Dori Digenti does not know the criminal histories of her yoga students at the Hampden County Pre-Release Center.
“To me, they’re participants in a yoga class,” said the founder and owner of Breathing Space Yoga & Mindfulness Studio in Holyoke. “They’re just who they are.”
The minimum-security institution where she volunteers once a week is on the same property as the Hampden County Jail and House of Correction in Ludlow. At the pre-release center, those sentenced by the courts begin the process of returning to their communities through residential and work release programs.
On a recent Tuesday morning there, Digenti started a yoga class by directing her students to mentally “scan” their bodies and make note of where they feel tension. When they exhale, she told them, imagine feeling that tension release. For a few minutes, the room was almost silent as everyone focused on their breathing.
Digenti is a teacher for the Prison Yoga Project, founded by James Fox at San Quentin Prison in California. Goals of the project include supporting incarcerated people with yoga and mindfulness and reducing recidivism.