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CrossFit In Prison: Inmates Finding Strength, Redemption

LIMON, Colo. (CBS4) - It may be the only CrossFit class where participants have to pass through a metal detector and get patted down to take part. Welcome to CrossFit at one of the most secure prisons in the state of Colorado in Limon.

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"Once I count you off, that's the team you are on," barks Chris Harris, one of the CrossFit instructors. Harris is doing life without parole for a double murder.

"Its not just a workout, its much more than that," said Harris, who helps lead 90 minute CrossFit classes for about 30 inmates three times a week. CrossFit is an intense workout that has achieved a cult-like following across the country.

Called Redemption Road Fitness, the Limon program is changing lives behind bars and could spread to other Colorado prisons.

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Jonathan Willis, another inmate doing life for felony murder, told CBS4, "If you can teach someone to care about somebody else in the gym, they're going to care about them outside of the gym. CrossFit is a way to communicate you are valuable, and you are worth every bit of my time and effort."

At a recent class attended by CBS4, dozens of inmates did pull ups, lifted weights and pushed themselves on stationary rowing machines. Inmates cheered each other on, hugged and slapped high fives after exercise segments.

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The camaraderie was evident and Harris says what's happening on the gym floor resonates with inmates when they get out of prison.

"You want someone getting out that cares about other people and that knows that other people have value, because they have value," said Harris.

Brandin Kreuzer, the inmate-founder of Redemption Road Fitness and this prison CrossFit program, said a simple exercise class is changing lives.

"We have witnessed people discover who they are and changed their entire lives based around this," said Kreuzer.

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He said the traditional hopelessness, divisiveness and hate that permeates prison is melting away with each class. He believes healthy habits promote a healthy life and are part of the overall rehabilitation process.

Indeed on the day CBS4 watched, inmates of different races and ages came together, hugging each other after exercise segments.

"It's crossing lines. Racial barriers are coming down," said one inmate taking part in the class.

The participants and organizers said the CrossFit sessions create a sense of community that extends past the end of class. Volunteers help with the classes and training.

"This is a very good thing, a very positive thing," said Dean Williams, who has been Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections for just a few months. "They're not getting stronger and bigger to get in a fight. They're getting stronger and bigger here to be healthy, and it changes the culture."

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Williams met with the inmates who founded the program and discussed potentially expanding CrossFit to other prisons around the state.

Last spring, the core group of inmates who run Limon's CrossFit sessions attended a two-day seminar at the prison put on by the CrossFit program. Each of the inmates had to raise $1,000 to take the Level One course.

When it was over, every one of them passed the course and were designated as "CrossFit Level 1 Trainer."

"We're trying to be part of the solution. We want to send people back in your communities who care about they person they live next door to," Willis said.

LINK: Redemption Road Fitness

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