Tuesday, November 28th, 2017: When a Cop Trains a Convict

November 27, 2017

Warm-up:
10 air squats
10 pass throughs
10 figure 8’s
10 lunges
10 situps

STRENGTH
EMOM 9 (you choose weight, weight SHOULD increase with each movement change)
0-3 3 high hang power snatch
3-6 2 hang power snatch
6-9 power snatch
WOD
“ The Special”
For time: 20min cap
2,000m row then:
4 rounds of:
11 power snatch 95/65,
17 pullups,
13 thrusters 95/65

L1: 65/35
L2: 75/55

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Savino Sedano was a kid when he started delivering drugs.

Pedaling his bike around Long Beach, California, he’d drop off brown paper bags all over town.

“I didn’t even know what I was delivering,” he said.

He was distributing narcotics.

By eighth grade, Sedano had started a drug-selling business.

“I’ve been doing it ever since. I mean, through high school, all the way till, like, 35,” said the now-39-year-old. “I’ve been to prison. I never stopped. I was really addicted to that fast-money lifestyle. Especially back home. There’s gangs. My neighborhood wasn’t really the best, so it was (the) type of environment I (adapted) to. And now I’m away from that and I’ve had time to reflect, and, actually, I don’t know, it’s like I’m free now. I was like a slave.”

Sedano is a prisoner at Rankin County Detention Center in Brandon, Mississippi. There, he’s served three-and-a-half years of a five-year sentence for possession of a controlled substance.

Unbeknownst to him, he started CrossFit in June at the prison under the tutelage of a deputy sheriff who also owns a local CrossFit affiliate. Sedano’s change has been profound.

“I wasted so many years of my life on doing drugs and partying and stuff. I’m trying to change my lifestyle and CrossFit has … just changed my whole view on things. I want to continue to stay healthy. I love the way it feels,” Sedano said from jail. “My body feels good, my mind—it’s hard to explain.”

He continued: “I honestly think (CrossFit) can actually save my life from the streets.”

ALT TEXTSavino Sedano didn’t expect to find fitness and a friend during his trip through the legal system. (Andréa Maria Cecil/CrossFit Journal)

Universal Health Care

Sedano approached Rankin County Court Judge Kent McDaniel with a bold statement.

“Your son is trying to kill me.”

“I said, ‘I hope not,’” recounted McDaniel, laughing as he told the story in his soothing Mississippi accent.

Sedano had started CrossFit a few weeks earlier to notable results.

He had lost about 20 lb. from early June through late August. But what was most striking was his mental change.

“Something’s different about him,” said the 70-year-old judge.

Over the decades, McDaniel has seen men “pump a lot of iron” in the prison gym. CrossFit, he said, is different.

“It’s not just a workout. The human element of this and the relationship element of CrossFit, frankly, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

It all started when Sedano overheard McDaniel’s son Jeff talking to fellow Deputy Sheriff Richard Daniels. The conversation occurred in the hallway of the Chancery Court building that’s part of the complex that includes the county prison. Daniels had just started at Reservoir CrossFit, Jeff McDaniel’s gym outside Brandon. The topic of conversation: burpees.

Sedano was familiar with the movement, showing the deputies how he performed the exercise.

“He was doin’ … the four-count burpee. And I was like, ‘Ya know what? You can do ’em a bunch of different ways, but the ones we did this morning were over a bar,’” McDaniel explained.

In the courthouse hallway, the deputies demonstrated.

ALT TEXTA chance meeting in a hallway connected Sedano with Jeff McDaniel of Reservoir CrossFit. (Jeff McDaniel)

“The more we talked about it,” McDaniel said, “I grabbed a little notepad off the courthouse desk there and I just scratched out a little 21-15-9 of jumping pull-ups and burpees over the bar.”

He instructed Sedano on how to do the pull-ups and the burpees with the space and equipment inside the roughly 1,500-square-foot sheriff’s-office gym mostly outfitted with machines.

“You gotta do this for time,” he told him. “And come report back to me tomorrow.”

That was June 2.

The next morning, McDaniel ran across Sedano in the courthouse again.

“Hey, how was that workout?”

“Dude, that was supposed to be fast, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, 4 or 5 minutes,” the deputy responded.

It had taken Sedano nearly 40 minutes to finish the workout.

ALT TEXTWhen Sedano showed an interest in CrossFit, McDaniel was quick to keep the workouts coming. (Jeff McDaniel)

“I got hooked. I got really hooked on it,” the inmate said of CrossFit. “Now I hardly ever see (McDaniel), and he still drops off my workouts.”

The deputy sheriff started jotting down workouts for the inmate every day.

“I’d give him a workout and kinda tell him how to do it or I would walk him down there to the gym and actually show him, ya know, coach him,” he said. “I would teach him, like dumbbell hang cleans—just to work with the stuff we got down there.”

Not only did Sedano note the difference in himself but compliments also started coming from county employees at the buildings where he picked up and delivered mail.

“It’s neat, even though he’s in jail, seein’ him really eatin’ it up,” McDaniel said, “and seein’ the change and the weight loss and how he feels.”

He noted: “I don’t care who you are. You gotta be healthy—no matter what your past is.”

The Right Thing

Sedano isn’t the average prisoner at Rankin County Detention Center.

ALT TEXTSedano (on the bench) wears a blue suit that indicates his status as a trustee. (Jeff McDaniel)

He’s one of the so-called “blue suits,” a prisoner whose level of trustworthiness is indicated by the navy hue of his uniform slacks and shirt. A blue suit is the highest level of trustee at the prison. As such, the sheriff’s department likens all 20 of them to employees.

“They’ve been there enough time or they’ve had good behavior long enough or they’re nonviolent offenders that they can get trustee status where they pretty much kinda work 8 to 5,” McDaniel explained.

“We have them in our shop to help work on our cars. … There’s guys in maintenance. There’s guys that work the cafeteria line, the kitchen of the jail. There’s trustees in various places.”

Sedano delivers interdepartmental mail at the complex and serves as a Spanish-language translator for both the sheriff’s department and the county court. They are duties he sees as opportunities to better himself.

“Man, this is my chance to really give. If you’re sincere about changing, you gotta give.”

Along with the other blue suits, he lives in a separate module of the jail—away from more serious offenders—complete with a communal kitchen that includes a refrigerator, stove and oven. There’s also an outdoor grill. As a blue-suit trustee, Sedano can come and go from his cell throughout the day until the doors are locked from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The current sheriff’s trustee program has existed for roughly eight years at the 500-bed jail. Adding rehabilitation to the program, however, only started roughly five years ago when Sheriff Bryan Bailey was elected to office.

His approach includes more emphasis on physical fitness, taking inmates to church, developing skills to be used for future employment and providing a support system. Bailey has been known to visit churches himself to inquire about housing and clothing for soon-to-be-released inmates and to seek full-time employment for them with the county or elsewhere.

“We can’t just take people off the street, lock ’em up and put ’em right back in the same environment they came out of. We have to give ’em the tools that they need to survive and … succeed,” Bailey stressed. “There’s actually some good people in jail. They just need a second chance.”

Sedano has been their most successful case study.

“I can see a change in him, just from workin’ out and his relationship with McDaniel.”

Bailey added: “Being healthy has a direct effect on your happiness.”

The trustee program saves money on incarceration, and it’s the right thing to do, he noted.

“If we don’t stop and turn around and help people out, it’s gonna drag us all down.”

Bailey and the rest of the county staff are the exception rather than the rule at the nation’s prisons, where recidivism rates can be as high as 76.6 percent within five years, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

At the Rankin County jail, the sheriff said the trustee program has a roughly 50 percent recidivism rate.

Regardless of the circumstances, there is always a rehabilitation effort, said Kent McDaniel, the county judge.

If it’s within county officials’ power to “put a little extra into anybody who walks through those doors,” he continued, it’s worth it.

“It ain’t normal, but it works for us.”

ALT TEXTSedano grew up running from the police, and now he trains with a deputy sheriff. (Andréa Maria Cecil/CrossFit Journal)

“There’s No Judgement”

Shortly before 9 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23, McDaniel lingered near the Rankin County jail’s receptionist desk, just a couple of feet from the heavy brown metal door whose adjacent white sign warned “no weapons beyond this point by order of the sheriff” in red letters. Above the door, a white rectangular sign declared “RANKIN CO JAIL” in blue letters.

The deputy wasn’t dressed for his day job. He wore a black Reservoir CrossFit T-shirt, gray shorts, crew socks and sneakers. McDaniel shuffled about, spending a few seconds leaning against the receptionist’s doorway before asking other deputies if they’d seen Sedano. He looked back and forth—first through the square piece of glass in the metal door and then back at the glass door from which he had entered. He was waiting to transport the inmate 8 miles north.

At around 9 a.m., Sedano walked through the brown door. The two men greeted each other the way buddies do—with a hand slap, a half hug and a smile. The excitement was palpable. The inmate had replaced his typical all-blue attire with a gray short-sleeved sweat-wicking shirt, black shorts, gray sneakers and a bright blue gym bag slung across his chest.

Time to go to the box.

It was the third Saturday nine-hour monthly pass Sheriff Bailey had given Sedano. Each time, the inmate asked to go to Reservoir CrossFit, McDaniel’s gym, for the morning class.

“(For) his first pass this summer, he asked if I could bring him to the gym. I was like, ‘Heck yeah, man,’” McDaniel recounted.

The nine-hour pass starts at 9 a.m.; CrossFit Reservoir’s Saturday class is at 10.

“I went and picked him up at the jail and brought him to the box. He did the Saturday-morning class with us. And then we went to—I figured he’d be wantin’ to eat somethin’ good after we worked out, him bein’ in jail—so we went to Buffalo Wild Wings. He got a grilled-chicken wrap. He didn’t even get any wings.”

That was July. In September, the box was packed with roughly 30 people for a relay-style workout involving teams of four people:

Minutes 0-8—max-calorie row
Minutes 8-16—max laps of a 200-m run
Minutes 16-22—max goblet squats (53/35 lb.)
Minutes 22-26—max hang power cleans (135/95 lb.)
Minutes 26-30—max toes-to-bars

ALT TEXTAr CrossFit Reservoir, Sedano is just another guy trying to be fitter with Jeff McDaniel (left). (Andréa Maria Cecil/CrossFit Journal)

Sedano’s team included McDaniel, a local firefighter, and an assistant county prosecutor who is also in-house counsel for the sheriff’s office and a reserve deputy—one convicted criminal and three public servants. That irony was lost on most who attended class that morning because McDaniel hasn’t drawn attention to his relationship with Sedano.

“Some people didn’t even know, and they just went up, introduced themselves and talked to him just like people do at a CrossFit gym,” McDaniel said of Sedano.

And when a group of folks went to eat at the joint up the street after Sedano’s Saturday workout in August, nothing seemed unusual.

“We all just sat there and had a conversation,” McDaniel said. “Nobody even really knew the difference.”

Those who do know aren’t concerned.

“His story?” asked Hill Pollard before shrugging. “It doesn’t bother me.”

Throughout the Sept. 23 class, Pollard shouted encouraging words at Sedano and gave him a few technique pointers as he warmed up for the goblet squats and hang power cleans. Before class started Sedano had strung together three toes-to-bars for the first time. His delight was unmistakable.

“I just know that Jeff has pretty much taken him under his wing, given him programs to do,” Pollard said of the inmate. “He’s actually been rather welcomed by everybody here. He comes in, puts in the work.”

He continued: “It’s really nice to see somebody change their life for the better.”

Sedano, it seemed, might have been the only one acutely aware of his societal status. After the workout, he revealed his anxiety over answering seemingly innocent questions: Where are you from? Where do you live? What do you do?

But, he conceded, that was all in his head.

“I love the community here. There’s no judgement.”

ALT TEXTRecidivism is common, but forward-thinking approaches to rehabilitation might help people change their lives. Sedano is in the front row, third from the left. (Andréa Maria Cecil/CrossFit Journal)


After the Saturday-morning workout at Reservoir CrossFit, McDaniel typically takes Sedano out to eat. At some point during the day, they might go to the supermarket. Sedano has also spent afternoons learning how to embalm bodies at a local mortuary—a skill he said he’s learning to prepare for his release—and volunteering at retirement communities.

“I try to stay productive,” he said. He added, “I think CrossFit makes me a way better person than learning any career.”

Around 2 p.m., McDaniel took Sedano to Zeek’z, a local Greek eatery, where the inmate ordered a lemonade and a pepper-jack gyro with cottage fries at the encouragement of the deputy sheriff.

“You’ve earned it,” McDaniel told him.

The two men sat and ate with McDaniel’s wife and 4-year-old son.

As Sedano reached the limit of his appetite, McDaniel pondered the rest of the day.

“Groceries?”

“No, no,” Sedano responded, slowly shaking his head.

“You don’t have no cashews, no almonds,” McDaniel quickly retorted, reminding him that his previous night’s dinner of turkey and broccoli was absent of dietary fat.

“I don’t got no money, man,” Sedano said.

“I got money,” McDaniel calmly replied. “You don’t need no money, man.”

By 3:15, the two men were at Kroger.

“Ohhh, asparagus,” Sedano exclaimed as he entered the store’s produce section.

The men made their way through the store and McDaniel didn’t miss the opportunity to test Sedano’s nutritional knowledge and discipline.

“No, no, no. What is this?” Sedano asked as McDaniel grabbed a stout white bag of a popular manufactured cookie and began to place it inside the shopping cart.

Milano’s,” McDaniel answered flatly, “double dark chocolate.”

ALT TEXTWhen the two go shopping, McDaniel uses the trip to teach Sedano more about healthy eating. (Andréa Maria Cecil/CrossFit Journal)

Later, the deputy sheriff tried to sneak in a bag of Sour Patch Kids. Sedano immediately gave a playful scowl. McDaniel has done this before.

“It’s a fat-free food. That means you won’t get fat,” he said sarcastically.

On to the next aisle.

“Oh, Clif Bars. Gotta have my Clif Bars.”

Finally, they made their way to the meat and seafood sections.

“Oh, Jeff, chorizo. You gotta have chorizo, dog.”

It all went into the cart—minus the Hostess Honey Buns and Ding Dongs McDaniel tried to get past Sedano. Even fish-oil pills.

“Man, I’m excited I got my fish oil,” Sedano said, sounding like an exhilarated child once back in the car. “Should I take one now?”

All told, the bill came to $123.94. McDaniel paid.

“I’ve been blessed. I’ve just never really struggled (financially),” McDaniel later explained. “Any time you want to help out, there’s always room for it, always money for it.”

He continued: “I can afford to do this or do that and it’s not gonna kill me.”

Sedano was appreciative.

“I’m tellin’ ya,” he said almost bashfully, “he’s great.”

ALT TEXTSedano has more time in front of him but is already planning to take CrossFit’s Level 1 Certificate Course when he gets out of jail. (Andréa Maria Cecil/CrossFit Journal)

Mississippi Welcomes You

Sedano still remembers exactly what the arresting officer said to him as he pointed a gun in Sedano’s direction.

“Welcome to Mississippi. Get down on the ground. Put your hands up.”

It was about 7 a.m. on May 2, 2014. Sedano had been on the run since about 6 p.m. a day earlier, when an officer pulled over the U-Haul van in which Sedano was a passenger and found marijuana, cocaine and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). While that officer arrested the driver, Sedano ran into the nearby woods. In the darkness, he trudged through a swamp and slept with his back against a tree that night.

Because of the manhunt that followed, he was placed in lockdown for six months after arriving at the Rankin County jail. He started serving time immediately.

Since then, his view of law enforcement has changed dramatically.

“Man, fuck the police,” was the standard phrase thrown around back home in Long Beach, Sedano said.

“We would run even if we didn’t do a crime.”

And cooperating with authorities was a nonstarter.

These days, Sedano has broken bread with the deputy sheriff and his dad, the same man who as a county judge set Sedano’s bail in 2014.

“They’re the ones that actually showed me more love than the average citizen,” Sedano said.

His relationship with 40-year-old McDaniel goes deep. And it’s changed his life.

McDaniel has welcomed him into his gym, his home and his family. He’s coached him, taken him out to eat, emphasized Christian values and bought him food. Their relationship is not merely deputy sheriff and prisoner. They’re friends.

“He’s been a blessing. He’s a great friend. I see him like a brother or even more. He’s just an amazing,” Sedano started, then paused. “I owe him a lot.”

As Sedano looks toward his freedom, the CrossFit Level 1 Certificate Course is part of his plan.

McDaniel has told Sedano that upon release he could live in the unused space at Reservoir CrossFit rent-free so long as he cleans the gym and coaches some classes. The inmate was still deciding whether he wanted to permanently return to Long Beach or stay in Mississippi after he’s served his time.

“I have a lot of support here. And back home, I didn’t have that where they actually tried to help you, improve your lifestyle and stuff. I mean I’ve changed everything from my sleeping habits to the way I eat and stuff—everything,” Sedano said.

He added: “The most important thing is I want to help others get healthy. That’s more important than making money.”

His time in Rankin County jail, he said, has made him into the man he’s become. He’s even grown an appreciation for the military-style regimen that includes seemingly menial tasks as making his bed to specifications.

“I love it. It makes me a better warrior,” he said with a slight smile.

ALT TEXTSeveral years ago, the guy on the right might have been cuffing the one on the left. Now McDaniel is offering Sedano a place to live in exchange for CrossFit coaching. (Jeff McDaniel)

For his part, McDaniel hopes to incorporate CrossFit into the jail’s rehabilitation program for all inmates.

“It becomes such a part of your life, it’s like you want to get out as much negative stuff as you can out of the way. Some of these guys it might be anger issues, some of ’em it might be substance abuse. They might be in there because of a drug problem or because of alcohol,” he explained. “CrossFit, for so many people, has been such a powerful tool to get you in a different mindset and give you a positive outlet.”

He continued: “In my book, CrossFit is the answer for a lot of life’s problems. Not just the obvious health aspect but something productive, something to be a part of.”

About the Author: Andréa Maria Cecil is assistant managing editor and head writer of the CrossFit Journal.

Cover image: Andréa Maria Cecil/CrossFit Journal

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