Abel Torres was in Pelican Bay State Prison's Security Housing Unit when he learned that his 15-year-old son had died of stomach cancer.
"I had 20 minutes to hear what happened, to try to talk to my daughter and his brother, to comfort them and then I had to go back to my cell," he said. "I lost my namesake."
Six years after his son's death, Torres, now an inmate on the prison's B Yard, decided to organize a cancer walk among his fellow inmates.
With each section of B Yard walking for about an hour, Torres and his fellow inmates raised $1,213.75 in three hours. He said he collected donations from people who had as little as 25 cents to give and as much as $50 and realized cancer is an equalizer even in the divisive world of the prison inmate.
"That means more to me than the guy giving $50 to me, 'cause you're giving all you have," Torres said of the 25-cent donation. "I saved my paycheck for 2 months to donate $10."
On Thursday, Torres, AnnMarie Moreno, a case manager at the prison, and senior accounting officer Linda Field donated a check to Chelsea Sanyaolu, who spearheads the local Relay for Life effort.
In addition to the $1,213.75 the prisoners raised, prison staff raised $1,500 online, Moreno said. Another $1,000 came from an outside donor, she said.
Torres and other members of the prison's B Yard held their cancer walk on June 1, Moreno said. She pointed to a Groot doll in the back of her car.
"Groot was our mascot," she said. "And we made a 'Walk for the Cure' cape. Our organizer is a very big Marvel fan."
Crescent City's Relay for Life event will be held from 6 p.m. July 19 to 6 p.m. July 20 at Del Norte High School. The event brings teams and individuals to the track at Mike Whalen Field to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
On Thursday, Sanyaolu thanked Torres and his fellow inmate Kunlyna Tauch, who writes for the prison's newspaper The Pelican. Sanyaolu noted that many teams are only able to raise a few hundred dollars and hoped that the inmates' contribution would serve as an inspiration.
"Really this is huge for our event," she said.
Tauch, who spent much of the June 1 walk interviewing inmates and writing his own reflection about the event, said he and his peers were willing to donate whatever it took to the American Cancer Society.
"Guys were thirsty for this," he said. "A lot of people are affected by (cancer) one way or the other."
Torres said he plans to hold other fundraising events to raise money for a cause. One proposal is to do something related to heart disease during the month of February. He said he'd also like to hold a Buddy Walk to raise money to support children with autism.
For more information about the Crescent City Relay for Life, visit www.facebook.com/Relay-for-Life-of-Crescent-City .
Reach Jessica Cejnar at email@example.com .