Hawaii inmates relieve stress with yoga
HONOLULU ” Hawaii prisoners are finding peace with yoga.
Dozens of inmates at three correctional facilities are taking classes in the ancient Indian physical and spiritual practice and finding it helps them cope with prison life.
William Stephens, 35, began taking part in classes about two years ago. He’s now teaching yoga to other inmates as part of a pilot program.
“It’s a very stressful environment (in prison),” Stephens said. “Yoga helps me to find my center and remain kind of peaceful.”
The correctional system currently offers yoga at Waiawa, Halawa and the women’s correctional facilities.
There are no plans to expand the program, which costs about the state about $13,000 a year, but prisoners seem to respond well to it.
William Kekino, 30, is one of 20 men taking yoga at Waiawa. He credits the program for progress he is making in recovering from an injury.
“If it wasn’t for this class, I’d still have the same pains in my neck from an old car accident,” Kekino said.
Instructor Louisa DiGrazia said correctional facilities have found yoga helps relieve inmates’ stress of the “daily routine” and can help establish or maintain good health.
Yoga programs have been a part of various prison systems across the country for more than 25 years, said DiGrazia, who studied the effects of prison yoga programs as a peace studies major at the University of Hawaii.
She and her husband ” the state’s only prison yoga instructors ” have donated about two dozen old yoga mats to prisons from their privately owned Yoga School of Kailua.
In addition, their yoga school, along with other businesses, have so far pitched in a total of $10,000 for the prison yoga program.
The yoga program is paid for out of the state’s annual budget for academic and elective programs, which amounted to $91,000 last fiscal year.
A separate budget paying for inmate career training, such as auto repair classes, totaled about $109,000.
Prison elective classes, such as yoga, hula and tai chi, are toward the bottom of the list of priorities for public safety program funding.
“Even with more money, we still wouldn’t have the space or available inmates who could participate in yoga,” said Maureen Tito, the state Department of Public Safety’s education director.
Due to space constraints, for instance, a few prison yoga classes without designated classrooms take place in central living quarters.
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