When you hear the word ‘yoga’, you typically think about the ancient practice of mediation, chanting and folding the body into some very pretzel like positions. It’s a blend of spiritual and physical wellbeing that men, women, the young and old do for fitness and relaxation world wide. Yoga is for everyone, everywhere….even prisons.
Here on Tablas Island, at the BJMP Odiognan District Jail, the Regional Director and the Warden (both women) initiated an exercise initiative for PDLs, or Persons Deprived of Liberty (or as we say, inmates). Not your typical PT for these inmates, they practice Zumba! A PDL leads the class, one cell block at a time through a rousing line dance routine set to boppy music with moves seen in music videos – think K Pop goes to prison.
The Director and Warden had the vision of
providing an additional form of exercise that would provide physical fitness, with the additional benefit to relieve stress and relax in a quiet and contemplative setting. This is where my friend Cynthia Cummings comes in – I’m staying with her at her Cummings Highlands Eco Resort. ( https://www.cummingshighlands1.com/ ) Cynthia has lived on Tablas Island for 5 years and being a natural networker and caring person, has made many friends and connections with businesses, government, public agencies, religious organizations, and well, just about everyone. Last year, Cynthia had a very experienced yogi stay for several months to teach she and her husband Wayne yoga twice a day, hours of yoga! After this in depth training, Cynthia become not only an experienced practitioner of Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga, but a yogi in her own right. Word got around.
The prison warden and a number of corrections officers visited the resort to enjoy the pool and talk to Cynthia about their desire to bring yoga to the PDLs as a regional initiative. Cynthia was enthusiastic not only to share her yoga knowledge, but to contribute to the spiritual health and positive environment for both staff and PDLs – she’s well known for spreading her light and kindness to others, judgement free.
Today I was privileged to accompany Cynthia to the prison to help provide the very first session for the Regional Director, Warden, 25 Corrections Officers as well as PDLs on a beautiful rooftop setting shortly after sunrise, with cool breezes and to the accompaniment of peaceful music. Everyone alike was learning, bending in ways they never know possible, letting stress out with each breath and breathing in new and positive energy. We ended with a meditative chant that hung in the still air and reverberated through our beings. This is the progressive vision management had for staff and PDLs alike, and will spread to prisons on other islands as well.
After the session, we were invited to participate in a Zumba session. We formed lines and were led by a ‘Bakala’ PDL who had the moves, charisma and talent of Michael Jackson. Our awkward white girls efforts stood out in the crowd of slick dancers, and we all shared a good laugh. Following our rather lame dance efforts, Cynthia was acknowledged for her contribution and awarded a certificate of appreciation. We were also gifted with crafts made by the PDLs, before a delicious traditional meal was shared with us. Staff were enthusiastic in showcasing the prison, so we had the experience of a tour. Each cell block had a color designation for type/seriousness of crime, a separate block for seniors, a small ward for the 6 female PDLs, a kitchen area, gardens, craft making area where low risk PDLs who had proven themselves to be trustworthy worked. The PDLs were there serving sentences for their crimes, but are treated humanely, respectfully by staff who use innovative thinking to make it as constructive as possible.
As we drove out through gates unlocked by armed guards and passed walls topped with razor wire, the dividing line between freedom and incarceration was clear – but dignity and humanity exist on both sides of the gate.
Lessons of the Day:
The majority of senior staff positions are held by women, and the corrections officers were approximately 50/50 split. More women in positions of power – this is also reflected in local authority elected officials.
It doesn’t matter who you are, we all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity – if you give that gift to someone, most likely it will be returned.
People that are true ‘givers’ have a quality in them that is seen by all, respected and treasured. That describes both my friend Cynthia and the staff we met today.