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