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Prison Ministry & Restorative Justice
Capacitar at a Women's Correctional Facility
Pat Cane, California
Visiting women in jail is not new to Capacitar. In the early years of our organization we visited the women's prison in Managua, Nicaragua with Sister Mary Hartman and offered workshops in acupressure and massage to the prison staff. On the last two Women's Journeys to Central America we again returned to the Managua jail bringing badly needed medicines and supplies. And Journey Director Joan Lohman led a healing workshop with women inmates.
When Chaplain Marilu Eder, Director of Detention Ministry for the Diocese of San Jose, California, invited us to offer local workshops for women at the Elmwood Correctional Center, we felt immediately called to do so. 95% of these women are victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence and many have turned to prostitution to earn their livelihood. 95% have drug and alcohol problems and need rehabilitation programs to heal their addictions. We were moved by the desire expressed by several of the workshop participants to share what they had learned to help other inmates and their families. In a recent note, Marilu shared: "Lucy came and spoke with me yesterday and brought another inmate with her. She told me how she wants to help her friend not only with the Tai Chi they are practicing as a group each day, but with the acupressure points. She wants to learn as much as she can to help others. ,
Capacitar at Elmwood Correctional Facility
Mary Litell, OSF, California
"Listen, these things can really help you!" Women in the detention center (jail) programs were talking to newcomers during a Capacitar session in the jail. One of them described how she and two others in the program who had just learned an exercise for releasing traumatic memories were able to help a woman in their cell block who was suffering flashbacks. "We just took out our paper and I called out the steps of the exercise, while the others showed our friend what to do with her hands and eyes and all. She calmed down right away."
Chaplain Mary Lou Eder tells how many women have done well in their court hearings because of practices they learned in Capacitar trainings. They use finger holds to focus and calm themselves during the hearings. While other classes they receive emphasize a positive lifestyle that can nourish and support the women when they return to their homes and jobs, Capacitar trainings focus on the release of blocked traumatic energy and balancing the energy system. In this way the women can connect with their own source of well being and experience life-giving energy which can empower them to begin creating a positive lifestyle, even while still serving their sentences. As I leave the center each month, I always share a conversation with Mary Lou Eder about new ways that more women in the jail could be empowered through Capacitar. And we always affirm the value of a training program to help more women develop their abilities to share the healing processes of Capacitar.
Currently Northern California Coordinator Maureen Hally, RSM and Victoria Gonzalez are facilitating the bi-monthly workshops for women at Elmwood. Funding has just been received to expand the Capacitar program to offer workshops for men participants at the Elmwood Men's Correctional Facility.
Capacitar Practices in a Mexican Prison
Dora Montoya-Casa Romero Renewal Center, Milwaukee
When I started in the CAPACITAR training I shared the practices with my aunt when she visited our family from Durango, Mexico. She was very enthused. As part of her work for La Secretaria de Educacion, Gobierno del Estado de Durango, she implements self- esteem workshops for a prison population. She asked me to go to Durango and present a workshop.
In November, 2005, I went into the Durango state prison with my aunt. Forty-three in- mates, 39 men and 4 women, were anxiously waiting. I shared the abdominal breathing exercise, Tai Chi Meditations, Finger Holds, Energy Holds, Tapping and Pal Dan Gum. A lot of healing happened. Several people cried during the energy holds. One man said it brought back memories of his deceased mother and he felt that she was the one holding him. A father of one of the inmates was visiting and also participated in the workshop. He told us that when he had his hands on his son he felt his son trembling and knew that his son was healing and so was he. Another young man said it was hard for him to fall asleep. I taught him to put the fingers of his right hand on top of his head and the fingers of his left hand on his heart. The following day he came back so de- lighted because he had slept very well. He looked rested and more energized.
Before leaving that afternoon, I showed a picture of the labyrinth to an inmate who was an engineer. When I came back the next day I was surprised to see a detailed labyrinth chalked on the floor of the room. It was beautiful! The inmates walked this labyrinth in groups of five. One young man cried as he walked and later told us that his parents had given him away to his grandparents when he was a boy. He stated that he felt as though somebody was touching him as he walked. The labyrinth was a very powerful healing tool.
We concluded with a healing circle and circle massage. They did not want the session to end. Finally, they asked me to stand in the middle of the circle, close my eyes and put my hands on my heart. Then they played the John Lennon song, Imagine. They all gave me their blessings and huddled for a group hug. I felt much honored to have shared those two days with them.
Capacitar Practices in Honduran Prisons
The River of Life
Some of the groups who have benefited most from The River of Life exercises are at the men's and women's prisons in Honduras. In the women's prison all 210 prisoners received some training in body-mind-spirit practices. The River of Life has helped many women who feel like failures and victims of tragic circumstances, to look at the good they have done and what they have learned along the way. In the men's prison at Tamara, psychologist Clara Nuñez, sociologist Georgina Ponce, and outreach staff Adela Zuniga trained staff and some prisoners to begin to make changes in the violent atmosphere. The majority (over 3,000 men in this prison) are poor men caught in drug sales, robbery, or violence, most victims of desperate circumstances. Most never had considered the meaning of their lives, so the exercise provided an opportunity to look at the past and to recognize what learning they may have gained. Prisoners in the above photo are being trained to be facilitators so that many more prisoners may be helped by the process.
Breathwork for Emotions and Violence
Breathwork was a very helpful exercise for Hondurans who suffered the trauma of Hurricane Mitch. Some of the people most affected by the hurricane were men in the prisons. The prisoners not only suffered the terror of the hurricane and the distress of not knowing what had happened to their families, but also they survived without water, food, and aid for a number of days after the disaster. The prisoners revolted over these inhuman conditions, took control of the prison, and a number of men were killed in the ensuing violence. Alba de Mejia, founder of Centro Visitación Padilla, a center for peace and human rights, was one of the first persons to enter the prison to bring aid and to help negotiate the disarming of the prisoners. Breathwork was one of the practices she taught some of the men to help them to regain control and to release the trauma. In the poverty and desperation of the prison the men had nothing except their own bodies. With breath they could do something for themselves to release the rage and pent up emotions, to regain control of their lives, and to focus their energy in the difficult situation.
Salute to the Sun
This movement meditation has been used by a number of Central Americans to empower people who went through the trauma of Hurricane Mitch. The movement opens us to the forces of nature and to the natural cycles of life, death, and resurrection. Staff from the women's prison in Tegucigalpa found this to be a wonderful exercise for the women prisoners, whom they respectfully refer to as women "deprived of their liberty". Brenda Argueta, Cenaida Andrade and Marysabel Matute shared how many of these women felt helpless in the face of the hurricane, overwhelmed by worry for their families outside the prison. The elements of nature to them became terrifying. With the Salute to the Sun the women were able to reconnect with the elements of nature, to let go of their emotional pain and fear, and to experience the healing of themselves as part of the cycles of the earth and the sun.