Finding Peace in a San Diego Prison

Bill Brown is guiding a class of about 25 men through a series of long stretches and balanced poses in a dimly lit gymnasium. Mostly dressed in baggy gray sweatpants and white or gray T-shirts, they carefully follow his motions before reaching a seated position on thin lemon-lime yoga mats.

“See if you can bring some awareness into your breath. Listen to what your body is asking for. You are the authority on your experience,” Brown gently advises.

He invites student Ryan Grider to tell the class how he carries his yoga practice through his day. It’s instilled in him a sense of calm, making him a more patient communicator and helping him better cope with life’s challenges. “I’m not attached to the past, I’m not protected from the future. I’m in the moment,” Grider says. “It creates a peace. This moment right now is not that bad.”


This might be any other yoga class on any other Saturday morning if it weren’t for its unenviable location: Echo Yard at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, a maximum-security state prison in unincorporated southern San Diego County within sight of the Otay Mesa border crossing. Chain-link fences topped with coils of barbed wire and austere concrete walls fixed with surveillance cameras confine men serving long—sometimes lifetime—sentences for crimes including murder, rape, and burglary. But in this class, many can learn ways to manage the anger and violent impulses that ended their civilian life.

To read more of this article by Jennifer McEntee for San Diego Magazine, click here!

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