Wyoming inmate fitness program wins national award

Staff - mysanantonio.com - 07/18/2011

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — For John Bates, the big incentive to lose weight was his high blood pressure.

Bates, 67, is an inmate at the Wyoming Honor Conservation Camp. He has dropped 12 pounds since March and 9 inches around his hips, waist and chest.

At 5-foot-8, he once weighed 232 pounds.

His blood pressure is now normal. His goal is to get down to 180 pounds and off his high blood pressure medicine.

"I'm 67 years old. I'd like to outlive my father who lived until 93," Bates said Friday in a phone interview.

Bates is a member of the conservation camp's inmate weight loss program simply called "The Group."

The Newcastle facility's weight-loss program recently won an award from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC).

The award is presented each year to only one facility selected from among 500 prisons, jails and juvenile detention and confinement facilities. The Wyoming Honor Conservation Camp will receive its award Oct. 17 in Baltimore at the NCCHC conference.

The Wyoming voluntary program offers information on nutrition and diet, exercise and support.

Bates attends class, performs intense workouts and walks 2 1/2 miles a day.

Diet is a challenge.

"I am the camp baker. I bake all the breads. I have quit eating all the breads," Bates said.

His new diet mainly consists of nonprocessed foods, vegetables and fruits and nuts.

He said continuing to work as the camp cook is difficult.

"The smell is overwhelming sometimes," Bates said.

He has arthritis, he said, and hates to start exercising but once he does, he feels better.

Lucas Schwabauer, 31, weighed 283 pounds at 6-foot-1 when he began the program in January.

He has since lost 22 pounds and has more self-confidence and energy.

Schwabauer said the weekly health class helps him and the others understand nutrition and make better choices about what to eat.

Before eating a bag of chips, for example, the class members have learned to find out what's in the bag of chips, he said.

"That's one thing I've always had trouble with is choosing unhealthy food over healthy food because it tastes better," Schwabauer said.

He also takes part in the evening high-impact exercise classes. The class uses a DVD set called the "Insanity" program.

The weight-loss program formally started in July 2010 with educational meetings with the inmates, said Tracy Rose, recreational activities specialist.

Rose, who facilities the program, said the inmates must receive a recommendation from the contract medical company to participate.

"One of the big components is to teach them proper portion control and they don't have to eat everything on their plate," she said.

"I really want to teach them what they need to know so when they go back in the community, they can do it on their own and they don't need our support anymore," she added.

One success story was an inmate with diabetes who learned to control his disease with diet alone and no longer needed insulin injections.

Another was a morbidly obese inmate who lost 25 pounds before he left the conservation camp.

An overweight 20-year-old lost 41 pounds in 4 1/2 months and was running five to eight miles a day.

An inmate recommended for the program because of mental health needs gained self-esteem and confidence and "smiles more," Rose said.

Older inmates prone to slips and falls are educated and trained in balance and low-impact exercises.

Because many inmates in the program are embarrassed and self-conscious, Rose tries to schedule time in the gym when other inmates are not allowed to work out.

Wanda Kerns, executive assistant to Warden State Hargett, said, "We didn't think of it in the beginning this way, but it will save on medical costs and will help inmate costs when they get into the community."

A total of 18 men have gone through the program. Currently, six are involved.

Wyoming Department of Corrections Director Robert Lampert said he will encourage other state correctional facilities to offer a similar program to inmates.

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