It’s been two months now that I’ve been teaching weekly yoga classes at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud. It took me two years of being a mosquito in the ear of the Department of Corrections to get there. My first class was 40 strong; the second was close to 50. The third week, programs changed on the yard, and the women were on lockdown more often because of security issues. This dropped attendance, but we’ve had at least 25 present in every class since then.
The environment at Mabel is what I had in mind when I decided to teach inmates. The women are so focused, real, and self-regulating. I haven’t had any problems, but the moment someone in class starts to talk with their neighbor or distract in some way, there is nothing I have to do; the class takes care of it. In our first class, I had to bring attention to two students at the back that would not shut up. I instructed them to stop running their mouths or leave. That was my third warning, and I’d had enough. These two had a look about them, one that suggested they usually run the show. I got a glare, but they shut up. After savasana, the bulkier, less smiley of the two came up to me.
“Hey, listen,” she said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize how important it was to be quiet until I was quiet. Made a big difference.”
“No problem, sis,” I said. She hasn’t missed a class.
“I’ve been here 13 years,” another woman told me. “This is the only thing that’s really made me feel like I’m gonna be ok when I get out in a few years.”
Every time I leave, they thank me profusely and tell me to ask the warden about having class more often. Were I able to afford that much unpaid work, I’d do it in a heartbeat. It’s not me that makes the difference, anyway. It’s the practice. It’s awesome to hear they work on their practice at other times during the week, even though they aren’t granted much time outside their cells.
The diversity in my incarcerated classes makes me wish for that in yoga outside the yard. There are more black than white women in class, and there are more white women in that facility than any other race. A few students have to use chairs as props because they walk with a cane. Those ladies work like no one I’ve seen. Another regular is deaf. And, most of the class is overweight. It’s quite the study on our societal behavior that I’ve never seen these awesomely unique participants in classes around the city.
The shuffle of inmates to other facilities and even different areas on the yard, as well as the complications with measuring psychological health makes gathering statistical evidence difficult. Right now, I’m relying on how they tell me they feel to be a gauge of success until I can present DOC with some science.
Their authenticity and energy has improved my psychological health tenfold. It’s funny how they think I’m the one doing them a favor.