Davenport, IA (KWQC) - Yoga is being offered at Scott County Jail. Every Tuesday male prisoners at Scott County Jail can opt to join the class. The class is available to any male prisoner in general population. There is also a weekly class for women and one for juveniles. Inmates say it's helping them to develop an inner awareness. And that's exactly what the Prison Yoga Project aims to do. Yoga provides mental and physical benefits. And that something instructors say every human can benefit
Every class begins and ends with eye contact, handshakes, and first names. "Typically throughout the jail, they are either their last name and if they go to prison they're a number, so it's humanizing," says Yoga instructor Marybeth Wood. Marybeth is an instructor at Davenport School of Yoga and she volunteers her time at the Scott County Jail to teach the ancient discipline and meditation. This class is completely free to taxpayers says Wood. She says the yoga mats and bricks are paid for by the prisoners with the money they use in the vending machines.
Sonny Jackson is a student at Scott County jail and he says it offers him a moment to reflect inward.
"Control my anxiety my stress level, do something where you can relax and not be judged and just breathe," says Jackson.
Wood says she made a personal choice not to look at anyone's record.
"I don't know if someone is a murderer or a car thief, or had one too many beers and got behind a wheel. It's not something I want to concern myself with when I'm teaching a class. Trying not to have that judgemental screen there to keep me away from people. I just want to be equal to everyone," she told TV-6 news.
Yoga is a spiritual set of postures that is said to have originated in northern India around 3000 B.C. And the word "yoga" comes from a Sanskrit root word meaning "to join or unite." The practice is a means to help the soul harmonize the mind and body on a path of self-realization in an effort to overcome suffering. A way to help every individual to let go of our egos through knowledge of our soul, spirit, mind, and body.
Derek Clark says he first practice yoga in 2014. He restarted his practice during his current term at Scott County Jail.
"Just so that I can have a quieting of my mind there's a lot of mental health issues so having that quieting of the mind and being able to focus on something outside of here is always better, and spiritually just getting in touch with self. And being able to know that I exist, God exists, people exist around me and we're all one," says Clark.
Harvard researchers say that there is growing "evidence that yoga is a low-risk, high yield approach to improving overall health." A study published by the International Journal of Yoga concluded that yoga was a "feasible add-on therapy for psychosis."
Marybeth Wood agrees. "A young man who is schizophrenic who hears voices all the time came up to me several months ago and said yoga has helped me differentiate between my mental illness-voices and just the voices that everyone has in his head," she told TV-6 News. And most students at Scott County Jail say it offers them the ability to find serenity among the chaos. Marybeth says a moment that will never forget involved one student several years ago.
She says when this student first came to her class he avoided eye contact and didn't want to shake her hand. After some time he began to open up, make eye contact, and began meditating on his own time. She says he would request books about yoga and meditation and she saw a change in him. She says he recently got sentenced to life with a minimum of 25 years. Soon after learning of his sentencing Marybeth says she ran into him in the all. "He told me not to worry because he was a free man in his mind, and he would be ok," she told TV-6 news.
Kevin Wilson takes the yoga class at Scott County Jail.
"It kind of mellows me out, put me in my own little world, pretty much, stay away from all the drama and other nonsense that goes on in here," says Wilson.
Sonny Jackson agrees. He says, "nothing's ever good about being in jail," and that yoga is an opportunity "to really stretch really and be able to take my mind off the craziness that goes around us every day."
Travis Crotts says it helps him better deal with his fellow inmates in general population.
"There are lots of immature people upstairs, and they have a way of getting under your skin so this is a good retreat," says Crotts.
Brian Christner says it's an opportunity to get away from general population and also to focus on one's self.
"I feel like it's very relaxing. It gets you out of your – out of the stagnant air that's around everybody. It helps us you know feel our inner being," Christner told TV-6 news.
Eric Holtz says the class helps him to ease his mind. "I don't really think about anything else other than what she's instructing," says Holtz.
Moments of laughter and sparks of joy serve as reminders of every individual's humanity. The class often erupted in bouts of laughter with witty remarks and banter as student challenged their bodies and minds. Some of the students at Scott County Jail- say the best moments in the class were within the silence.
"At the end when she's talking and just being able to get that out of body experience and just drift away a little bit. there's nothing wrong with just trying to get away for a little bit. we all need that time to just escape," says Sonny Jackson.
As they return to general population these men say they hope to be able to channel what they learned in class. And mentally go to that same place of zen that yoga taught them and quiet their mind regardless of what is around them