Baseball behind bars at California’s most notorious prison

America’s Pastime has been played at San Quentin State Prison — California’s most notorious jail — for nearly 100 years.

The programme is funded by donations and is open to every prisoner, whatever their crime, except those on death row, in solitary confinement or in protective custody.

The maximum security prison fields two teams — The Giants and The A’s — and plenty of free men willingly spend an afternoon in lockup every season to take on the inmates.

It’s not quite ‘build it, they will come’ but on this Field of Dreams, men can come round to believing that one day they will go. A study by journalist Charlie LeDuff found that that 98% of the inmates who played baseball at San Quentin do not return to prison once paroled.

He found a programme that rebuilt self-esteem and restored purpose to strayed lives.

This week, photographer Ezra Shaw gained rare access to the prison to document its baseball tradition.

He had free access to practice and could follow players back to their cells. “They appreciated the fact that someone from the outside world was interested in what they were doing on a daily basis,” Shaw said.

“The baseball programme gives the inmates something to look forward to each week. For those three hours during the game, it gives them a chance to feel like they are not in prison anymore.”

No doubt, there are victims and their families who will dispute the release that those three hours bring. But that’s a different ball game for another day.

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