CHICAGO (CBS) — Convicted felons sentenced in Cook County Jail face day-after-day of a military type schedule.
So, the jail is now offering ways for the inmates to relax their minds as well has their bodies–with yoga classes.
The participants are in the Vocational Rehabilitation Impact Center and find the sessions a welcome release.
“Just kind of let all those bottled up emotions, and it’s positive, and you can let it go,” said inmate Cliff Manning. “I was thinking [yoga] was something girls just do.”
The program is called Prison Yoga Chicago. Instructors guide the men though a “trauma-informed” approach, which includes sitting in a circle instead of traditional prison-style rows. The participants are encouraged to be loud and allow them to release any frustrations.
“We do that really to humanize ourselves and remind the students that we are equal to them,” said Sasha Papazafeiropoulos, president of Prison Yoga.
The classes also avoid poses with hands behind the back, which could stir up memories of being handcuffed.
“They try to avoid certain things,” said sheriff Tom Dart. “Things that might have a really bad connotation to it for this individual.”
Dart firmly believes in inmate vocation training but years ago approved classes for the mind and body, too.
“You can teach anybody a certain skill level,” he said. “If they have anger issues, if they have an inability to concentrate, things like that- nothing is going to change.”
“I knew what yoga was,but I never ever thought about even closing my eyes and any type of meditations,” said inmate Jose Martinez. After he is released he says, he will “take a moment, take a deep breath before making a bad decision.”
There really isn’t a way to measure the impact of yoga after men and women get on the other side of the barbed wire. Dart said he’s seen less fighting inside Cook County Jail since yoga started.
The men locked up in the vocational center are serving six-month sentences. Then, they will be on electronic monitoring for another six months.