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Dec 29, 2017

R.O.C. Calms Down Central Prison with Yoga

Yoga at the Belize Central Prison? Yes. You heard right. The ancient practice which includes breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation. And in the prison, female inmates are practicing yoga to help them cope with trauma and everyday life behind bars. It has been happening for more than a year in Belize Central Prison – it’s been happening even longer in prisons across the world – but locally a non-profit called Rhythm of Change – for short, ROC, has been equipping prisoners with yoga training. ROC has been working with a number of organizations to help traumatized or unserved, vulnerable populations including the prison, youth hostel, and other groups. We’ve documented this work with ROC and will air a longer documentary on Sunday, but Andrea Polanco shares a first look at yoga in prison.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

This looks like a regular yoga class. The women are on their mats – following the instructions of a yoga teacher. Only this time it is inside the Belize Central Prison and these women are inmates. They never considered practicing yoga before – for some, it’s new.


Lilly Castillo

Lilly Castillo, Inmate, Kolbe Foundation

“The first time i heard about yoga, it was something, like yoga? I said okay. I tried the first one and then I find it a little bit strange but I get used to it and fall in love with it.”


And to help them cope and improve their lives, they have turned to trauma sensitive yoga.


Lilly Castillo

“Yoga has played an important part here in Kolbe. Why? It has made me learn to appreciate something more within myself; not just with my reaction or attitude towards or during a time of anger or vexation with someone; it trains me to get calm.”


Kimberly Smith

Kimberly Smith, Inmate, Kolbe Foundation

“From my experience it has been three months since i have been here at the prison and have decided to start yoga since I first came. It is really nice for me. it teaches me self-control; teaches me a state of mind to be calm. my anxiety problem that I have it teaches me how to control it and it has been healthy for my body because I do not feel the same way I have been since I came in.”


And that is why Yoga Instructor Michelle Williams teaches yoga in the prison. She wants to help inmates to cope better with their trauma and life in prison, all through yoga practice. So, a few years ago, Michelle and some of her yoga colleagues formed Rhythm of Change- known as ROC – it is a non-profit organization that uses the transformative and healing properties of yoga to build peace and positively impact lives of vulnerable groups.


Michelle Williams

Michelle Williams, Founder & Chairperson, ROC

“It is trauma sensitive yoga that we do with them, so we are very respectful of their bodies. And so we do not necessarily do hands on adjustment all the time. We tell them what is gonna come next, nothing that they can’t predict. And they know how it is gonna start and they know how it is gonna end.   One of the meditations that we do is a yoga nedra and part of the yoga nedra is actually to focus on something that makes you happy and to bring happiness into the body.”


Aloma Avilez Hall

Aloma Avilez Hall, Vice-Chairperson, ROC

“What yoga does to help them is to look within and finding who you are allows you to fit into this beautiful puzzle of life. If we don’t know where we fit, then we don’t know how to function and that is what yoga does; it opens our understanding of who we are and perhaps what triggered it and how can I react differently if triggered; so, knowing thyself is the difference yoga is making.”


And C.E.O. of Belize Central Prison Virgilio Murillo jumped on the idea to introduce yoga to the inmates. It is a part of the prison’s rehabilitation program for the women only. And it is an initiative that is working.


Virgilio Murillo

Virgilio Murillo, C.E.O., Kolbe Foundation, Belize Central Prison

“Prisoners, by and large, because they have all the time on their hands, if we can keep them engaged so that they don’t feel their time, we want to inject just about anything to help them; to work on their emotions; their behaviour. I think it is a very effective program and we are seeing it because, like I said, the female section doesn’t give much trouble. Years ago you would have been having quarrels, arguments, slandering and all of that over there. Recently, at least for the last two years, I can tell you the fights, the quarrels, the lock ups, have come down big time; no doubt about it.”


Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.


Join us at eight-thirty p.m., following the airing of our Year in Review, when we air a documentary on the work of ROC with several groups in Belize, including more about the yoga in prison.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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