Prison SMART: Yoga Comes to Cook County Jail

by Yasmin Rammohan for Chicago Tonight, April 26, 2012

“Without tools to manage extra stress, there’s a high rate of recidivism [for inmates],” said Gabriella Savelli, National Coordinator of Prison SMART.

Prison SMART’s mission is “to make a life-transforming difference in the lives of all people within the criminal justice system, by teaching skills for reducing stress, healing trauma, and providing practical knowledge of how to handle one’s emotions, to help them live their highest potential and contribute to society.”

It began in the U.S. in 1992. The program aims to reduce offender recidivism and end the repeating cycle of violence and abuse that dominates many areas of society.

Prison SMART was recently adapted at Stateville Correctional Center. Sherwin K. Miles is a correctional counselor at the prison and the coordinator of the program there.

“The program began about two years ago. And it started out as breathing, meditation and relaxation techniques for our population, who are maximum security offenders,” said Miles.

Miles said the program has two steps. The first consists of two hours each day for five days straight. The next step of the program is two hours per week for six weeks.

While Prison SMART started off on a small scale, Miles said an increasing number of offenders are now interested in joining the program.

“Initially, it was a few offenders that were interested, but now the program has spread like wildfire. I am constantly getting letters from inmates who want to participate,” she said.

Prison SMART at Cook County Jail

Prison SMART at Cook County Jail

Recently, Stateville completed its first three-day “silent” retreat. Savelli said Stateville is the first maximum security prison in the U.S. to hold a silent treatment weekend.

“They were introduced to more advanced breathing techniques, they were provided vegan meals over the course of the weekend, and they had relaxation activities,” said Miles.

Miles says 25 inmates who had gone through the first two steps of the program participated in the silent retreat weekend.

“All the feedback has been nothing but positive,” said Miles. “Some of them have said that they have never closed their eyes and felt that relaxed in a maximum-security prison. Some of them have said they didn’t realize the importance of breathing for relaxation.”

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