When Markelle Taylor completed the Boston Marathon in April, it was a first for him. Not only had he bested his previous time by 15 minutes and broke the 3-hour barrier for the grueling 26.2-mile distance, but he’d also done it as a free man. Just a week prior to the marathon, he’d successfully completed three years on parole under the supervision of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation after serving 18 years as a “lifer” in San Quentin State Prison, California’s oldest and best-known correctional institution for long-term offenders.
Mr. Taylor’s running accomplishment earned him national attention in the NY Times and elsewhere, which is catching on that this former offender is very determined to be competitive in some of the nation’s largest and oldest marathons. In the fall, he hopes to run in the prestigious Chicago Marathon in front of many family and friends who live there – and push his already very fast time down to 2 hours, 45 minutes or lower.
Mr. Taylor took up running in prison, where he earned the nickname The Gazelle, and with the help of a Marin County running club that visited with inmates, it was clear he had drive, discipline, and talent. When he was released from San Quentin, Mr. Taylor was released to community supervision at the GEO Reentry’s Taylor Street Residential Reentry Center in the heart of San Francisco. He entered the Long-Term Offender (LTO) program at Taylor Street, a program funded by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and managed by GEO Reentry.
The LTO program is designed to help former inmates who have been incarcerated for long periods to successfully transition to community life, which can be daunting for many who have served long prison terms. The Taylor Street program provides a safe, structured, supervised environment as well as employment counseling, job placement, financial management assistance, and other programs and services such as cognitive behavioral treatment and Life Skills groups.
“What they did that I really appreciated was the connections in the community,” Mr. Taylor said. “In a way, we were ‘forced’ to do community service in the community, but it was good for me and the other residents,” he said. “I had a chance to meet many people in the community through this networking, even Mayor London Breed, and it helped me connect with work and other opportunities.”
Mr. Taylor said he wasn’t sure what to expect when he entered the Taylor Street facility, but he credits the programs with grounding him as he planned next steps. “One program I remember taught us how to set short-term goals that would lead to long-term goals. The plan I developed was helpful and is something I use today.” The Taylor Street program delivers cognitive behavioral treatment, which includes elements of setting realistic goals that build into achievable results, which helps residents build confidence and positive habits.
He also said some of the former inmates at San Quentin were already in the Taylor Street program, and that having those relationships helped him navigate the program conditions and community life.
“The Taylor Street program wasn’t easy, but I appreciate that they helped me coordinate my requirements and classes at the center with my training to run. With support from the Tamalpa running club that helped him in San Quentin and now in the community, he was allowed to have 6-hour leaves from the center to log the long training miles necessary to compete at this level.
He is thankful that the San Francisco area is forgiving, allowing former offenders like him to have a second chance. “The resources available in this area, there is nothing better,” Mr. Taylor said. “And I credit Taylor Street for connecting the program’s residents to these resources.”
He also credits the Taylor Street program with small touches that added up, like vouchers for transportation, clothing and more as he got reestablished in the community.
Today, he is working at United Markets, a natural foods grocer, which he said has been wonderful and non-judgmental about his past. He attends a “lifer network” group hosted monthly by the state’s Division of Parole Operations, and he’s also launched an athletic clothing line, Markelle the Gazelle Runs Free, in hopes of sharing his inspirational message to former offenders like him.