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A man does pull-ups in a dark room
Photo by Pawle on Shutterstock

Since COVID-19 2.0 hit, New Jersey State Prison has been shut down. No yard, no gym. Movement has been limited to the tier in which you are housed.

Now, I'm stuck in my cell all day — and I hate exercising in my cell. But I have to find the energy to do it, because if I lay around any more I'm sure I’ll turn into Play-Doh. Today’s workout wasn't nearly as intense as my yard workout.

Hey, it worked a little bit. But my cell is still not the Big Yard.

In the Big Yard, my favorite area to work out in was Quad Three. It's the perfect yard — small, with some weights, a pull-up bar and a dip bar. It sits in the corner where the guard tower looms, which provides those who need shade in the dog-heat of the summer some relief.

My spot is at the far end of the basketball court, away from the piss-stench corner where the toilet sits, and out of the shade of the guard tower. In the summertime, I embrace the sun. In the winter, I embrace the cold.

I don't start my workout until each quad is filled with dudes from the other units and locked. I wait so that I may speak to whomever I need before I begin. I like to work out uninterrupted, and, as of late, by myself. While the cages fill with energized and rowdy guys, I circle the yard, warming up, gathering my thoughts and collecting the scattered weights I plan to use. If I do stop to talk to someone through the gate, my conversation is brief, no more than ”Ayo, what up?”

Killa and his partner, unlike me, start their workout as soon as they step in the yard. They move fast and have an exercise for each corner of the quad. They're my silent competition. They go hard. I go harder.

In the song ”Lyrical Exercise,” JAY-Z says, ”Y'all ain't ready to workout with the boy.” That's how I feel.

Since it's winter, I'd be working in my all-white courtline high top sneaks, light gray sweat suit, tan wool skully and shades. The shades make me feel like I'm invisible. Here, someone is always watching.

My close friend Tariq can go hard on the workout, but he doesn't. He’s always trying to correct my money (workout), talking about how my money is incorrect and how he'll drop me off (in other words, make me quit). But he can't. And he won't ever admit that I dropped him off: I’ve got witnesses.

Anyway, when I reach my spot, I put my work gloves on. Then I start my workout by slowly sprinting across the basketball court. I touch the gate, run back to my spot, touch the ground and say to myself ”one.” I do this five times, increasing my pace as I go.

As soon as I touch the concrete on the fifth rep, I grab two 45-pound dumbbells and begin doing toe touches: 20 reps of toes to knees, then right into 20 reps of toes to waist. The sprints and the toe touches combined makes up one set. I take a quick breath and go right back to the sprints.

At this point, I'm in the zone — stress in the form of sweat trickling down my neck, ideas flowing, plans being made. Everyone else in the yard is tuned out. But I'm on point, well aware of everyone's routine. If the slightest thing goes askew, I'll stop on a dime.

This time when I reach the gate I touch it and sprint backwards. I force myself to breathe easily: air into my nostrils, stress out of my mouth. Miami Mike usually runs laps around the yard for nearly the whole duration of our time outside. I often wonder if I have the stamina to last with him.

My endurance is up. This workout is full-body, mind and soul for me.

I stop at my spot and lift the same weights. This time I do a complete toe touch, toes to the sky. If I wasn't awake before, I am now. I do 10 reps, and from rep five to 10, I'm straining. Without dropping the weight, I lift the dumbbells to my shoulders, tightening my core while keeping my forearms perpendicular to the cement. I do 10 reps of front-rack marches, making sure that my knees touch my elbows. I repeat each exercise twice.

I walk a lap or two to mentally switch the exercise. When I'm ready, I stop at the same spot, take a deep breath and begin again. Now I do 10 reps of man-killers (burpees). My heart rate is up, so I'm sweating harder, in turn burning more stress. The faster I go, the lighter I feel. From the man-killers, I go straight into my next exercise: sidewinders. I do 30, take a quick breather and go back to the man-killers.

Some guys in the Big Yard do a set, talk for ten minutes, then do another set. I call that work infertility. I need to be in it! If it's not burning, the job is not getting done. I need to burn off stress, burn this plan into my brain and of course, burn calories. I need to look good when I get out of here.

There is a guy in quad one that's housed in a different unit than I am. His workout is mean! I often wonder if I would be able to endure a workout with him. It seems like he's training to be a Navy Seal.

I'm training for freedom! The more that I think of my freedom and my family on the other side of that huge, ancient stone and brick wall, the harder I go. Sometimes, I get a whiff of the fries that are being cooked at the McDonald’s across the street. It's just more motivation.

I walk another lap and I'm back at my spot. I switch to stomach exercises and do all sorts of crunches, sit-ups and leg raises. I don't get up from my spot until my stomach is burning and in knots. When I get up, my back is dirt-stained. I love it. How can a dude be stainless after a workout?

Afterward, I walk a lap and stop at the pull-up bar. And for my final exercise, I do 10 sets of 10 pull-ups. The first two sets I do behind the neck. As soon as I jump down, if nobody's next, I jump right back up. The next two sets are overhand wide-grip, followed by two overhand and shoulder-width. I walk a quick lap for a breather. Then I finish the final four sets, two sets of underhand wide-grip, and finally two sets of underhand close-grip.

I'm done! If I were working with a partner I'd dap him up to formally end the workout.

Right now, the unit is quarantined, so no Quad Three. No yard at all, actually. It sucks sitting in a cell all day. It's hard getting a complete workout in the cell. Who wants to sweat on their bed, or on their legal mail? Until the yard is back, I'll be sitting right here getting fat.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Global Forum Online has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

Kory McClary is a writer incarcerated in New Jersey who enjoys writing short story fiction. His writings can also be found at his personal blog