Liberating Incarcerated Minds Continues in DeKalb County, GA!

Someone asked how the women’s class was today. Very nonchalantly I mouthed – It was good! No – it was “freakin” amazing. I have been teaching a Healthy Haiku Wellness Program for inmates as part of the Options for Living and Learning program offered by the Dekalb Sheriff’s Office. The majority of classes have been with women but I have had a couple of opportunities to teach males.

The course pulls together and uses the best of my training and experience as a health educator, researcher, author, speaker and global humanitarian. Haiku is an ancient form of Japanese poetry that uses 17 syllables to tell a big story with few words.* We actually write poetry sometimes, however we incorporate lots of exercises and role-play that pushes them off into the great expanse and challenges them to redefine their reality and their futures. Always reinforced is the fact that jail time is temporary. Most of them are not hardened criminals heading to prison, although a few may be. The majority of my students have committed petty crimes and are in jail pre-hearing or pre-sentencing because they lack the resources for bail.

One young woman looked up at me during a class. I honestly do not remember the particular topic. However she looked up at me and said she had been trying to figure out why she was in there [jail] because she had not done anything. She then said that she realized why she was there, because she was supposed to hear what I had to share. The next week she told me that she was going home as all charges were dropped. I was so happy learn that this bright, talented and very intelligent young lady was going back to the community with some new tools to orchestrate her life.

My closest friends and family know that my class at the jail is perhaps the highlight of my week as I get to share and be creative from a space of caring and non-judgment. Due to the high turn over rate in the county facility, for many of my students I may have only one or two shots to make a difference in a way of thinking and being that will carry them forward in a more powerful and positive way.

This week’s exercise after meditation and reading of inspirational cards, was an interviewing exercise that had the women paired up and interviewing each other about their passions, skills and abilities and opportunities for improvement in order to “Step into their Power.” A room full of inmates was transformed into conference suite with a Manager, a Professional Author and Speaker, A Comedienne, a Chef, a Hair Stylist, a Singer, a preschool educator and so much more. I challenged them to show us what they had. We heard some really funny unrehearsed comedy and one young lady sang a beautiful rendition of His Eye is on the Sparrow.  The preschool teacher told us that she didn’t mind  changing diapers and wiping runny noses and reiterated that teaching infants and toddlers was truly her passion!

On other occasions we had a guest, Brigitte Keane who presented Laughter Yoga, which had the women laughing, clapping, crying (the kind of laughing so hard it makes you cry – cry) and having incredible healthy breathing fun. People in the facility were trying to figure out what in the world was going on that day! One of my repeat students who has unfortunately moved on to prison, smiled for the first time. I told her that it was nice to see her smile and I realized that her solemn look was due to missing upper front teeth. In this environment, no one judged – it was way too much fun! We have also done vision boards with power words to define their lives and futures, sessions on self-forgiveness, radical forgiveness of others, and Ho’oponopono.

Ho’oponopono (ancient Hawaiian healing technique) which has each person take total responsibility for everyone and everything and uses a clearing technique that consists of 4 simple phrases said to ones-self: I love you; I’m sorry; Please forgive me; and Thank you! Since learning the Ho’opononpono (described in Joe Vitale’s book entitled Zero Limits, (2007) about the healing work of Dr. Hew Len of Hawaii in a mental health wing of a maximum security prison) the women have shared experiences where they used these phrases to resolve conflicts with family members during visits and with other inmates as well. Earlier classes covered topics such as nutrition, violence, smoking, drinking and drug use!

This work, and the breakthroughs that occur feel like nothing short of magic. It is hard to explain. The repeat students enter the room with hands in prayer position on their chests greeting me with “Namaste” (The Divine in Me greets the Divine in You!) Wonder where they learned that?!  I share everything that I know to be helpful in building them up and expanding their world beyond the confines of the temporary jail walls. The occasional tears that are shed usually reflect a release and love of self that had been buried – for serving time for their crimes and for being mad at themselves for making bad decisions and for getting caught up and arrested. Self -love is one of the common threads of each class as well as Stepping into Their Power (I formerly had a Blog Talk Radio show entitled Stepping into My Power).

Perhaps my reason for writing this is not so much to revel in the success of my work at the jail as it is to reinforce the importance of loving yourself everyday in order to make healthy and right choices in all of your affairs. Life as we know it gets very complicated and downright scary sometimes. If we move from a place of love for self and understanding for others – because we are truly reflections of each other, we will see better outcomes and more people standing in their truth and in their power.

I will end this segment with a poem written in class by one of my former students:

I’ve been searching for the Light

But there’s too much smoke in between.

I’ve been searching for the Light

It seems so far fetched maybe too extreme.

I’m searching for the Light

Which seems beyond my fingertips.

Still searching for the Light

I still can’t seem to see.

Searching for the Light

Which has always been within Me!

 

Peace, Love and Blessings Y’all!

Imani.new.pic8.2016

Dr. Imani

Updates and Coming Events: I have an incredible deal for new Wellness Coaching Clients which includes Six Months of Free Coaching. Yes, you read that correctly! Send me an email for details to: imanimaat@gmail.com.

Change Your Water…Change Your Life!  Learn how  Join us on September 9th and 10th at the Lou Walker Senior Center 2538 Panola Road, Lithonia, GA  30058. Free Health and Wellness Presentation Friday 7-9 (Don’t Miss it!)

*Learn more about the Award-winning Health Haiku Poetry series of workshops and publications.

Liberating Incarcerated Minds with Healthy Haiku

When I first approached the County Jail system it was a good will gesture to offer to conduct one Healthy Haiku workshop for women in lock up. As a result of our first meeting they quickly learned the value of my workshops and officials offered me the opportunity to participate in a new program for inmates by conducting two workshops a week for 8 weeks at a time.  Upon learning  approximately 83% of the women in lock up at this facility were there pre-hearing and pre-sentencing because they did not have the money to make bail, I was even more motivated to share these empowering workshops with the women.  Hence the poverty connection to who sits in jail and who does not.  Most, but not all are young and African American. They have children and families. They have dreams and ambitions – many of which have been subdued and subjugated to another space and time “maybe in my next life.” My mission – and I do choose to accept it – is to wake up those dreams – re-ignite their passions and goals and reasons for being! Encouraging them to be the best that they can be! No easy task for this population. Haiku – an ancient 17th Century Japanese form of poetry that uses 17 syllables to tell a huge story with few words – becomes the gateway for giving them everything I’ve got for building self-esteem, self-love, trust, radical forgiveness, creativity and the return of their voices. Healthy Haiku workshops, originally created for children – I soon learned that parents in general, and women in particular needed to learn this information as they are the primary nurturers – builders or destroyers of self-esteem and the ones that shop for the household (more often than not!)

I waited until after the second set of workshops before sharing on this Blog.  My waiting pales in comparison with the waiting of these women. Most are very young – waiting: waiting in jail for their hearings,  waiting to be united with their children, husbands, other family and friends. Some are awaiting sentencing.   My goal is to help to build them up – mind, body and spirit – to help them to find their voices through discussions and poetry writing about health and wellness. Imagine women who can’t wait to start taking wheat-grass juice and alkaline water on a regular basis!  Just eating healthy food on a daily basis is something to look forward to upon their release.  I  remind them that this “station” in life is temporary and that better life, better days filled by better mindsets, self-esteem and passion for making their lives better – is in their future!

During the workshops we do individual and group exercises, brainstorming and writing. Each participant presents her original poetry to the group, once encouraged to stand straight, speak up, articulate and clearly enunciate.  Communication skills are key to  their effectiveness in negotiating a system that has very low expectations of them based on past interactions. Fueling their new skills and attitudes are Dr. Marianne Williamson’s “Our Deepest Fear (is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure!”) and other positive words and works.

I write this blog because they asked and because it becomes a link between them and the outside world. It is a way to share their words and their hearts. I feel breakthroughs!  Some tears -which I remind them is part of the releasing and healing process – and lots of laughter.  I celebrate their little steps.  When they recite their poetry with the group, I introduce them as ” the Fabulous (and their name). I want for this Blog to be about them – not about me. Their poetry speaks volumes of who they are and of their potential!

I’m in Love with Self

No…I’m not conceited,

Just not going to be Defeated!

 

Now Eye love myself

Before that was a hard task

Where did my love go?

 

If you love your kids

Tell them as much as you can

Let them know you care!

 

Don’t neglect yourself.

Fall in love with who you are.

Fall in love with you!

 

Flying high above the sky

Looking over my life that I’ve deprived

Flopping wings seeking my dreams!

 

Us against the world, My baby

I’ll never abandon you.I’ll always love you

God is within us, Never against us!

 

Happiness you are…

My breath, my life, my shinning star

My dream com true…You~

 

A Grandfather’s Love (my Title) next 3 poems by some person

I loved you when you were here

I missed you now that you’re gone

I wish you could be near to guide me!

 

I have a son that

Needs me more than ever

He’s a ton but I am a proud mother!

I wish he could have met you

So tiny and fragile~

I know you would have loved him too.

I even gave him your middle name, Michael!

 

Whom am I? – Some say I am just a Lady

Some say  I’m a daughter.

And others say I’m a Child of God.

But I tell you I’m all of the above!

Beautiful Black Woman!

 

Why try to hurt me?

That disrespectful tongue of yours.

You would know, or would you?

 

What’s a second chance?

If you’re leaving with no plan?

Time to prove to the man

That we’re worth a second chance!

 

Many  positive comments from the participants:

This class was very pleasant. It made me step out of the negative…if only for a moment!

I always enjoy this class. It lets me realize how much joy is in me!

Love this class!

Lots more to share……next time!  Namaste! The Divine in me Greets the Divine in You! (My greetings as they leave the class!)

(Please check out my most recent book: Healthy Haiku 3: How to Fight Childhood Obesity One Poem at a Time!   a resource for the entire family…On Amazon.)

Haiku for Healthy Children and Teens: Healthy Eating to Prevent Obesity. A Resource for Mentors, Teachers and Parents

3d_copy

So what do you know about Haiku anyway?  Okay let me remind you: Ancient Japanese form of poetry that uses 17 syllables (or beats) usually configured as 5~7~5 on three lines that makes a big or significant statement with few words. Ah, 3rd grade Language Arts class maybe?  I always thought it was fun and have been creating Haiku and other poetry since being introduced to it in the 3rd grade.  Yes, I know that not everyone learned about Haiku in school, but I wish they had! Haiku for Healthy Children and Teens is the 3rd in a series of books devoted to sharing important health issues with youth and people that care about the physical and emotional development of young people – with the assistance of Haiku and other creative literary forms. For me, the series is the perfect marriage of public health – the world in which I have worked for over 25 years and poetry- my first literary love!

The spotlight on Obesity in children has been shining brightly by our First Lady – Michelle Obama through the National Let’s Move Campaign. Eating healthy is a very important part of that platform that has reached most communities in the U.S. According to the First Lady:

“In the end, as First Lady, this isn’t just a policy issue for me. This is a passion.

This is  my mission I am determined to work with folks across this country to

change the way a generation of  kids think about food and nutrition.”

We are very much on the same page.  As a Harvard and Columbia University trained Health Scientist and Educator with 22 years of experience at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), I have seen entire communities at disproportionate risk for obesity and health complications related to obesity (diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and more). The old saying ~ we are what we eat~ is so simple, yet so overlooked. It also becomes environmentally complicated with “food deserts”  the absence of major grocery store chains in low-income communities, as well as health food stores and other providers that offer a rich variety of high quality natural and organic foods and supplements.

As we teach children the importance of healthy eating as well as the meaning of healthy eating – with real examples – and empower the parents to prepare healthier meals, we can in fact prepare to change the obesity profile of many families and communities.  The closer to natural – organic fruits, vegetables and some grains – the healthier the children will be.  Here is an example of a haiku that I wrote relating to fruit and a child’s wonder! Notice that the first line contains 5 syllables, the second line contains 7 syllables and the third line contains 5 syllables.

“Age 4 discovered

Mango’s sweet succulent taste

while in Jamaica!”

I remember little else as vividly about that first trip to the birthplace of my mother and 3 of my grandparent’s  than the taste of a mango and the lime tree which fell victim to my shaking and eating its  fruit until my body broke out in a cleansing frenzy.  Yes, I distinctly remember having little bumps all over me for a couple of hours. Instinctively, my body knew exactly what I needed.  In retrospect I recognize the itching and bumps as being a cleansing reaction – a natural body response to maintain health, protect and balance itself. When I conduct Healthy Haiku workshops with small children and I ask them to name foods that are good from them.  They invariably call out the names of fruits and vegetables. Do you think their little hearts do not know what is good for them instinctively?

“What would life be if

There were no Apples to eat?

My all-time best Treat!”

I am so delighted to continue this important series with this book that will come with training and webinars for mentors, teachers and parents in order to guide them on the use of this and the previous books in the series.  In researching for this manuscript, I discovered and became absorbed into the Haiku works of literary giants such as Richard Wright, author of Native Son, Black Boy and many other rich historical classics.

“As the sun goes down

A green melon splits open

And juice trickles out.”

                                           Richard Wright

Healthy Haiku merges the poetic arts with language literacy and competency. My goal is to contribute to the body of English Language Arts  (ELA) Common Core State Standards with a fun, creative and unique approach that can be used by teachers and families across the country.  This volume will be released initially as an Ebook for easy access at low cost in order for it be affordable for all. Stay tuned for the release in early October.  Please Like our Facebook page for updates: HealthyHaiku and visit our Web site.

Imani.headshot.new1