Have you ever gone for a walk to just calm down? Have you ever needed to do something else, to focus on something else, to avoid getting overwhelmed with life's challenges? Some people use walking as a way to stay healthy or as part of their daily routine to decompress. Something as simple as walking can help anyone maintain a sense of calm and help them get through a difficult time.
2020 has been a year of difficult times, mostly due to the pandemic. In April and May, the pandemic hit especially hard at SCI Huntingdon. To ensure the safety of staff and inmates, the facility had to undergo enhanced quarantine measures. Staff were restricted to their offices, not allowed to even go down the hall. Inmates were in their cells, with everything being brought to them. It was a very stressful time. After several weeks, the facility was able to start slowly opening up. With opening up, though, both staff and inmates had new stressors. The "new normal" was not what they were used to. Corrections is built on a routine. It's that routine that helps inmates and staff get through stressful times. Routine is especially important to a particular group of inmates and staff: those diagnosed with and those who assist the Severely Mentally Ill (SMI). The Residential Treatment Unit at SCI Huntingdon houses nothing but those who are SMI.
When Huntingdon started to open up, the staff struggled with getting the residents into the new normal routine. The stress levels of all involved skyrocketed as the restrictions imposed by this contagious disease completely and utterly worked against the therapeutic atmosphere that the unit is meant to create. The staff had to come up with a way to energize their population while also trying to expend some of this built up stress. The new normal restricted movement—even interactions between residents on the same unit had to be limited. Then the staff had an idea. It was something they had actually done before and had received a lot of participation doing: a walking challenge. They would allow inmates to walk laps around their yard for a predetermined amount of time, then would keep track of the laps over the course of a month. The challenge would be to exceed a certain distance (number of laps) over the period of four weeks and, if they did, all the participants would get a prize. During the last walking challenge, the residents were able to complete 125 and 1/4 miles, so the "Deputy's Challenge" set that as the goal: 125 miles, for this newly-named Walk-a-thon.
The desire to participate and work off some stress was greater than the staff expected. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Over the four weeks, with most of the participants not even interacting with each other, they completed over 3,000 laps for a total 189.125 miles. The residents enjoyed the challenge and were able to focus on something else for a short period of time each week. Though these are unprecedented times, there are some simple ways in which we can combat the negative effects—like simply going for a walk.