“We always have a choice, it is up to us on whether we want to return to our old ways or take a step forward.” This sharing by an ex-offender left the deepest impression on me and set me reflecting. Of all the hopes we may have for them, i.e. they leave prison a better person, they quit drugs and find a stable employment, they pursue their studies or areas of interest, perhaps the most important desire for them is to break the addiction cycle for good and we never have to seem them in the system again. More often than not, despite the support given at the incare and aftercare phase, it is disheartening to see some of them relapse not once, but multiple times.
There has always been two schools of thoughts, with one agreeing that imprisonment system is good for the offender as they undergo disciplinary and rehabilitation programmes to change for the better. In Singapore, there are counsellors and psychologist who carry out motivational interviewing to illicit the challenges and emotional turmoil that offenders face and run programmes to change their behaviours and help them cope with emotional issues like stress or anger management. Inmates are also adequately prepared for work after release through work programmes which mirrors the real work conditions and attend courses to brush up on their soft skills. There are also job coaches and social workers attached to them to help them adjust in their initial few months after release, as well as, cope with the day-to-day challenges at work or at home. These seems like a full suite of programme to prepare and ease their transition to their work environment.
However, another school of thought will argue that prisons are confined spaces that affects the mental and emotional states of offenders. Offenders who are serving long sentences may have trouble sleeping or living in fear from isolated cases of bullying. While social workers and counsellors provide a pillar of support after their release, they cannot be with them all the time.
The key is to train ex-offenders to be self-reliant and be more self-aware. We could probably arm them with a coping technique which they can turn to as a recourse. Prisons in the US, India, Philippines and South Africa are already using yoga as a coping technique for offenders. News reports from media platforms like BBC have expanded on the benefits that these yoga programmes have brought about for offenders. Yoga is technically a one stop solution to all their worries. Breathing techniques helps calm their mind and relieves them from their anxiety attacks and concern. Asana poses helps to build up their physical fitness and strengthen their immune system from the bad ventilation in the confined areas and the drugs and harmful concoctions that has turned their system haywire. Some of the poses that opens their heart chakra such as wheel pose will give them more courage to overcome their fears and probably relieve them from all the emotional tensions and stress. When you have a “wheel”, you have a way!
Personally, I think that meditation is probably the best remedy for them. It helps them to focus their energy and attention on the present, so that they would not be fixated on their past or negative memories that dampens their confidence. Through meditation, within that vast space in their mind, they could work on overcoming dvesha, slowly come to terms with the actions and behaviours, acknowledge their wrongdoings and not escape or avoid from their problems. Focusing the energy to activate their Ajna chakra could also help break their addiction to drugs.
Hopefully, more and more prison system can introduce this useful technique as an alternative to yard time to help offenders in the years to come. It not only benefits the offenders, they could also implement it for prison officers who encounter emotional stress and burden from their work. Ex-offenders could also transfer this technique to their loved one to indirectly prevent intergenerational re-offending! Wonderful ripple effects!
My advice to offenders – You always have a choice, do Yoga, don’t Cha Cha (one step forward two steps back)!
Junni (Apr to Jun TTC 200 hrs)