A group of 25 men convicted of crimes in the State of California gathered together inside a room in Donovan, a maximum security correctional facility.
The policy at most state prisons disbands group of five or more inmates, as administrators are fearful of negative plots or schemes against the institution, but at Donovan, these inmates gather as a collective to practice the art of yoga, reports Jennifer McEntee in the San Diego Magazine.
“It’s not just non-violent; you have to practice compassion; this can bring you back to balance,” said Mark Phelps, an inmate participant in the yoga program.
William Jackson, another inmate in the program, appreciates the opportunity for its therapeutic benefits.“I had never done yoga before in my whole life.”
The weekly one-hour yoga class is conducted in a gymnasium adjacent to the chain- linked, barb-wired prison and is monitored by surveillance cameras. “
Although strong emphasis is placed on security, Bill Brown, the instructor of the program, told McEntee that he is never uncomfortable. “It feels very chill – more chill than walking around Ocean Beach sometimes.”
Brown, who began teaching the program in 2012, ac- knowledges the trauma many inmates experience which may lead them to anti-social behavior. He believes yoga is a way to teach people to be more mindful and more self-aware. Donovan Correctional Officers concur that it appears to reduce altercations in the yard and helps to pre- pare inmates for life on the outside.
The inmates in Brown’s yoga class are welcomed and respected as normal citizens, although their crimes range from drug possession to robbery to murder. How- ever, while the participants are just asked to concentrate and breathe, this allows them to acquire the full benefits of yoga, including victim awareness, building healthy relationships, peace of mind and health.
Along with the yoga incentive, Donovan inmates can participate in life-skills and job training programs, victim offender groups, American sign language, and Service Dog Training, noted the San Diego Magazine.
When many correctional institutions add additional programs to help inmates rehabilitate, the art of yoga may become more prominent behind the walls.
By James R. Metters Jr.