On December 13, we went to prison. Our sentence: 8 hours in the hole.
Every year, Kinross Correctional holds its Invitational Powerlifting Meet. True, we're the only outsiders who show up. True, it's open to every inmate at the facility (over 1600 now.) But you'll never find a more exclusive meet. Even at the 2005 APF National Championships, no one fingered a shotgun while they asked me what the hell I was doing there; that happened the first time I visited Kinross Correctional, in 2003.
This time, it was Tyler's turn: first meet, first time in a prison. There's plenty of reason for anxiety between the two, but he didn't show any of the pre-game jitters that I'm sure I did on MY first time 'inside.'
Things ran a little differently for us this time. In the past, we were allowed to take our food inside, and we'd camp out in the rec director's office, running in and out for food and water all day. When the prisoners left for 'count' at 10:15, we'd sit and relax, eat, and nap for two hours. Between the bench press and deadlift rounds, we could drink coffee from our thermos and compare bite marks from our bench shirts. Not this time.
No, this time we were asked (in that special way of asking that you'll only appreciate after being in a prison) to leave our food in the officer's lunch room, which was across the Yard, and reachable only with a guard's accompaniment. I don't think the full magnitude of that problem was appreciated by any of us at the time. We were all too fired up to get going.
The inmates were already inside the prison gym and warming up when we arrived. Due to the delays at the check-in counter, we were about 15 minutes late, and I was worried we'd have to rush our warmups. Luckily (thought I at the time,) the meet directors (also inmates) were slow to get things ready. We were casually weighed in, had our rack heights taken, and then allowed to meander through the Pit for nearly a half hour before the first group of lifters got rolling. Again, we didn't appreciate the problems that would arise from the slow start right away.
On the positive, the meet had over 60 lifters, which is up from only around 40 last year. The Club is growing inside the prison. That's great, because to take part in the Meet, prisoners have had to be clear of gangs, drugs, and other infractions for a year beforehand. More lifters means more social progress INSIDE the facility. It also means a long weight before the second group, the heavyweights, got going.
Classes were decided not by bodyweight, but by opening attempts on the Squat. Hence, there were 198lbs lifters in both the first and second group of lifters, making it hard to tell against whom I was competing. Ty weighed in at 201lbs, putting him just out of reach of the 198s, and in with the 220lbs class. Mike was 268lbs, but there were few others in his class, and as he was only interested in Bench Pressing and Deadlifting, his squat attempt didn't matter much to him (he just took a token 135lbs squat to make it through to the second round.)
We warmed up in the Pit. The pit used to have two cages and one squat rack, but for some reason, one of the cages was gone, so we split time in the squat rack with a few inmates. A squat rack is fine, but you have to take several steps back to clear the 'safety' pins, which aren't low enough to accommodate a powerlifting squat. I warmed up to around 365lbs, and then hung out to await my turn on the platform.
At around 9:15, our flight was finally called. There had already been a few issues with disqualified lifts due to extra people on the platform, but the judges were being fairly lenient with depth calls (I thought) and everything looked good. Tyler was to take his first attempt right after me, so Mike and Keith stuck near us to calm us down. When I did my first meet in the Pen, my first squat attempt was red-lighted because my feet left the ground when I locked out my squat. I was so jacked up, I actually jumped with the weight! Luckily, Ty's a lot calmer in competition than I was back then.
I sat back with 415, heard Mike call, "UP!" and drove up. It was a very easy attempt. I was tempted to go straight to 455, but wasn't confident enough, so called for 435 on my second attempt. That way, I wouldn't make the same mistake I always made, which was taking jumps in weight that were too big, and getting stuck with my opener as my only good lift.
Ty took 415 VERY low, drove up, and got three whites. A judge stood up and mentioned to Mike that Ty had 'bounced' a little in the hole (he'd dropped, stopped and risen a bit, then dropped lower.) This was obviously due to the fact that the weight was too light for Ty's squat suit, but we figured more weight would straighten out the problem. Ty called 445 for his second lift.
After a half hour wait – squat suit on, little circulation in the legs, and no movement to stay warm – I got to lift again. 435 was even easier; I tried to drive up more quickly. I called for 455, trying to stay conservative and build a PR total instead of hitting a personal best squat. Ty hit depth easily on 445, but the same little bounce cost him the lift (2 reds, 1 white.) Hey, he'd been warned, but that's still a crummy way to lose a solid lift. He was a good inch below parallel, and drove it up like he was going to leave the ground. The lift didn't count, but he still called for 485 on his third attempt because it 445 was so easy.
We should have looked at the clock. It was 10:00am. Prisoner count – when every inmate returns to his cell for a headcount – was at 10:15am. There was a half hour wait before our next attempt, because our group was so big.
And so, at 10:15, a bell rang. The inmates left. And we didn't figure out, until that moment, that there would be no third attempt. We were stuck with whatever we'd done so far. This wasn't such a big deal for me, but Ty was stuck with a 415lbs squat because his 445 was redlighted.
Mike was starving, and so was I; we hadn't had anything to eat since 5am. Adrenaline was keeping me perky, but he was suffering. Tyler had somehow managed to sneak two Clif bars in. I didn't ask how, and the wrappers seemed to have maintained their integrity, so I think Mike ate one of those.
We trudged over to the lunch room. Usually, we'd have two hours to eat and then sleep a bit; today, we were treated to some great stories by our host, Dave Mastaw. The time flew by, and he did a great job of entertaining us while I ate my turkey, Ty and Keith had their homemade venison sausages courtesy of the prison cook, and Mike tried to sleep. The lunch area was full of guards, so rest was impossible. Then we were back to the Gym again.
We started warming up on bench. Dave Mastaw had reamed the inmates responsible for running the meet, and so suddenly we were back to the old ways: quick changes between lifters, no chitchat on the platform, and quick flights. We rushed the warmups a bit, with Keith running between lifters to help with shirts and spotting the bench. Thank God he was there.
I opened with 315lbs, and it came up quickly. My shirt was fitting a bit high, and I felt like I was being strangled as I lowered the weight, but it was nice to lock it out so easily. Tyler opened at 285, threw that up like it was full of helium, and called for 315 next. I called for 325. Mike opened at 460. It also zipped up like it was nothing. All three of us had a lift on the board. Then came the long wait until the next lift, which was harder on the bench than on the squat. For one, you have to keep your arms elevated, or they'll turn purple. You have more gear, so you have to stay close to one spot. There were some HUGE lifts on the bench – the favourite of the inmates – and it was fun to watch. One guy opened with 400lbs in a T-shirt, and pressed it like it was 100lbs. Wild.
Tyler cranked 305 easily on his second attempt, and called for 335lbs for his third. I set up under the bar, got a great hand-out from an inmate named Speck who had narrowly beaten me in that class the year before, and lowered it well. I touched a bit high on the chest, and when I started to press, I shifted my weight a bit to try to get my elbows over on the bar. In my glasses, I saw the reflection of a red light flash on behind me, so I gave up on the weight. I thought I'd save the energy for my third attempt.
Mike pressed an easy 500lbs (his first time at a bodyweight below 275lbs,) and it looked like cake. So easy, in fact, that he asked for 550lbs for his third attempt – wow.
I missed my third attempt – 325 again – because I carried it too low on the chest. Overcompensation – not enough time practicing with the shirt in the weeks beforehand. Oh well. I was happy with 315lbs. Tyler got 335lbs off his chest, but couldn't lock it out. Mike took 550lbs halfway, and then it drifted back toward his face and he lost it.
Deadlifting started right away. Ty and I were excited (deadlifting is our 'money' lift) but I was already feeling drained from lack of food and a looooong week of early mornings, late nights, and little kids who didn't want to sleep. I'd hit 520lbs in May, and 510 at the Catalyst Games in September; I was shooting for 505 to give me a 1255 total, which would have been a personal best total by 5lbs. It doesn't sound like much, but after 3 months of Crossfit (very little, if any, bench press) and no squats in the several months preceding, I would have been very happy to have a PR total of any kind.
I opened at 475lbs; so did Ty. Mike opened at 500lbs. We all hit our lifts without problem, but I felt slow. My back was tightening up, but Ty looked strong. I called 505, he called 505, and Mike called 550lbs.
By the time our second attempt rolled around, we were watching the clock very closely. At 3:15, the inmates were to leave for the next Count, and the meet would be over, whether we'd had our third attempt or not. We were among the heaviest lifts, meaning we were among the last to go in our group, and we were told minutes beforehand that we'd be moved to the top of the order for the third round so that we could get our third attempts in.
I set up for 505 well, but rounded early and stopped at my knees. In hindsight, I may have given up early. On the other hand, I'd had two sandwiches and some cold turkey since 5am (it was 3pm,) little sleep, and no coffee to jack up my nervous system. I felt flat. Not giving excuses, but instead setting up Tyler's lifts, because he was facing the exact same problems as the rest of us. Ty pulled 505 fairly easily, tying his personal best. He asked for 515lbs on his third attempt. I repeated at 505, and Mike asked for 600lbs after pulling a solid 550lbs.
505 didn't leave the floor for me; I was done. I was disappointed in my deadlift (usually my saving grace,) but not surprised. I was finished. Ty, though, cranked a huge PR 515lbs! Mike just missed 600(probably for the same reasons,) showing just how great Ty's last pull was: imagine if he'd had the food and rest that we'd been promising him!
In the end, I totalled 1225, which wasn't bad. Ty totalled 1245, and I think we've lit a fire that's going to burn for awhile. Mike had a 500lbs press and a 550lbs deadlift to go with his 135lbs squat, which were pretty good for his new lower weight class (his records, by the way, are 780lbs squat in competition, 585lbs bench, and 680lbs deadlift.) We did get to see a 685lbs pull by a guy in the 242lbs class, which is awesome, and a 700lbs attempt get to the knee. Had an amazing time, as usual, and I was shocked to find out how much these guys remembered about me from last time (a year ago.) They knew my lifts, knew my weight, and knew what to expect. I was very happy to see the group growing, and I'm sure the meet will be efficient again next time (the usual organizer, Toler, was taking a well-deserved rest from organizing and competed again instead.)
Thanks, Kinross. Sorry we can't take any pics inside, or we'd spread the word far and wide. Hope you're still there next year.