A Shocking Tale of Empathy from Maximum Security Prison

Just above the ominous sign on the wall a prison guard walked a catwalk with a rifle. The posted sign below read:

Warning: There are no warning shots fired in this building.

Coach Campbell and I spent the entire day yesterday in a Level 4 – Maximum Security Unit in Lancaster, CA. Together we co-founded our non-profit, DEUCE Community Inc., which serves men and women with lived experience in the criminal justice system. We were afforded an opportunity to attend the business pitch contest and cohort graduation of a friendly partner, Defy Ventures.

While there were more remarkable moments than I can name, there’s one that still haunts me. Keep in mind, I’m in this room with roughly twenty volunteers like myself and twenty men serving time. Just in the several personal side conversations I had with incarcerated folks in this group more than a handful had life sentences, more than three had murder convictions, and some had done more than 15 years in solitary confinement. These weren’t short-term stays.

At one point we did an exercise called “Step-to-the-Line” where volunteers stood across from an incarcerated individual. A blue line was taped to the floor about two feet in front of us respectively. We were asked a series of questions, which you could respond “Yes” or “No” to by whether or not you stepped to the line.

It was a beautiful exercise in empathy.

The questioning ranged broadly with prompts like, “Step to the line if you like country music” and more serious ones like, “Step to the line if a parent tucked you in bed and told you they loved you each night as a child.” You can imagine the visual experience of being in a room for a question like that.

The moment I’ll never forget came when the proctor said, “Step to the line if you struggle with self-confidence.” Almost every volunteer stepped to the line. Almost none of the incarcerated individuals stepped to the line.

I realize that the sample of incarcerated folks may be biased towards higher self-confidence and self-awareness since they are precisely at the end of an intense developmental course, but I was still shocked. There was still a line of humans who were the property of the state who seemingly had enough self-confidence to choose not to step to the line while almost every well-to-do volunteer (many of whom are Google employees, successful entrepreneurs, etc) openly acknowledged their lack of self-confidence. It was ironic, powerful, and introspective.

I’m not sure what it means, but I think we should pay attention to it. What do you think?

2/17/23 WOD

DEUCE Athletics GPP

Complete 4 Rounds of the Following:

5 Rack Pulls

:30 Weighted Plank Hold


Then, complete 2 rounds for time of:

6th Street Hill Run

20 Pull Ups

30 Burpees

40 KB Swings



Make 3 attempts at the following complex:

6 Sandbag Squats 

150’ Sandbag Carry


Then, complete 3 rounds for quality of:

:10 10° Iso Hold + 10 Partner GHRs

10 Bear Position Banded 1-Arm Rows – Left

10 Bear Position Banded 1-Arm Rows – Right


Then, in 6 minutes, complete the following for reps:

Run 400m

Max Power Clean & Jerks (155/105)