Prison Yoga Project–Alabama (PYP-AL) was just nearing completion of its second round of 12-week yoga offerings at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women when COVID-19 circumstances prevented program completion. At the time, we facilitated 3 general population classes and one class for Tutwiler staff. When PYP-AL visited Tutwiler for the last time in early March, neither facilitators nor participants anticipated that the programs would be abruptly halted. To the contrary, we were gearing up to add classes and facilitators to meet the needs of the participants.
Since that last visit, we have worked diligently to find creative ways to serve Tutwiler’s incarcerated population and staff members during the pandemic. With the assistance of Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) and with the outstanding resources offered through PYP’s community website (https://community.prisonyoga.org/), we created a shared folder of video and audio recordings; and through the generosity of PYP-AL stakeholders’ donations, we mailed copies of founder James Fox’s book, Yoga: A Path for Healing and Recovery to all of our participants.
While all of those resources are beneficial, we believe in the power of live yoga classes to foster connection and healing. Since there is still no foreseeable date for reinstating in-person classes, we set our sights on adapting programming to a virtual format. In late May, the addition and sustained success of a virtual program at Lee County Youth Development Center provided inspiration and insight toward realizing that goal at Tutwiler.
Perhaps more importantly, the Alabama Prison Birth Project’s (APBP) success in securing needed technology upgrades at Tutwiler for adaptation of services to a secure virtual format laid the foundation we needed to work actively toward our goal. APBP offered invaluable advice and encouragement as PYP-AL prepared to secure funding for virtual yoga classes.
In September, we were awarded Central Alabama Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Track 2: Organizational Critical Needs Grant. The Central Alabama Community Foundation is a division of the United Way and supports local organizations whose work improves the quality of life for communities. With their generous support, we acquired the technology upgrades we needed to provide safe, quality virtual yoga classes. The grant funded the purchase of a WebEx account which meets the ADOC’s security protocol; RǾDE Wireless Go lapel microphones which provide quality sound while allowing ease of movement; and Logitech C930c webcams with 1080p provide optimal video range and clarity.
In early October, we made our virtual debut at Tutwiler, and we are thrilled with the success of our new platform. In our third week, virtual programs were unfortunately put on hold due to COVID-19 circumstances within the facility. It is our sincere hope that the inmates and staff at Tutwiler are safe and well, and we look forward to our virtual return as soon as circumstances allow.