The Mission of Liberation Prison Yoga:
Liberation Prison Yoga is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with a mission to serve prisons and jails, bringing trauma-conscious yoga programs to incarcerated women, men, LGBTQ, youth, staff, and those whose lives are affected by incarceration; to train yoga instructors to work inside the prison system; and to educate the public about trauma-conscious yoga.
Founder and Executive Director Anneke Lucas started creating programs in different facilities in 2011, bringing along yoga teachers, social workers and psychologists, training them to apply the specific trauma conscious approach our teachers share in the prison and jail settings.
Each class comprises of yoga and meditation. Liberation Prison Yoga programs may also include discussion, free-flow writing or other healing modalities.
The effectiveness of yoga and mindfulness practices have been amply proven, but few studies have been done inside the prisons.
Currently, Liberation Prison Yoga, together with the NYC Department of Corrections and the NYC Health & Hospitals Corporation, is conducting a study to measure the effectiveness of the Liberation Prison Yoga programs conducted at Rikers Island, New York.
Let’s be the quiet revolution – moving towards integration
instead of isolation, healing instead of punishment,
and peace amid unrest – inside ourselves,
and inside the prisons.
Letter from the Director of Training, Oneika Mays
I believe in living.
I believe in birth.
I believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.
– Assata Shakur
Patty* was new to the dorm. With another quiet morning, I thought class would be light.
When I asked if anyone wanted to practice she quietly raised her hand.
I could see her hanging back seeing if anyone else would join her and when no one did she came out by herself. ‘I’ve worked out before but never done yoga, I don’t know what I’m doing.’
There was a hard shell around her, one I’ve seen a lot. It‘s necessary to survive the experience.
I gave her a mat, blocks and bolster and told her that I would do some poses and she could do what felt right for her.
I got a nod and we were off.
Again I spoke about the stress response. It’s important.
These women live in a state of stress every moment of every day, sometimes even while asleep.
When I talk about how yoga may help that as well as the spirit, a compassionate determination rises up.
Patty’s gentle movement inspired 6 others and another 3 watched. Conversation picked up.
During a lull, Patty burst out and said, ‘I was really shy when I first started class. It’s like being 5 at the playground all over again. But I like this.’
Carmen*, another student said, ‘I’m glad you did, it’s what made me come over.’
Another said, ‘Yeah, me too.’ Others nodded in agreement.
By the time we arrived at meditation Patty had to leave for medical but she looked at me and asked my name again.
She’d heard it earlier but decided she was interested in knowing it. I get that.
She also gave me her real name and said she’d see me next week.
She felt good.
After class, there was more chatting than usual. And even though Patty had left class she was the catalyst.
It only takes one.
I saw her on my way out and she had her armour back on but she caught my eye and threw me a small nod.
There isn’t a day that this work isn’t powerful.
You hold the space.
It’s not about you.
You take care of yourself and your soul because this work demands it and you deserve it. But once in awhile a class can really crack your heart open and make you grateful.
This is yoga and it can quietly change the world.
May all beings be free from suffering.
— Oneika Mays- LMT, E-RYT
Director of Training, Liberation Prison Yoga
*not given name