We now have programs running in five facilities and some really cool stuff going on. As we and the staff at the facilities have learned more about COVID-19, the risks, and how to minimize transmission, we’ve been able to gradually expand our offerings in a way that is safe for our instructors and our students. And we’ve actually added some awesome new programs!
Since facilities went into lockdown, our instructors who are incarcerated have been able to continue instructing in two of the state prisons, Dwayne at Airway Heights and Garridan at Stafford Creek. In October, Washington Corrections Center for Women began allowing our teachers, Marriam and Alyssa to teach classes again. Not only are these programs going strong, we’ve also started a new partnership with White Bison, a national Native-American led non-profit “dedicated to creating and sustaining a grassroots Wellbriety Movement that provides culturally based healing to the next seven generations of Indigenous People.”
Garridan Nelson, our teacher who is incarcerated at Stafford Creek, has been participating in the White Bison program there for a few months now and was invited to collaborate with their trainers in offering yoga that complements their curriculum. The partnership has been going now for about a month, and has been well-received by the group and has given Garridan, as he shared, “a real sense of community; which is hard to come by in here.”
As of October, Volunteers and YBB staff are teaching at two facilities, Echo Glen Children’s Center, a statewide, long-term youth detention facility, and the Maleng Regional Justice Center, a King County Jail in Kent. Our back-to-back classes for a “boys” cottage and “girls” cottage at Echo Glen are in a huge gymnasium, wearing masks and with social distancing. This class happens to be our first youth class in several years, as we paused our youth programs intentionally to build up a new youth-centric, trauma-informed, evidence-based curriculum with the help of the Holistic Life Foundation. We are finally, now, piloting this curriculum with the start of this class! The students (age 12-18) fully get to opt in or out of the sessions, we check in with them regularly, break down the tools and offer repetition so that they can remember how to use the tools on their own, and are building consistent relationships with them with a small team of co-teachers (Damithia, Renata and myself) who are all specialized in teaching youth. The teens have been super receptive and grateful. And honestly, while working with kids behind bars is always heart-breaking, it’s also filled me with so much joy to spend time with them in a fashion that really centers their needs, their voices, and their interests.
The program at the jail in Kent is specifically for incarcerated veterans and is funded by a King County levy. We cannot be in the same room with our students there, but we have been able to meet them face-to-face, one-on-one, using visitation booths, where we talk to them through the glass and over an old-school phone that’s wired directly to an identical phone on their side of the glass. These sessions have been remarkable because we are able to really get to know our students and offer body-based, mindfulness tools and yoga teachings that meet their unique needs and interests. Right now, I am offering these with one other teacher, Diana, and we are really grateful that we can be there with them during this time, where anxiety and stress is through the roof, as many of them are long overdue for a trial and are not able to go outside or see family or do much of any programming until the pandemic ends.
Stay tuned for more program updates and please let us know your thoughts and questions.