behavior · community · creativity · Mental · psychology

How Knitting Behind Bars Transformed Maryland Convicts – News – GOOD

Prisoners show off their knitting progress. Photo courtesy of the program.

Creating something with your hands, learning a craft, and being successful with something even as simple as crochet can have huge positive effects on people. That effect that be even more significant if you’ve been a screw-up your whole life, as many people behind bars feel they have been. This story about bringing knitting workshops to prisons is a great example, similar to the Puppies Behind Bars program or helping to raise endangered frogs, of how doing something as simple as a pearl and stitch can have huge psychologically positive impacts.

In late 2009, Lynn Zwerling stood in front of 600 male prisoners at the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup, Maryland. “Who wants to knit?” she asked the burly crowd. They looked at her like she was crazy.

Yet almost two years later, Zwerling and her associates have taught more than 100 prisoners to knit, while dozens more are on a waiting list to take her weekly class. “I have guys that have never missed one time in two years,” Zwerling says. “Some reported to us that they miss dinner to come to class.”

Zwerling, 67, retired in 2005 after 18 years of selling cars in Columbia, Maryland. She didn’t know what to do with her time, so she followed her passion and started a knitting group in her town. No one came to the first meeting, but the group quickly grew to 500 members. “I looked around the room one day and I saw a zen quality about it,” Zwerling says. “Here were people who didn’t know each other, had nothing in common, sitting together peacefully like little lambs knitting. I thought, ‘It makes me and these people feel so good. What would happen if I took knitting to a population that never experienced this before?’”

Her first thought was to bring knitting to a men’s prison, but she was turned down repeatedly. Wardens assumed the men wouldn’t be interested in a traditionally feminine hobby and worried about freely handing out knitting needles to prisoners who had been convicted of violent crimes. Five years passed before the Pre-Release Unit in Jessup accepted her, and Knitting Behind Bars was born. “I [wanted to teach] them something that I love that I really believe will make them focus and happy,” Zwerling says. “I really believe that it’s more than a craft. This has the ability to transform you.”

via How Knitting Behind Bars Transformed Maryland Convicts – News – GOOD.


Benefits of Yoga Behind Bars in Jails, Prisons, and Correctional Institutions

Helen yoga
Yoga is being used in prisons to encourage calm and personal growth. Image via Wikipedia

My work has been pretty high-stress lately, and I’ve been trying different things to relax and try to make my off-work hours very enriching and recuperative. I recently read about this non-profit organization, Yoga Behind Bars, that offers free yoga classes to incarcerated youth and adults.

Yoga Behind Bars is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization in Seattle that brings yoga and meditation classes to incarcerated youth and adults in Washington State as well as those at risk of entering the criminal justice system. We are a volunteer-driven organization that teaches 11 classes a week at 7 different facilities. Our mission is to share tools of self-awareness, healing and transformation with our students. (at Yoga Behind Bars).

I think this is a great idea! First, there are multiple benefits of yoga, even for the non-incarcerated:

“There is a growing body of research that supports our belief in the efficacy of yoga and meditation classes to support true individual healing and change. Participation in yoga classes has been shown to reduce depression, anger, and anxiety, often a root cause of antisocial behavior and drug use. Yoga has also been established as an effective adjunctive therapy during treatment for drug addiction, which is a co-factor in many of our students’ incarceration.” (more citations provided in the original article)

more via Benefits of Yoga Behind Bars in Jails, Prisons, and Correctional Institutions.

I can’t believe how stressful and un-enriching it must be to be incarcerated. There are constant political battles that often result in violence, lack of exercise, friends, or contact with the outside world. I am always supportive of programs that try to bring beneficial programs into prisons, like Puppies Behind Bars, theater classes, or raising frogs through the Sustainable Prisons Project.

This is also a great therapy and skill to teach prisoners, because they can take this training and use it outside of the yoga class without an instructor or without a structured setting, either alone in their cell or just practicing breathing when it gets tough.

I’m curious to hear of other programs that are offering enrichment to people living in incarceration, or other environments where they don’t have the same opportunities to go out and enrich their own lives. Please share any you know of in the comments.

architecture · behavior · brain · design · emotion · environment · happiness · health · mental health · Nature · psychology

Using Nature Therapy in Prisons and Hospitals

I’m seeing lots of different examples of people using nature to help heal, from the physically injured to those with aggression issues cut off from the rest of the world.

For example, I was just listening to a program this weekend on the local NPR station about a biologist at Evergreen State College who is greenifying a local prison, as well as working with inmates to grow new prairie grass and frogs (I can’t find the original story but here’s some similar coverage):

The frog rearing program here pairs inmates with scientists from the Evergreen State College as part of the Sustainable Prisons Project. So far, the frogs grown at Cedar Creek Correctional Center are doing better than those grown by professional zoologists.

LIESL PLOMSKI, graduate student, The Evergreen State College says, “They have a lot more time here to care for the frogs that a zoo wouldn’t have. I mean they’re here all day with them, so they change the water frequently. They feed them more frequently than a zoo could ever do.”

And then this morning stumbled upon this story:

Henning Larsen Architects recently won an international design competition with their plans for the new Odense University Hospital in Denmark. Situated close to the city center amidst a scenic old-growth forest, the OUH will use the surrounding landscape as a way to heal its patients. The holistic facility features a light footprint that incorporates nature at every turn to create an environment replete with peace and serenity. Daylight floods in through the glass-lined buildings, and rainwater will be collected to feed the many ponds and surrounding landscape.

more via Denmark’s New Odense Hospital is a Healing City of Glass Amid the Forest | Inhabitat – Green Design Will Save the World.

I am blown away by all the different applications of nature into therapy and recovery practices.