Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP) in California first initiated its pickleball program earlier this year, in March 2023. It was such a triumph that it recently hosted its inaugural tournament over Labor Day Weekend.
It proved immensely popular, and the prison aimed to establish a league on the back of its success. However, it encountered an obstacle due to a shortage of equipment. They were down to just four wooden paddles and three wiffle balls at one point.
In a timely move, Redemption Serve, an organization dedicated to fostering connections between outside communities and incarcerated individuals through pickleball, generously donated $3,500 worth of equipment in September 2023.
The impact was immediate.
This contribution resulted in a surge of participants in the pickleball program led by “Nemo,” an incarcerated individual serving as program commissioner.
Collaborating with Andrew Scholl, the facility’s recreation coordinator, Nemo has been instrumental in organizing various pickleball events. The influx of equipment has allowed for the expansion of leagues and tournaments, facilitating improved relationships between the incarcerated and the staff.
Another Level Of Enthusiasm
Reflecting on the impact of this gesture, “Cameron,” an inmate at MCSP, expressed his gratitude: “This simple act of kindness has injected another level of enthusiasm. We can’t believe people cared enough about us to donate pickleball equipment.
“This kindness from all those involved really makes a difference. We will use the equipment most enthusiastically.”
Mimi Loucks, a former collegiate and pro tennis player, heads Redemption Serve. She orchestrated the donation effort after she retired as professional at the Balboa Tennis Club of San Diego and became a pickleball enthusiast.
After introducing pickleball, Mule Creek State Prison saw the program become a huge success, but faced an equipment shortage. They received a donationof $3,500 worth of equipment, which produced many benefits for the incarcerated and staff 👏— USA Pickleball (@USAPickleball) November 20, 2023
Read more: https://t.co/P1ToIZZi4H pic.twitter.com/4YWe67fssi
A Newfound Passion
Loucks, driven by a newfound passion for criminal justice reform, highlighted the importance of raising awareness about the challenges faced by the prison community:
She told Stephen Hunt of Red Line Editorial, “Over the past three years, I have been diving into criminal justice reform. I got into the Prison Journalism Project (which gives incarcerated journalists a voice in criminal justice reform) and became aware of a community, the prison community.
Seeing the injustices that this community faces brought out a passion in me I never even knew I had.
“There can’t be change unless we can bring awareness to what is happening in there, and also being able to rehabilitate these people will prepare them when they are released back to society. There are so many things it gets me passionate about, like being able to change society, the world, and so many lives.”
A Positive Contribution
Motivated by her connections within the tennis and pickleball community, Loucks reached out for equipment donations. The overwhelming and immediate response reflected a collective desire to contribute positively to the lives of the incarcerated.
“It was so heartwarming. I only asked two contacts involved in pickleball. “They were like, ‘What can we do? I had no idea this was happening on the inside.’
“That’s the type of reaction I’m looking for, for people to know what’s happening and know they want to help make a change. It’s such an easy thing to do, to donate and show them they’re loved.”
Loucks witnessed firsthand the transformative impact of pickleball within MCSP, aligning with California’s emphasis on rehabilitation and dignified treatment of inmates under the Norwegian model adopted by the Department of Corrections.
The upgraded equipment, especially the paddles, notably enhanced players’ control and performance:
“The feedback I’ve received is they can control their shots and have more feel,” Loucks said. “Since I have a tennis background, it’s like playing with a wood racquet and trying to play with that type of paddle now.
“Now that they have the up-to-date technology of paddles, it’s really elevated their game. They’re really into it.”
Accessibility And Social Nature
Pickleball’s accessibility and social nature make it an ideal tool for positive change. Loucks highlighted its inclusive nature, appealing to individuals of diverse skill and socioeconomic backgrounds, thereby fostering a more extensive community engagement.
Loucks envisions Redemption Serve extending its impact beyond MCSP, aiming to donate equipment to multiple prisons and continue positively influencing incarcerated individuals.
Commitment To The Cause
Plans for a pickleball clinic at MCSP in January 2024 symbolize Loucks’ commitment to this cause, anticipating the opportunity to introduce hundreds of men to the sport and its enriching potential.
“When I get up there with my team, we’re going to impact hundreds of those men there,” she said. “After a couple of hours with us, they’ll be able to know the basics and play on their own. That’s just amazing. That’s why it is growing so much.”
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