By Jane Nambi
Contrary to common belief that prison is a place with all kinds of harsh treatments, one Mexican prison has turned the negativity associated to going to jail and had turned it into an opportunity for total transformation for the inmates, especially the young ones who have just joined the prison.
Yoga is among the few activities which Mexico’s juvenile halls offer to young offenders, hoping to change them. In the Comprehensive Teenager Diagnostics Community (CDIC) which has high, barbed wire-topped walls, the correction center found in Mexico City has 219 young detainees. The detainees can learn carpentry, music or how to make tortillas in the cafeteria under the watch of unarmed guards in black uniforms.
Fredy Alan Diaz Arista, a 38-year-old former drug dealer is now the detainees’ yoga teacher. “Your crime doesn’t matter right now, relax,” he said during one of their lessons. The detainees are dressed in navy blue sweatpants and white sleeveless shirts.
Diaz’s yoga class attracts teenagers like Jesus, 16, accused of rape, Pedro, 14, facing charges of killing a woman, and Eric, 19, who was sentenced to the maximum five years for a juvenile for the crimes of homicide, kidnapping and extortion.
“There are days when I wake up stressed out because I have a lot of time to serve, but when I come here all the stress goes away and I relax,” says Eric, who was 17 when he decided to make “easy money” by helping to kidnap a man who was later killed.
Diaz himself learned yoga in prison after he was caught with a gun and 18 kilograms of cocaine in his luggage, which he was taking from the Pacific coast state of Guerrero to Mexico City in 2002. After almost seven years behind bars, he decided to teach young offenders the virtues of yoga that he learned from the Parinaama Foundation, which teaches the activity in penitentiaries.
“In prison, yoga was like a window for me, and as I practiced it more and more it became a door,” said Diaz. “I feel that I have a debt and that is why I come to these places, to share this. I have very little to feel good or proud about, and the little I have is this work that I do, which makes me feel good about myself,” he adds.
The prison director, Cynthia Rosas Rodriguez, may add massage classes to the program, which could give the boys another career option after they walk free, but she stressed that the focus was on education. “We offer a series of activities that, taken together, are a good way for boys who lived through lots of violence to express and metabolize their emotions,” Rosas said, acknowledging that the program will not change a “minority of boys.”