BISMARCK — David Reich showed up on a recent Saturday morning at the Missouri River Correctional Center in running gear, not the judicial robe in which some of his running mates might have once seen him.
He was there to lead a group of more than 90 inmates on an early morning run, the fifth time he's done so since expanding a running program he founded to include monthly outings at the Bismarck-area center.
His goal is not to show them how to run, but to show them why.
In high school Reich was, in his words, “one of the worst cross country runners in the state.” He ran because it was required if he wanted to play basketball.
“I hated running, I didn’t know how to run, and I didn’t run again until my daughter was a sophomore in high school,” said Reich, 62.
His daughter wanted to be in high school cross country and needed a running companion. The two ran together in training and later in races, a tradition they carry on 15 years later. Now, the man who is better known as Judge Reich from South Central District Court is the one motivating others to run.
“That’s where I figured out the benefits of running and thought it would work for people I saw in court that kept coming back,” Reich said.
Recently, he led a group of runners at the minimum-security center in the hopes that they might find the good in exercise. It was for people like them — those who have been in his courtroom mostly because of drug and alcohol addictions — that Reich in 2014 formed Runners Against Destructive Decisions. The group meets three times a week, year-round, in an effort to provide a healthy alternative for those recovering from addiction. Reich also leads the annual Santa Run and formed the nonprofit by that name that raises awareness about addiction and provides RADD runners with money for shoes and entry fees for races.
Reich has become acquainted with Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Craig Mitchell, who started a running group and is featured in the documentary "Skid Row Marathon." Through the fundraising efforts of the Bismarck club, two RADD runners will travel to Ecuador in October, where they will run in a marathon with Mitchell and 20 members of his Midnight Mission Running Club.
Participants in RADD are encouraged to set a goal of completing a 5K run or walk and to train with the group for eight weeks before entering a race.
“We’re hoping after that they’ll see the benefits of regular exercise and want to keep on doing it,” Reich said.
The group has been running monthly at MRCC since May. The center houses 190 inmates, mostly nonviolent offenders or those nearing the end of their sentences. Among the 92 to participate that day was Steven Hovland, 42, whose struggle with addiction landed him at the center about a year ago. He’s one of the original 17 who ran with Reich in May, and one of the first to earn a free pair of shoes through consistent participation. He runs three days a week and credits the RADD runs at the center with getting him back into running, something he hadn’t done since his time in the military.
“Mentally I feel better,” Hovland said. “I needed to work on my self-discipline, and getting out and running takes a lot of self-discipline.”
Hovland and other participants get excited about the monthly outings, center addiction counselor Brianne Torres said. They don’t have to run to participate, and a common question for Torres is if walking is OK.
“Absolutely,” she said. “Let’s just get going. This is fun. Come on out.”
Torres and Candace Rittenbach, director of core correctional practices, brought the idea of RADD outings at the center to Reich. The monthly events also tie in with the center’s import model, in which officials bring people in from community to form connections for inmates to utilize when they're released, Rittenbach said.
“That’s really our ultimate goal with this, is not just to get guys running here, but so they have that extra support out in the community,” she said.
That support became evident in the success of a recent shoe drive that netted 200 pairs of new and gently used shoes for inmates. They get a pair after participating in two consecutive runs or walks. Torres handed out 34 pair in the days after Saturday’s run, bringing the total to 111.
As the group readied for the run, Reich shook hands with residents and got updates on their progress. The interaction helps residents see another side of Reich, when he’s in running gear and not a robe. It also reminds Reich that the inmates have lives beyond the crimes for which he might have sentenced them. It’s gratifying, he said, to see the changes in people.
“Some of the people that run with us had serious addiction issues for a long time, and they seem to be doing very well,” he said.
After they run, the group meets to visit as they enjoy bananas, water and conversation, which Reich says is as beneficial as running to some of the participants. Until then, it's possible that the inmates may have never seen a police officer in anything other than a uniform, a judge in anything other than a robe, or their addiction counselor in a role other than counselor.
"When we put on our running clothes, we're just one. Everybody's a runner," he said.