With a panic button a feet away and constant video surveillance, yoga instructor Nancy Lumpkin walked amid seven barefoot women, all of them Deschutes County jail inmates, and led them through a range of positions.
“We call this ‘warrior pose,’” she said, as the women, some of them here for parole violations, some of them awaiting trial, reached their arms overhead. “It’s actually a pose of celebration, so let’s celebrate — big smiles. Breathe in. I want you to notice how you feel.”
And they felt good, as did jail administrators, who’ve seized on the ancient principles of mind and body control as a way to lower stress levels at the jail.
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday held a media availability to show off the jail’s new weekly yoga class for female inmates. Lumpkin and another instructor-volunteer from Namaspa held court in one of the facility’s rec yards for the hourlong course.
Some of the women had taken yoga once or twice before, but the majority were learning for the first time.
“I like it because it keeps me active and going,” said inmate Melissa McCauley, 37.
There are about 222 inmates in the Deschutes County jail and an average of 20 female inmates at any given time. The average stay in jail, for men and women, is 14 days. With such a small proportion of women, the jail has discontinued using them in work crews, and jail staff say they’ve looked for alternative activities for the women who pass through.
Lumpkin is a former social worker and a onetime owner of Namaspa, with locations in Bend and Redmond, who still teaches there. She was moved to volunteer at the jail through working with a relative who “screwed up” when he was younger.
“Jail is a very tense place,” she said. “And what yoga does is help you feel in your body. Hopefully, when they leave here, they’ll feel more in their bodies.”
Getting yoga into the jail was a process that took several years. Finding good instructors with clean criminal records was the first challenge.
When Capt. Michael Schults took over as jail commander at the beginning of the year, adding a women’s yoga class was assigned to him as a priority by his new boss, Sheriff Shane Nelson.
Schults talked about how stressful a jail can be for everyone involved — inmates, their relatives and the guards.
“They’re concrete, steel and locks. Very sterile,” he said. “And overall, jails are built for males.”
There’s hope the class can help reduce recidivism, as well as prescription drug use at the jail.
Around $120,000 per year is spent by the state on inmate medications in the Deschutes County jail. Much of this is psychotropic drugs for conditions such as depression and anxiety. There’s hope among jail administrators that they can reduce that figure through mindfulness and programs aimed at keeping inmates active.
Other programs offered at the jail include a church service, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Goodwill Job Connection.
In the past, work crews were a way to keep female inmates active. Now, female inmates in the Deschutes County jail don’t have the option of participating in work crews, which is one reason jail staff say alternative programs like the new yoga class are so important.
Women inmates have the option of working on a jail cleaning crew, doing laundry and dishes and cooking meals, as do male inmates. But with the small number of women housed inside the jail at any given time — and mixing the sexes not customarily allowed — staffing a women’s work crew that leaves the jail doesn’t make sense, Schults said.
Inmates can shave off up to 10 percent of their sentences through work crew participation.
Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said as long as women have equal access to reducing their sentences, he’s content to leave the matter to the sheriff’s office.
“To me, what’s most important is that the opportunity for sentence reduction is there for both genders,” Hummel said.
Instructor Emily Anderson said her mood was elevated as she headed for class.
“They’re people too,” she said. “As corny as that sounds.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0325, firstname.lastname@example.org