‘Mitchell and Gardner changed our lives’

Cape Town - The music is pumping, and with pure concentration etched on their faces, the rows of men pedal, lift weights and punch away in between walls painted vivid orange, purple and green. A sports channel flashes from a flat-screen television.

This is the fitness centre in the Malmesbury Medium A Correctional Centre set up by Peter Gardener and Rodney Mitchell, the former heads of the Health & Racquet franchise.

(From left) Morne Goodman, Enrico Oliver and Robert Joseph, inmates at the Malmesbury Medium A Correctional Centre, work out in a fitness centre set up in the prison by former Health & Racquet gym executives. Picture: MICHAEL WALKER. Credit: CAPE TIMES

One or two Correctional Services officers monitor the room and prisoners in orange uniforms walk about.

On Thursday the Cape Times visited the gym, which is for inmates and prison officials. It was opened in November under a project called “Opportunity through Fitness”.

Nathan Cedras, 29, sentenced to 15 years for armed robbery, said he had been trained by Gardener and Mitchell, whom he looked up to.

“I used to be on drugs. I used to be a criminal. I’ve gone from a zero to a hero. Peter Gardener and Rodney Mitchell changed their prison sentence, but they’ve changed our lives.”

Since the gym was opened, Cedras had quit smoking and was dedicating himself to fitness training.

“Every day we put 150 inmates through one-hour sessions... I used to be an armed robber. Now I’m an armed trainer,” he said, flexing his arm muscles.

Inmate Robert Joseph said, “The equipment is good quality… Rodney Mitchell taught me about fitness. This gives us hope.” .

Godfried Morris, the Correctional Services department’s West Coast management area’s spokesman, said Gardener and Mitchell “shared a combined 60 years’ experience in running one of the largest fitness companies in the world”.