The Power of Soccer
In Playa Champions we believe in second opportunities, this is why we accepted the invitation to play an exhibition game with the inmates at the City of California Correctional Facility.
When we first received the phone call, we accepted straight away, without even knowing where this place was, or the long security process that we had to go through in order to be able to get into the facility. Somehow we knew that something special would come behind that ‘YES’.
Sunday June 23rd is a day that will be in our memories forever, a day that started early in the morning with a 2 hour drive into the Californian desert. Once at the facility, Thandi was waiting for us, with a nice smile, he welcomed us and the first thing he told us was: “I will be your touch point today. We need to always be in a position where we can see each other” 😬.
Phones, bags, frankly anything besides our soccer uniforms and cleats were not allowed. We got changed and it was only when we passed through security when we started to realize what it meant for us to be there.
I will always remember the sound of our cleats resonating while walking through the corridors of the jail. Any sort of fear or uncertainty was completely gone when we experienced the excitement that everyone inside the Correctional Facility had, only because a couple of random guys decided to give part of their ‘freedom’ and share time with them.
A bigger crowd than expected was waiting for us at the rocky and sandy field. Once we were there, it was a quick warm up and then game on! Soccer has the magic that when as soon as the ball starts rolling, everyone is equal. All of our prejudices were suddenly gone. Now, 22 players were having fun while playing the beautiful game. All of a sudden, there weren’t any walls anymore.
The game was super fun, well played, and held a great level of sportsmanship. We ended up mixing up the teams because we were short on players, which at the end was super cool since now we were not even playing against the inmates, but with them.
We were now thinking on how many players from our teams out there should come next time and learn from the sportsmanship and politeness of the inmates. All prejudices were destroyed in one second and we now realize how important is to embrace the process of re-insertion that these people are going through.
After the game, everyone at the field was grateful:
+ The inmates because the fact of us being there gave them a message of hope as they experienced that there are still people from the ‘outside society’ that decide to care instead of giving them their backs (lots of hope for a future re-insertion).
+ The Playa Champions’ players because after sharing our time with the inmates we ended up receiving a lot more than what we went to give.
We believe in second chances, and we believe that as a society we have to work together to make this world a better place every day. We are planning to make this experience something that we can do several times a year, so if you are in California, be ready because the next time you can come with us.
Nicolas Rey Petit
PD) Special thanks to Thandi Smith and all the staff at California City Correctional Facility for their great work and hospitality.