Yoga re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for Pollsmoor in­mates

A pho­to­graphic ex­hi­bi­tion shows Pollsmoor Prison in­mates en­joy­ing the ben­e­fits of a yoga pro­ject un­der­taken by vol­un­teers, writes SHEN WU TAN

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

YOGA and Pollsmoor Prison may seem an in­con­gru­ous match, but more than 90 in­mates are tak­ing ad­van­tage of weekly classes of­fered by vol­un­teers keen to ef­fect pos­i­tive change. And now the pub­lic will get a chance to see the re­sults, thanks to a photo ex­hi­bi­tion in the city next month of the work of Lee-Ann Ol­wage, an artist ded­i­cated to so­cial causes.

Ol­wage part­nered with Se­vaUnite, a lo­cal com­mu­nity ser­vice or­gan­i­sa­tion, to snap­shot mo­ments from yoga ses­sions taught in the prison, as part of the Prison Free­dom Pro­ject.

Founded in 2010 by Brian Bergman and Leela Co­dron, the Prison Free­dom Pro­ject, largely funded by the Na­tional Lotteries Com­mis­sion, started with one yoga and mind­ful­ness course at the ad­mis­sions cen­tre of Pollsmoor.

Since then, more than 350 in­mates at sev­eral fa­cil­i­ties in South Africa, in­clud­ing Malmes­bury Medium Fa­cil­ity, have en­rolled.

Ol­wage ex­plains that her aim was to dis­play the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive ef­fects of yoga on pris­on­ers.

“I was very pas­sion­ate about the pro­ject from the be­gin­ning, want­ing peo­ple to see how yoga was cre­at­ing true trans­for­ma­tion in pris­ons,” she says.

“I wanted to tell a pos­i­tive story about change.”

Through vol­un­teer-led yoga classes, dis­tri­bu­tion of yoga man­u­als and men­tor­ship of in­mates through let­ter writ­ing, the pro­gramme at­tempts to achieve change at a be­havioural level.

Co­dron, co-founder of the Prison Free­dom Pro­ject, says: “If you want to tackle crime and you get so scared by the sta­tis­tics and your own per­sonal safety, this is a pro­gramme that is ac­tu­ally ad­dress­ing that.”

Of the 8 300 Pollsmoor in­mates, there are 21 male of­fend­ers and 60 fe­male of­fend­ers who take part in the weekly yoga pro­gramme.

Dur­ing the ses­sions, in­mates prac­tise dif­fer­ent breath­ing ex­er­cises, med­i­ta­tion tech­niques and pos­tures.

“Yoga has tremen­dous po­ten­tial to re­ha­bil­i­tate an in­mate and give them the op­por­tu­nity to be­come more self-re­flec­tive,” says Lewies Davids,com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager at Pollsmoor.

“The af­firm­ing, heal­ing and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive ben­e­fits of yoga for peo­ple liv­ing in stress­ful en­vi­ron­ments are enor­mously ben­e­fi­cial.”

For years, yoga has been taught to var­i­ous prison pop­u­la­tions in coun­tries like the US, the UK and New Zealand.

In 1988, the Prison Phoenix Trust be­gan of­fer­ing yoga and med­i­ta­tion cour­ses to pris­ons in the UK. In 2002, the Prison Yoga Pro­ject started teach­ing yoga to in­mates at San Quentin State Prison in Cal­i­for­nia.

And for sev­eral years, the Yoga Ed­u­ca­tion in Pris­ons Trust has pro­vided yoga and med­i­ta­tion ed­u­ca­tion to pris­on­ers in New Zealand.

Few stud­ies have ex­am­ined the ef­fects of yoga and med­i­ta­tion on prison pop­u­la­tions, how­ever.

A 2012 Univer­sity of Ox­ford Ex­per­i­men­tal Psy­chol­ogy depart­ment study of 103 pris­on­ers aged be­tween 18 and 68 found that pris­on­ers who do yoga and med­i­ta­tion ex­pe­ri­ence less stress, re­duced psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress, im­proved mood and con­cen­tra­tion, and en­hanced con­cen­tra­tion and abil­ity to over­ride im­pulse.

An­other 2012 study, by the Univer­sity of Alabama, looked at the ef­fects of a 10-day Vi­pas­sana med­i­ta­tion re­treat on 60 in­mates at a max­i­mum se­cu­rity Alabama prison.

It found that par­tic­i­pants demon­strated im­proved lev­els of mind­ful­ness and emo­tional in­tel­li­gence com­pared to their coun­ter­parts.

“In­stead of just pun­ish­ing some­one for an act they com­mit­ted, we need a more holis­tic ap­proach to of­fender re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion that will help stop peo­ple from com­mit­ting these same crimes in the fu­ture,” Ol­wage says.

The Yoga in Pollsmoor pho­tog­ra­phy ex­hi­bi­tion, spon­sored by On­garo Stu­dio, BadHen Lab, Spaces Fram­ing and The Om Rev­o­lu­tion, will in­clude 10 of Ol­wage’s pho­tos. There will also be talks by the founders of Se­vaUnite and Chris Mal­gas, a Pollsmoor em­ployee of 30 years.

The ex­hi­bi­tion opens on Novem­ber 4 at the On­garo Stu­dio on Dunk­ley Square, Cape Town. shen.wu­tan@in.co.za

PIC­TURES: LEE-ANN OL­WAGE

Graeme Gor­don says: ‘Yoga makes me feel very re­laxed. I feel like I am not in prison. I am free from my own men­tal prison.’

Yoga classes at Pollsmoor al­ways con­clude with breath­ing and med­i­ta­tion to in­crease fo­cus and re­duce anx­i­ety.

A group of in­mates pre­pare for a se­ries of sun salu­ta­tions, which is a se­quence of 12 pos­tures done twice.

No­or­dien God­frey clasps his hands to­gether in a prayer po­si­tion.

Raeez Sa­far prac­tises his hum­ming­bird breath­ing.

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