program 5 on Podcast


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