Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Different Kind of Soul Cycle: Women in Prison on the Road to Rehabilitation

Many people are aware that Pope Francis visited a prison on his historic visit to the United States. But what if his itinerary included at stop at the Riverside Correctional facility—a prison less than one mile down the road?  What would he find? One: women, two: a unique path toward rehabilitation and three: an opportunity for all of society to contribute to that process. Consider it a different kind of "soul cycle." Here's how.

As written in "Pope Francis Visits Prisoners in Philadelphia" the Holy Father said:

“This time in your life can only have one purpose: to give you a hand in getting back on the right road, to give you a hand to help you rejoin society,” the pope said in the gymnasium of the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. “All of us are part of that effort, all of us are invited to encourage, help and enable your rehabilitation.” 
Pope Francis also rebuked society for not doing enough to rehabilitate prisoners. “It is painful when we see prison systems which are not concerned to care for wounds, to soothe pain, to offer new possibilities,” the pope said, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter. “It is painful when we see people who think that only others need to be cleansed, purified, and do not recognize that their weariness, pain and wounds are also the weariness, pain and wounds of society.”
It should go without saying two and a half years into his papacy that Pope Francis' actions speak louder than his words. Catholics are called to perform the corporal works of mercy, one of which is to visit the imprisoned. And the Holy Father has done so on several occasions. Yet, I think his words are equally striking. He reminds us that those in prison are called to work toward rehabilitation. 

Serving time ought to be a call toward rehabilitation—that may be found through prayer, meditation, education, counseling and well, even exercise. A recent story I heard on NPR, "Biking Behind Bars: Female Inmates Battle Weight Gain" reminded me how important breaking a sweat might be in that process.
I encourage you to listen to the five minute 'Weekend Edition" story. The corresponding article captures why exercise and proper nutrition are not to be underestimated in the rehabilitation of those behind bars.  Tauyuna English writes, "In a 2010 survey, women at Riverside gained about 36 pounds in a year, on average. But after some changes at the facility, that weight gain dropped to 26 pounds when the medical team checked again in 2015." 36 pounds! Although that number has dropped, dramatic weight gain has adverse effects on physical as well as mental health. As one of my students pointed out, many women in prison are mothers as well. Weight management, nutrition and diet are important to model to children.

And so is exercise. Fortunately for women at Riverside, a spin class is an option that many have taken to. NPR reports,

In 2011, biking advocates from the nonprofit group Gearing Up persuaded prison administrators to let them bring in bikes to teach indoor cycling. Founder Kristin Gavin says before that she had mentored ex-offenders out in the community.
Hearing this story reminded me that the opportunity to exercise is a gift that should not be taken for granted; it is linked to not only my physical ability but my freedom. Many people in the world are not free to exercise, run and play for a variety of reasons. (The fact that women must wear pants to their spin class is the simplest reminder of what I never think about. Pants would not be my first choice). Some may feel that these women renounced those freedoms when they wronged society, but again Pope Francis' words speak to what we as a society could do...and should do.
Setting an intention to leave behind depression
At the start of their spin class, women are asked to set an intention for the workout. Some exercise to leave behind prison, others to let out their frustration. Whether they know it or not, their commitment to exercise is an important step to getting on that right road. I hope to implement what I've learned from these women and set an intention at the beginning of my workout too. One of those will be a prayer of intention—for the Holy Father and for those we ought to visit. 

Photo Credits
Riverside Prison Spin Class
Pope Francis

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