Weight Lifting in Prisons: a Bibliography

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We provide this bibliography to encourage dissemination of these materials and to assist future studies of prison weightlifting.
The phrase "NEWS-" indicates references from the news media, "THESIS-" indicates thesis or dissertation, and"BOOK-" indicates a book.
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Note: In addition to the references below, we also have other related bibligraphies that may be of interest Media Coverage of Weight Lifting in Prisons as an Activity : Not as an Issue and Correctional Recreation: a Bibliography, Behavorial and Psychological Aspects of Weight Lifting


















Content from some of the references above

"Pumping Iron Behind Bars" by J.B. Stephens #162957. Muscle Media 2000. No.41 Jan 1995. Pgs.142-144.

Let's begin with my credentials - shady, perhaps, but relevant nonetheless. I am 25 years old and have been incarcerated in the Missouri Prison System since I was 17, I have been involved with fitness and nutrition for over seven years. When I entered the Department of Corrections , I was a 135 lb skin-and-bones hardgainer with an attitude, a drug problem, and a 37 year sentence to serve. I had a learning disability, low self-esteem, and no direction or hope in my life. Then I began bodybuilding.

Today, I am a 175 lb lean-but-muscular hardgainer high on life with an open mind and a 29-year sentence left to serve. I now have a G.E.D., several college credit hours with a 4.0 G.P.A., a confident self-image, direction in my life, and hope for a productive future.

I am still incarcerated, but I am not a criminal. I have changed, not as a result of being in prison but because I was allowed the liberty of being able to weight train. The very first goals I set for myself in bodybuilding are today the cornerstone of my self-confidence. Everything I have achieved and everthing I shall ever aspire to is owed to that simple beginning - to weight training.

That's precisely my point in this controversy. We each have our own ideas about why we train, but we all seem to agree it is a productive endeavor. Weight training, especially in prison, is so beneficial. In fact, training in prison seems to provide unique advantages that are tailor made for the needs of the environment; it offers a positive outlet for daily stress and frustrations; it promotes good health (which reduces the tax expenditure required for inmate medical care); it's a means of constructive goal setting which nurtures self-esteem and confidence (dynamic traits which when underdeveloped, can contribute to various forms of sociopathy); thus, weight training in a prison environment stimulates a healthy self awareness which helps to correct social deficiencies and promotes rehabilitation. In these respects, weight training is beneficial, not only to the prison population but also to those of you who must eventually reside in the same communities with the 900,000 men and women now awaiting release from America's prisons.

I'm not suggesting that weight training is a cure-all for criminal behavior. We all know that crime and recidivism are increasing problems in this country. Nevertheless, these problems will not be solved by removing one of the few remaining means of self-development and rehabilitation that are available to prisoners. Weight training can and does promote reform - this I know from experience!

Despite its obvious benefits, many correctional and legislative officials have suddenly begun to oppose weight training in prisons. Their arguments, however, do not have any real foundation - as you will see.

One of the strongest opposing positions is the claim that weight equipment threatens the internal security of the prisons because the prisoners use the weights as weapons. I can't contend that no one has ever been injured with a piece of gym equipment: prisons are not daycare centers, after all. Nevertheless, if statistics were compiled on assaults in prison, less than 2% would reflect the use of any type of weight equipment. On the other hand, most prison yards have enough knives, buried in them to rival the Ginsu industry. Further, most prisoners think twice before attempting to misuse any of the weights; prisoners like anyone else, will govern themselves and protect their shared interests.

Another claim being made by these concerned bureaucrats is that if prisoners are allowed to lift weights, it will create bigger, tougher criminals. (Give me a break!) It does not require 21-inch biceps to pull a trigger! It does, however, take a lack of genuine social concern to waste time, effort, and tax money promoting such an absurd idea. There are real problems that need real answers!

These types of simpleton tactics, in mainstream politics, would not be afforded the price of any serious attention, and they would certainly not warrant the ink of argument. Prison politics, however, are not mainstream, at least not with respect to the public's scrutiny of the issues. Changes made within the prison systems are generally done without regard to public opinion. Nevertheless, I can't allow any political motives to affront the liberties of weight training - not in any environment! (I certainly did not support the FDA's attempt to regulate and restrict nutritional supplements.) Thus, I would ask you to ask yourselves: why has the legislative concern suddenly shifted from criminal reform to criminal prowess? Are all of the people incarcerated in this country so without hope that the government must be concerned with bench press records and biceps measurements rather than with levels of rehabilitation?

Inmates incarcerated in Missouri have two main sources of income - monetary gifts from friends and family and wages from prison jobs. Most prison jobs pay on the average between $7.50 - $15.00 a month. A prisoner retains his or her money on a computer account from which it can be withdrawn weekly to purchase perishables, beverages, cosmetics, etc. from the inmate canteen. The profits made from these purchases are then placed into an account called the Inmate Canteen Fund. It is this fund and this fund alone that provides for all of our recreational equipment, from the weight benches to the Ping-Pong balls. Although this financial system is the one used by the State of Missouri, it is not an illogical assumption that most states use some version of the "Inmate Canteen Fund."


In regards to the training itself, there are a lot of additional difficulties provided by the lack of equipment and the overcrowded facilities. Some prisons are better equipped than others, but as a rule, most prison gyms are always overcrowded, extremely noisy, and a lesson in patience to say the least. I have never in seven years, done a complete routine in the gym without having to stand around, at one point or another, waiting on a particular piece of equipment. At this prison, in this phase of the institution, we have about 15 flat benches for a population of approximately 1,000 men, one half of whom use the gym on a regular, if not daily, basis.


As you can see, training in prison has a lot of its own unique advantages and disadvantages. I hope what I have written does not serve any of you as a guide to future residency. I do, however, hope all of you, as kindred seekers in the fitness endeavor, will reflect on the points I have tried to make regarding this issue. Weight training in a lot of prison systems is being unjustly threatened, and your help is needed. This may not be a ballot issue, but voter opinion in any political issue is always important. Those who oppose weight training in prisons have, as of yet, presented no sound arguments, but they could still prevail simply because of whom this controversy concerns. It is about time for me to get to the gym, so good luck with your training, and remember, support fitness in EVERY environment!

"Pumping Iron Behind Bars - Reader Response"Muscle Media 2000. Issue ? 1995. Pg.12.

A letter titled "It Doesn't Take 21-Inch Biceps to Pull a Trigger" (name withheld by request) is printed along with a response from an editor.

It Doesn't Take 21-Inch Biceps to Pull a Trigger

I have to take issue with the article titled "Pumping Iron Behind Bars." Although the author, J.B. Stephens, presented his case with intelligence and eloquence, I cannot agree with the idea that criminals, upon being convicted of serious crimes, should be granted what amounts to a health-club membership. And Stephens' assertion that weightlifting promotes reform among criminals is ridiculous. All it does is grant overly aggressive men the extra muscle power to carry out their hostile motives. Stephens' follows up his argument with the line, "It does not require 21-inch biceps to pull a trigger." This wisdom is reminiscent of the N.R.A.'s often used slogan: "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." I lift weights and consider myself exceptionally strong for a woman. However that strength didn't help me when a prison-reformed, weightlifting-enhanced convict on parole raped me last April.

If it were up to me, I would have the weightlifting programs in every prison yanked. Let them take up knitting instead.

Name Withheld by Request

Editor Response

First of all our deepest sympathies go out to you. Regarding gyms in prison, we'll admit it's a difficult issue, and we fully understand your feelings. Still, condemning prisoners to a life without any recreation at all where they sit and look at four walls for eternity is probably worse than a death sentence. And whether or not bigger muscles on ex-cons are going to help them commit crimes is unknown, although we suspect that generally isn't going to be the case. There will always be the exception, though. It seems logical that a convict or ex-con predisposed to violence who has used guns or knives to commit crimes in the past will continue to use those weapons rather than using some developed pecs, shoulders, and biceps.

"Local Forum - South Carolina ..." in ACA On the Line Vol.18 No.4 Sept. 1995 Pg. 4.

South Carolina - South Carolina has joined other states, such as Arizona and Mississippi, that have banned weight lifting in state prisons. The law went into effect early in July.

All Weight-lifting equipment was removed and will be made available to correctional officers and students at the state Criminal Justice Academy. Bans on inmate weight-lifting activities also have been proposed in Ohio and North Carolina.

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