Yoga and Aromatherapy behind Bars? Pa. Prisons Try Wellness Initiatives

The Philadelphia Inquirer

By Mari A. Schaefer

Ladonn, a 43-year-old man from Philadelphia, was apprehensive about taking a yoga class. But after 15 years in prison, with an anxiety level that was “though the roof,” he was willing to give it a try.

At the twice weekly classes held at the aptly named State Correctional Institution (SCI) – Retreat in Luzerne County, Ladonn found out yoga was hard work — and he liked it.

“It helped with anxiety first and foremost,” said Ladonn, whom the Department of Corrections would identify only by his first name, in a phone interview. “That was my main thing.”

Yoga, aromatherapy, and  linens in an earthy shade of green are not expected prison fare.

But for the last year, inmates and staff across the state have been testing policies and programs that focus on reducing violence and time inmates spend in solitary confinement, as well as increasing overall wellness. And, they are doing it at minimal cost.

Studies are being carried out at 25 state correctional institutions with the help of BetaGov, a team of consultants that encourage innovation through a bottom-up approach. The research ideas came from 15,000 state prison employees including correction officers, chaplains, nurses and food service staff, said Bret Bucklen, director of planning research and statistics at the state Department of Corrections.

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