FOLSOM, Calif. (KTXL) — For most people, being inside a state prison surrounded by armed guards, prison walls and inmates is not something experienced first-hand, let alone seeing a professional soccer team practice as well.
This week, the Republic FC held a training session inside the Folsom State Prison, something they hadn’t done in nearly two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a pretty magical experience because you don’t know what to expect, right,” said Republic FC President and General Manager Todd Dunivant. “But when you roll out the ball, you kind of forget about all of that. You forget about where you are, and you have fun and you compete and you play, and you shake hands afterward.”
“The coolest thing is, these guys are all fans of ours, you know, so they get the games in here, and they watch and are supporting us,” said Republic FC player Cameron Iwasa. “When we get a little bit of the chirping and stuff, and we get some energy coming from those guys, it definitely turns it up a little bit, so that was a cool experience.”
“There’s a huge give-and-take. You know, we come in here and we want to show some compassion, some humanity. Let these guys know people care about them,” Dunivant explained.
About 125 inmates were allowed to watch Thursday’s workout for the Republic FC, and for them, it was quite the experience.
“I think they’re doing a good job for our community, for us to give back to our communities out there,” said one inmate.
“It breaks the monotony, you know,” another told FOX40.
“It’s amazing to me how much they know about the team, how much they know about our tactics, our players. So, they’re fans and it’s important we acknowledge fans,” said head coach Mark Briggs.
“There is a little bit of banter between us and them, so to get that going it’s like regular fans,” said player Shannon Gomez.
“A big part of the Department of Corrections is rehabilitation, and that is one thing we’re providing here,” said Lieutenant Ernie Valencia with Folsom State Prison. “Having them be a part of a productive game and being part of that community, gives them a sense that the community hasn’t forgotten about them.”
“They’re ultimately going to be our neighbors again, and we want to show them that there is a good pathway back. Just to come in, and honestly roll the ball out, that makes all the difference,” Dunivant said.
The team has already planned a return visit to the prison in September.