THERE IS a new and exciting movement in some local prisons. Art of Living (AOL) Foundation is conducting Jamaica's first ever Prison Stress Management And Rehabilitation Training (SMART). It began last December with inmates of Spanish Town and Tower Street adult correctional centres.
Prison SMART is transforming inmates' lives, giving them a chance at rehabilitation and freedom through intensive stress relieving breathing exercises, meditation and many relaxation techniques. Dushyant Savadia, volunteer teacher and international programme director of the AOL Foundation, teaches the course.
Savadia was introduced to AOL at a time in his life when he was on a destructive path.
"I had been smoking 50 cigarettes and drinking a litre of rum a day at age 17. I was angry, short-tempered and violent. I threw things, got into street fights and, on one occasion, someone used a sword to slash me. At age 19, my parents threw me out of the home," he said in an interview with The Gleaner.
He lived on the streets doing odd jobs and later slept in a restaurant where he worked. He then got a job with Xerox where it was mandatory for staff to do the AOL course as part of their human resources development. "It was life transforming for me, it changed my life and I was no longer an addict, I slept and functioned better, my anger issues disappeared and I was able to handle crises more objectively through breathing and meditation," Savadia said.
He explained that taking a breath was the first and last thing humans did, life happens in between. So the skillful use of breathing can enhance our quality of life. "Our minds and breath are interlinked."
That influenced his decision to become a teacher with the organisation. He was sent to the Caribbean last year and has worked in at least four countries in the region so far.
Since coming to Jamaica, he has reached some 2000 persons. The work is voluntary funding comes when persons /organisations pay for the course to cover material and living/travel expenses.
Savadia's work in Jamaica's prisons is sponsored by Guardsman Group Limited, the Foundation. For two hours, six days a week, it includes a theory component and a focus on exercises of two types - stretching to release physical tension and a four-part breathing process which relaxes, releases stress, energises and re-establishes emotional harmony.
It teaches advanced breathing practices that creates dynamic cleansing effects on the body and mind.
Participants learn how to use their breath to gain relief from the accumulated effects of stress and negative emotions.
They also learn practical life skills that enable participants to accept responsibility for their past actions and to handle future conflict and stressful situations. Ideally, the programme becomes a partner with the stress/anger management component of the correction facility.
REDUCTION IN INFRACTIONS:
So far, there has been a remarkable reduction in the number of infractions due to prisoners' understanding of their past actions and taking responsibilities for future conduct.
AOL recently began its work in the women's prison, Fort Augusta. Hundreds of inmates have completed the first phase of the programme. Savadia is determined that each inmate undergoes the transformation of mind, body and spirit.
Volunteers work with the support of the staff of the Department of Correctional Services and Commissioner of Corrections, Lieutenant Colonel Prendergast to continue its reform inside the prisons. The programme aims to reduce offender recidivism and end the repeating cycle of violence and abuse that dominates many areas of our society.
"In 12 years this is the best thing in my life. I would like this to continue until I leave this institution. It has made me a better man," said inmate Leon Doeman, Spanish Town Correction Facility.
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