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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Inmates stretch interests with yoga

Photo galleryPhoto gallery: Yoga in prison
Video: Prison inmates find peace in controversial yoga

By Alyssa S. Navares
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Kailua yoga instructor Louisa DiGrazia leads a session at the Waiawa Correctional Facility.

Photos by JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

An inmate at Waiawa prison stretches under the supervision of DiGrazia, who has been teaching at four of the state prisons for more than a decade. She and her husband, Tom DiGrazia, are the state's only prison yoga instructors. The yoga program, along with other prison elective classes such as hula and tai chi, are near the bottom of the list of priorities for public safety program funding from the state.

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They might not seem like the typical yoga students, but inmates enrolled in two-hour classes at some state prisons Waiawa, Halawa and the women's correctional facilities say they have become fans of the ancient practice.

William Stephens, 35, who began taking part in classes about two years ago, is now teaching yoga to other inmates as part of a pilot program.

"It's a very stressful environment (in prison)," Stephens said. "Yoga helps me to find my center and remain kind of peaceful."

William Kekino, 30, is one of 20 men enrolled in the class at Waiawa Correctional Facility. He credits the program for progress he is making in recovering from an injury.

"If it wasn't for this class, I'd still have the same pains in my neck from an old car accident," Kekino said.

Louisa DiGrazia, who a decade ago studied the effects of prison yoga programs as a peace studies major at the University of Hawai'i, said correctional facilities have found that the ancient Indian practice helps relieve "stress of (inmates') daily routine" and can help establish or maintain good health. She said that yoga programs have been a part of various prison systems across the country for more than 25 years.

DiGrazia and her husband, Tom DiGrazia, serve as the state's only prison yoga instructors.

Over the past several years, the DiGrazias have donated about two dozen old yoga mats from their privately owned Yoga School of Kailua. In addition, their yoga school, along with other businesses, have so far pitched in a total of $10,000 for the prison yoga program.

The yoga program is part of the state's $91,000 annual budget for academic and elective programs during the past fiscal year. A separate budget that pays for inmate career training, such as auto repair classes, totaled about $109,000.

Prison elective classes, such as yoga, hula and tai chi, are toward the bottom of the list of priorities for public safety program funding. The state this year earmarked $14,000 for the yoga program a $1,000 increase over funding set at about $13,000 annually for the past seven years.

Maureen Tito, the state Department of Public Safety's education director, said expanding the program is not in the cards. The program includes four classes, each with an enrollment of up to about 20 students.

"Even with more money, we still wouldn't have the space or available inmates who could participate in yoga," Tito said. Due to space constraints, for instance, a few prison yoga classes without designated classrooms take place in central living quarters.