This question is to the ex-prisoners on our site... but volunteers, please feel free to chime in with additional related questions yourselves!
I am currently teaching yoga/meditation to a small group of incarcerated male juveniles and want to expand the outreach capabilities in our community (Orlando, FL). A fellow yoga instructor & I are looking to start yoga/meditation classes for adults & juveniles recently released from incarceration... We want to coordinate this through the local Probation Offices. Linda owns a yoga studio where we would hold the classes and they would be offered for free. This particular class would be exclusively offered to those on probation and would not be listed on the studio schedule. Of course, the entire schedule would be open for their participation if they wanted to come more often. I know there are so many things we haven't even thought of yet. I've still yet to speak with any probation officers in the county about coordinating this and hope to make that contact soon.
Based on your experience of being incarcerated (with or without a yoga/meditation practice), would your transition to the streets have been easier, less stressful, more welcoming if you had access to a program like we are proposing? I am of the idea that having a consistent group of folks (adults & juveniles), attending class weekly, would really make a stronger impact - but would this just add one more stressor to your release? I'm not sure how much scrutiny is given to someone on probation as far as their daily activities and whether or not programs like this are encouraged by Probation Officers??
I would appreciate any thoughts you all could give me on this...
hi:Lauren,based on my experience safe places to connect are imperative to those being released.By finding other like minded practioners this gives a sense of unity.My experience is yoga/meditation is a way to find a way to find a sacred spot within.Often those being released have little or no income for yoga classes and by offering these you are accepting them into your community giving them a place to focus their practice.With palms joined i prostrate. Namaste ,Mark
Thank you for your response and support! Because I already have a class started with the male juveniles, we are going to expand this program to include more classes for the guys & girls... and then begin offering classes once they are on probation. I would also like to offer a yoga/meditation class to the CO's. I know they have a large impact on the inmates' experience of incarceration, and to have them experience the calm, mental stability, and open-heartedness of these practices woud benefit everyone! I'll be keeping the site posted on our progress... Thank you again for sharing your thoughts, Mark! Namaste, Lauren
I think what you proposing for juv's on probation is great, one of the big issues after being inside and getting out is being exposed and excepted in a culture that is not crime based. It's so important to have positive role models Since you are presently working inside already I am sure you have an adequate way to secure peoples personal property while they are practicing yoga. the reality is it is hard to break habitually patterns.
I also feel having a class for CO's is good, they are subject to the oppressive prison environment also, anything that can bring some humanity to the situation is welcome.
Yours in the Dharma,
I think this extension of your class is great. This is only for probationers not parolees? They could really benefit
I support what Miles said. There is a culture shock upon release, going from very few freedoms to just about anything.
This is the best time to offer newly released ex-prisoners something to do, especially if they are continuing the class
from the inside.
Most are involved to some extent in drugs or alcohol, so anything to keep them occupied is good.
Stressor to release? No, I think many are anxiety ridden about release because they fear using again, many could welcome this class for that reason.
Scrutiny on probation? Drug tests, random i think. I only had one and new i'd fail it. Report weekly i think. Must have job and pay montly fine. They keep tabs on you. I think that some POs would be for most anything that would reduce their case load, or repeat offenders.
Parolees, about the same. POs are mainly concerned about you showing you up, passing drug tests, having a job and paying your fees, and what ever else is a condition of your probation/parole.
I think that it is a great idea to bring mindfullness, stress release, physical activity and community to the release process.
My experience in the Federal system is that you are prohibited from having contact with other convicted felons while on supervised release (I had to get permission to be on this site), so you may experience hesitation from the probation office in fostering community among the recently released (who may form bonds and be tempted to see eachother outside of class, etc.)
One way to get around this would be to have the classes in the half-way houses - the beginning of the transition period for many.
Anything that would bring some sanity to halfway house is a boon for all sentient beings, I found the halfway house trying in the mixture of different types of inmates all mixed together. Halfway house can be very volatile because everyone has a different set of priorities and expectation when they are close to release.
Thank you for your effort with prisoners/ex-prisoners, you have a real bodhisattva spirit! I think your group would be very useful as long as it does not in some way become mandatory for the people on probation who attend. This happened with 12-Step progams such as A.A and N.A It really changed the atmosphere of those meetings, & not in a positive way, either.
If you can avoid this trap, then you will doing something very wonderful, my hat is off to you!!
This is a great idea. When I was in a halfway house for the first 3 months after my release, it was really important to be able to attend meditation classes at a local meditation center. Fortunately, I was already connected to this center. I believe for many released prisoners having a special group to go to would be very helpful. Yoga would have been very helpful to me during that time as well -- it was an incredibly stressful time trying to keep up with all the conditions of my supervision. I agree with the comment about positive role models. I am aware of an experimental group for released prisoners at a zen center in California. Because the hosts did not provide strong direction and leadership to the group, allowing the members to run the group, the group experienced a lot of conflict, drug use problems, etc. and eventually had to be disbanded. I also wonder about mixing juveniles and adults. There could be some real positives in this, but there could also be problems. Young people may not feel that comfortable in a group that is not youth oriented. Probation authorities may also have problems with mixing juveniles on probation with recently released adults. Please keep us informed about your project and thank you for your inspired work.