Rehabilitating the prison population: What’s the best approach? Where do you begin?
One California man is trying and he starts with a stretch and some deep breaths.
James Fox is the founder of Prison Yoga Project. He wants meditation and centering to transform inmates so they are calmer behind bars and capable of coping better after they are released.
James is doing it with yoga at San Quentin State Prison. And he wondered why it wouldn’t work at the Cook County Jail too.
“When I became a teacher I was very clear I wanted to bring yoga to people who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to yoga,” he says.
This month he taught classes at Yogaview in Lincoln Park. About 50 instructors learned how to bring their practices to the prison population.
Marshawn Feltus was once incarcerated himself and is now a yoga instructor.
“We’re trying to go out and give people a sense of life and what it means to be living instead of waiting to live,” Marshawn says.
James has trained some 1400 yoga teachers at 105 prisons and jails in 23 states. His latest focus is Cook County. Yoga is already underway there, but James is expanding the program with volunteers like the ones he taught at Yogaview.
“What yoga provides is the opportunity to work with the body and work with issues of trauma that are held in the body and release them,” James says.
The only thing allowed into prison yoga practices: A yoga mat, some foam blocks and a chime. Tight fitting clothes are forbidden. Those are the rules for teachers. The rest is up to the class of inmates looking for a safe place, a temporary escape or a secure room to center themselves for 60-90 minutes at a time.
When it comes to rehabilitation, this dedicated group thinks it’s working: One pose, one prisoner at a time.
The nonprofit program is training yoga volunteers and it doesn’t cost the government a cent.
James ultimately wants to see prisoners leading other prisoners through a yoga practice. For now, he is traveling the U.S. continuing his training that helps with stress management and relaxation.
It’s a new program at Cook County Jail and people there are hopeful it brings some peace to detainees and the overall environment.
More info at http://prisonyoga.org/