The music echoing through the gym at the Timpanogos Womens Facility in Draper, is soft, melodic and relaxing.
The instructor’s prompts are given in a calm, soothing voice. The only response from the audience of three dozen or so inmates is a collective deep breath and corresponding exhale.
Yoga behind prison walls is no longer a novelty. What’s different here is those teaching the class will remain behind after it's over.
They, too, are inmates.
After 14 months of training, four women at the Draper site have completed the 200-hour program and are now fully certified yoga teachers.
Denise Druce is the volunteer yoga instructor and master trainer for Yoga Assets, which trains yoga instructors. She is also president of YogaForward.org, a non-profit that sponsored 10 women at the facility to become class leaders, a nearly $20,000 grant. While four completed the program in March, several others are continuing their training outside the prison.
She said the program has helped more than those individuals who graduated.
“… I do feel like there is a ripple effect,” she said. “Many of the correctional officers have told us that these women make a difference when they’re in the room. There is a more calm feeling. There is a more calm environment. There’s more working together with the other inmates. So, I do feel like that has made a great impact on the culture here.”
Yoga classes have steadily become more popular at the Utah State Prison since its implementation 18 months ago. The class originated with about 3 to 5 students in the beginning to around 30 to 40 now. On the day of graduation, the class took up half the basketball court in the gym, stretching from sideline to sideline.
Visiting the prison was not new to Druce. She speaks freely about seeing her father when he was incarcerated at Utah State Prison while she was growing up. She is clear on what the physical and mental aspects of yoga can bring to those behind bars and how it can help with their rehabilitation.
“I feel like the women who did our program have seeds planted,” she explained. “Seeds of self-esteem, learning to choose the right action in the moment, seeing other people as equals, being able to make a profound difference in the world just in the words that we choose to use. I feel like that’s what yoga can really do to this whole environment.”
Her next step is to bring a similar program to male inmates. She said she has the approval necessary and is working on scheduling.
Regardless of what the future holds, Druce said the program can already be considered a success.
“The classes being taught now are safe and effective,” Druce said, “and they are helping many women that are incarcerated deal with anxiety, deal with stress, deal with maybe past traumas or physical injuries. So, that to me is a huge win.”
It's a sentiment echoed by Correctional Officer Regina Dietrick, who's duty station includes the gym at Timpanogos.
"I've noticed that it helps (inmates) deal with situations and cope with life in healthier ways than before," she said. "These classes show they can do it without unhealthy habits and practices."
Public Information Office, March 25, 2019