Meet Heidi Wippel, the trainer transforming gyms and lives –

Meet Heidi Wippel, Recreation Coordinator, Physical Educator, and “Coach” at California State Prison Corcoran. Working in various capacities with the Office of Correctional Education for 18 years, Wippel has been with CSP-Corcoran since September 2014.

She has transformed empty gyms from overflow dormitories into functional recreation spaces, also improving the equipment available on the yards and in the fields. (Read a gym transformation story.)

In addition, she recruited external volunteers to reinforce the concept of “Rehabilitation through Sport” at the prison. Coach Wippel has been an active member of the Coaching Leadership Council, the Strategic Plan Team, and a key member of the management of Visions Adult School.

Q&A with Heidi Wippel, coach at CSP-Corcoran

What does a normal day look like for you?

You can find me most days touring the various courtyards, residence halls and program offices, carrying my notebook to keep track of the recreational needs of each facility.

As the sole recreational coach, I am responsible for the procurement, delivery, tracking and facilitation of all recreational equipment within the facility. This includes social games such as chess boards, pinochle cards, dominoes, Scrabble and board games.

As a coach, I also lead recreation in gyms and on the pitch to:

  • soccer
  • basketball
  • soft ball
  • handball
  • pickle ball
  • yoga (mat)
  • Table tennis
  • horseshoes
  • soccer flag
  • volleyball
  • badminton
  • Frisbee
  • Hacking bags
  • petanque

I also coordinate fitness including pull up bars, medicine balls, heavy bags, speed bags, resistance bands, sandbags and dip bars.

In addition, I coordinate all these activities as well as the setting up of tournaments and leagues in collaboration with the Inmate Advisory Council, the guard and the administration. I oversee recreation for a total of six separate main yards, several smaller management yards, day rooms and three gymnasiums.

This means I have to visit different job sites and facilities on different days. CSP-Corcoran has many different missions including Minimum Support, Level 2, Level 3, Level 4, Enhanced Outpatient Program, Long Term Restricted Housing, Short Term Restricted Housing, Sheltered Housing and more Again. Therefore, it is important that I work directly with captains, sergeants and correctional officers on what is authorized for each mission. Together, we develop policies that support facility safety and security, but also use sports and recreation to provide a valuable piece of the rehabilitation puzzle.

What aspect of physical education might surprise someone unfamiliar with correctional facilities?

Most people are unaware that the Recreational Coach functions as the centerpiece of a flywheel between the prison populations we serve, the institution and staff, and the Office of Correctional Education under the Rehabilitation Programs Division.

Most people also don’t realize how important recreation is to our population. Sports and recreation can support rehabilitation through the development of social skills (communication, teamwork and leadership skills), improved physical, mental and social health, self-esteem and confidence, health education, and can even lead to job opportunities.

The improvement of the general climate within the prison contributes to a more positive atmosphere and to a constructive use of free time, both in detention and after release, improving relations between staff and prisoners, but also between people incarcerated themselves.

What was your best day at work as a physical education instructor at CSP-Corcoran?

When I brought in an outdoor volunteer basketball team called “Between the Lines”. On Monday March 3, 2020 and Tuesday March 4, 2020, CSP-Corcoran hosted its first-ever high-intensity, standing-only, “Between the Lines” event.

In my eyes, I hope it will be remembered as part of my legacy as the first female coach to serve at CSP-Corcoran. For incarcerated Hernandez, it will also be part of his legacy as he sank the winning basket, making his team the only team on the day to beat the pros at “Between the Lines.”

Co-founders Lamont “Tory” Stapleton and Darren Duncan are bringing the sport of basketball, and all of the valuable life lessons associated with it, to the courts of rehabilitation centers across the country.

It is their belief that basketball can be used to teach constructive and beneficial lessons. These lessons stick with players, travel beyond the boundaries of the playing field, and translate into everyday life.

Some of these lessons include:

  • self-belief
  • the value of discipline and hard work
  • responsibility and accountability
  • how to be a team player
  • to overcome obstacles and adversity
  • manage wins and losses
  • persistence
  • management of time
  • make sacrifices
  • and an overall respect for others.

For most, the gym became a place where, for a moment, everyone could escape from the constraints of concrete walls and fences. A place where high fives, enthusiasm, smiles and even laughter filled the prison walls.

Sports and recreation have the ability to bring people together.

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