On March 13, due to the global Coronavirus pandemic, Yoga Behind Bars made the decision to temporarily halt our statewide volunteer teacher programs at 11 facilities. To us, this was a no-brainer, as it was in the best interest of our 45 volunteer teachers and their families and, very importantly, the health and wellness of the population we serve – incarcerated men, women and youth.

Prisons are having to make changes in the normal day to day schedule and operations such as longer lockdowns, staggering movement of the population to practice social distancing and sadly, full suspension of visits from friends, extended family, and loved ones. Speaking from personal experience, this is an especially hard one; and supported by research that shows visits and maintaining family ties are among the best ways to reduce recidivism.

Unfortunately, these safety measures have a cumulative negative impact: you can’t leave your cell, can’t work, exercise or even get fresh air. As a person who has been incarcerated, I am empathetic to the effects prolonged lockdowns have on the mind, body, and soul.  We know that our students are looking forward to getting back to their routine, just as we are looking forward to resuming all activities and supporting them. We will continue to monitor the situation with our partners at all our corrections facilities and communicate what we can. If you would like more detail about the steps that WA State Department of Corrections are taking, please refer to their website.

Peace is an inside job

If there is a silver lining here, it’s that the 7 incarcerated yoga teachers who YBB has trained and mentored through a 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training certification continue to offer classes when conditions permit.  In fact, since our founding, over 10 years ago, one of our primary goals has been to transform prison culture from the inside out. We are very proud of our teachers behind bars who teach about 50% of the current classes. We are in contact with them and will continue to support them through this uncertain time with mentorship and affirmation.

At a time when Harvard medical researchers (“The Week”) are suggesting people take up yoga and meditation to manage social isolation, fears and anxiety around Covid-19, YBB has, and will, continue to support a community of incarcerated people in WA who have already been using these skills for other reasons than to cope with a global health pandemic. Every day a person is incarcerated is a day that calls for the very best of one’s coping skills.

Doing our Part

In accordance with the Governors guidelines to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 virus, my three staff members and I are now working remotely.  We are working on ways of staying connected with the community and students, including posting weekly stories from our teachers behind bars on our blog and offering online trauma-informed yoga classes to formerly-incarcerated individuals, their families and our board and volunteers twice weekly on Zoom.  We also made part of our online trauma-informed yoga curriculum for free to all. Check out our Instagram or Facebook account for more information!

YBB’s Health and Future

As the Executive Director, I want to assure you that our organization is determined to weather this storm.  While we are on a stable footing in the short-term, like many organizations and businesses, we are concerned about what the impact of the pandemic and economic downturn will have on us long-term.  We have had to cancel (with the hope of rescheduling) 3 upcoming Trauma-Informed Yoga Trainings, which provide us with earned income.

Eat, Drink, Give MOVED to October 11, 2020

Our annual Eat.Drink.Give! fundraising event that was originally scheduled for June 7, will now be on October 11, 2020, at 4 pm. Thank you to all of those who have already been looking forward to attending our most significant event. Please mark your calendars (again). More information to follow soon.

GiveBig on May 6th

Given the public health and employment crisis at hand, I understand that we may not be a priority organization to support at this time.  However, especially in light of all of our canceled income-earning events, and to support our staff and incarcerated teachers, we are participating in GiveBig on May 6th.  If you have the capacity, YBB would welcome your donation or your help raising funds, which can be as big as signing up to be a peer to peer fundraiser or as simple as promoting us on your social media from April 22nd to May 6th.  We will have a brief Zoom meeting on April 16th at 12:00pm to show you how to sign-up and share fundraising ideas.

Wishing you health and ease. Thank you for your continued support.

Julian Saucier

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