Prison inmates sit in a circle.

DVI inmates take part in the first Holistic Health Retreat.

By Angele Echele, Peacemakers’ Alliance Director, Volunteer
Deuel Vocational Institution

Roughly 100 inmates from Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI), including 15 inmate facilitators from Peacemakers’ Alliance, joined a dozen community volunteers, seven staff sponsors, three DVI medical staff members, Community Resources Manager Martina Virrey and a correctional officer for an event dubbed Spread the Health: A Holistic Health Retreat.

Thanks to the generous donations from Access Securepak, Redwood City Friends of Literacy and volunteers, every inmate participant was provided with a Mindfulness Toolkit containing self-care and self-help essentials such as a folder to carry materials, health education handouts, writing paper, pencils, pens, event bookmark, toothpaste, a toothbrush, eyeglass cleaning cloth and two envelopes. Also, a whole-grain granola bar, a bottle of vitamin-infused water, and access to ice water was available for each participant and volunteer.

“The Health Retreat was an extremely positive event in which self-reflection and focusing on self-care were put at the forefront of everyone’s mind. I imagine that those who participated left feeling rejuvenated and ready to put positive energy into their community at DVI. It was especially special for me to get to participate as a facilitator as I was able to see the enormous ways in which Peacemakers’ Alliance has grown since its inception,” said Dana Hartman, Peacemakers’ Alliance Co-Founder.

At the beginning of the day, the 100 inmates were broken up into four small groups comprising 25 participants. Peacemakers’ Alliance facilitators formed four facilitation teams and led their small groups through nutrition demonstrations regarding sugar and sodium found in food, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Health Plate, and proper hand-washing hygiene.

Making the event possible and successful was a collaborative effort between Peacemakers’ Alliance students, ITLAG executive body members and volunteers, self-help volunteers and sponsors, the Administration, custody and support staff, outside donors and the inmates who voluntarily attended the event. Ellis Rodriguez gave a 45-minute comedy sketch that had everyone present roaring with laughter during the lunch hour.

The groups rotated through four experiential learning stations over the course of the day. Every inmate participated in all four stations:

  1. Self-Care and Self-Massage – Hosted by Dana Hartman-Ngaloafe, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Caitlin Breen, Certified Massage Therapist
  2. Moving Meditation – Hosted by Buddhist Prison Pathways
  3. Health and Wellness Information
    • DVI Pharmacy discussed how to read medicine labels
    • University of the Pacific reps offered health and wellness resources
    • DVI Public Health Nurse discussed vaccines
  4. Trauma-Informed Yoga – Hosted by Prison Yoga Project
    • Fifty (50) yoga mats were donated by Prison Yoga Project and Buddhist Pathways Prison Project to DVI for the event and for DVI’s future programmatic use.
    • Prison Yoga Project donated a copy of founder James Fox’s book A Path for Healing and Recovery to every inmate interested in having one.

“I am so grateful to have been a part of the Holistic Health Retreat on April 28. It was very organized and all of the facilitators were incredibly helpful. Almost all of the men were open to new experiences with breath work, yoga, and guided meditation. I cannot tell you how happy it made me that several of them actually fell asleep because they had the opportunity to truly relax. Having a comedian there was a real treat for the guys as well. Laughter really is the best medicine,” said Kaysie Markwardt, Prison Yoga Project, who facilitated trauma-informed yoga sessions.

“It would be difficult for me to name a more positive, warm and encouraging group activity in my entire nineteen years in prison.  I was thoroughly impressed with the organization, sacrifice planning and generosity of spirit displayed by everyone involved in the Health Fair Day including non-custody personnel, the community volunteers, guest speakers, the comedian and DVI administration and custody.  All of the information provided was informative, relevant and engaging. The subjects presented were: Yoga Meditation, Comedy, Hand Washing, Self-Massage, Self-Care, Walking Meditation and General Health Service Information while incarcerated and upon release,” said inmate Morales. “I applaud the efforts of everyone involved to pull off such a warmhearted uplifting event that definitely gave back to the community in prison and to the community outside of prison. Events such as these help step by step to change the hearts and minds of everyone involved.”

Inmate Miller thanked everyone who helped put together the event.

“It was an eye opening event for me. What I enjoyed most was the yoga, meditation and self-massage sessions they had. I really loved all the good advice I received from everyone, including the health care staff (DVI). Again thanks to everyone who had a part in bringing the event to DVI. I really appreciate it,” he said.

The mission of the DVI Holistic Health Retreat was to Spread the Health. Every year since 2010, Peacemakers’ Alliance’s Critical Literacy and Peace Education class has done a service project as a way to make their community better. After surveying the population at DVI, 224 (53.5%) of the 418 responses showed interest in an event revolving around better self-care and overall personal health. Peacemakers’ Alliance students then planned and organized this event to inform and as well teach inmates techniques to reduce stress, eat healthier, stay spiritually centered, and become physically balanced.