Free Inside is a prison program I created which weaves together practices in yoga, meditation and chi gung. Self healing, inner peace and compassion are what it hopes to awaken in people who take its ten sessions.
I developed Free Inside initially, beginning in 1999, as a yoga teacher. In subsequent years, amidst a graduate program in social work / mental health, I designed and ran a year long research study in a Maui prison, publishing its results. At that point, in 2005, I created a Guidebook for Facilitators of Free Inside so that anyone, regardless of their own past experience teaching yoga, meditation and chi gung, might enter a prison with its support. Likewise, I generated the research and publicity around Free Inside to help prison administrators and staff recognize the win-win power of this kind of ancient, inner work … to not only heal humans, but to make their jobs easier.
My research and Free Inside guidebook (updated in 2014) are available for free download on my website. For the past ten years I have focused more on my mental health work inside jails and prison, where I am a psychotherapist based in Mindfulness practices. That said, my ‘talk therapy’ work is ever-infused with the ancient healing practices of Free Inside.
Since January 2001, VHJR has grown from a few volunteers to an organization that provides everything from career guidance to artistic experiences. We volunteers are all ages, from early 20s to 80s. The only limitation on programs is what the jail will allow and the number of willing volunteers that are available to work with the residents.
Volunteers are currently providing group sessions in the jail on a variety of topics, including writing (for a story about the jail residents’ writing project — the publication of Notes from Inside– please scroll down), parenting, stress-reduction, yoga,* self-esteem, creative writing, art, anger management, and computer skills. Some of us enjoy facilitating group discussions, offering an empathetic listening ear. Other volunteers take turns distributing library books to the jail residents on Saturdays, providing an opportunity for friendly conversation while offering books.