Thank you for your belief in our mission, for your volunteerism, for your charity, and for all the big and little ways you have supported us since our inception. As best we can, we are going to start providing you with monthly programming updates to keep you informed of our response to COVID-19.
State of YBB Programs
In mid-March, we decided to pause all our volunteer-led programs to protect or students and volunteers. A decision that was soon followed by a sweeping closure of all prison programs by the Department of Corrections.
Right now, we have two in-person classes active, led by our amazing Teachers Behind Bars and one virtual class, led by one of our Rockstar volunteers. Due to social distancing guidelines, our Teachers Behind Bars are leading small groups, often multiple times a day, for an average of 10 classes per week and 18 students per day. We have always thought of them as our most precious asset, but they are literally holding our programs up in ways that we could never dream of!
Yoga Behind Bars is an organization of many firsts and we are striving to be leaders in wellness and criminal justice reform. The pausing of our programs has forced us to be agile and allowed us to test out new offerings.
Since COVID hit, we have put on Zoom trauma-informed yoga classes for formerly incarcerated people, worked with DOC and partners in other states to distribute quarterly yoga, breath, and embodiment manuals (next one in the works!), and moved our trauma-informed yoga trainings online.
The pandemic and the movement for Black lives have compounded and highlighted many of the deficiencies in our criminal justice system. As an organization dedicated to restorative justice solutions, we have taken this time to renew our commitment to anti-racism by putting in the hard-internal work and creating space for our community to grow with us. We have hosted race-based caucuses for volunteers, RSJ Yoga sharing circles for the community, and even strategy meetings for justice advocates. We have signed petitions and lent our voice and expertise on matters pertaining to the treatment of people behind bars and the impact of incarceration on BIPOC communities. We are also leading the formation of a coalition for Washington State in-prison programs that will help all organizations better serve their clients behind bars, create efficiencies, and strengthen the nonprofit sector’s collective relationship with our public partners.
The Big Picture
COVID has rocked the jail and prison population around the United States and Washington is no different. While data for jails is decentralized and the numbers are harder to come by, as of August 6, 2020, DOC has reported 361 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 62 of which are active, and 2 deaths among DOC inmates. You can find up-to-date data here.
In response to the pandemic, there have been a number of major happenings, including a highly publicized protest at Monroe Correctional Complex in April and the release for hundreds of nonviolent offenders to reduce the spread of the virus in prison. Monetarily, there have been demands and concessions to defund police departments (SPD is cutting 100 employees) and a proposed $181 million budget cut of the Department of Corrections to deal with the upcoming budget shortfall.
Since DOC’s decision to close its doors to the outside, many incarcerated adults and youth have been cut off from their families, facing 23 to 24-hour lockdowns, and realizing their worst fears with their lives and the lives of their families being threatened due to a worldwide crisis. At the time that they need connection, need to work through their fears and anxiety, and receiving intermittent and often bad news from the outside, we cannot be there.
The Department of Corrections is still in the first phase of its 4-phase reopening plan. With so much uncertainty, we cannot give a timeline, but reopening to the public will begin with reuniting family members with those behind bars.
While some of this news might seem disheartening to be at reduced capacity, please know that we are not without opportunities. We are working with our partners to find alternative solutions to reach our students and we are confident that what comes out of this will be a stronger, more connected sector that is better positioned to help transform the lives of those behind bars and beyond bars.