Violin and Yoga for Men in Jail

“Is that a Strad?” I couldn’t help but laugh after one of the inmates asked. “No no, I would probably need some bodyguards if this were a Stradivarius…it’s over a million dollars.” “Oh? Yea I wouldn’t bring that in here either. That’s expensive man. What are you doing here?” I told him I was here with my friend to provide music as she gave the yoga class. We continued to chat for a bit by one of the security checkpoints but he walked away when one of the guards returned to the post.

Jennifer Road Detention Center (JRDC) is a maximum security intake and pretrial detention facility in Maryland. Some of the inmates there have serious charges and at first glance be the last person you’d expect to attend a yoga class. When I walk into the facility, a guard checks my case before I take out my violin and bow to head to the next checkpoint. They keep my case in the office for per policy and security measures.

Navigating through the facility can be a bit of a maze and the constant noise reverbing off the walls and floors only adds to the chaos. I walked by one section and heard inmates shouting at one another behind bars. Another inmate grunted while he did Triceps dips off the side of the lower bunk bed. Another had accidentally dropped empty plates on the floor when the cart carrying them ran over something on the floor. The fact that I was able to walk the halls with my violin and bow with my friend was a huge accomplishment and victory.

Initially, we had a hard time getting access to bring the unique combination of violin and yoga to the men in the facility. Di, my friend and yoga instructor, has led classes for years for the women at the facility but received push back when it came to the men. She was told they either didn’t need nor deserve that kind of amenity. She persisted and eventually was able to hold a class for the men.

Over the fall, we held out first violin/yoga class for the men and a total of 1 person showed. Apparently, over 65 men signed up and we would have to split the sessions over time yet 1 person came. The guard told us that all the other inmates declined to come. We didn’t believe him but we were in no place to protest. The inmate, however, was so kind and tried some of the harder poses. He said he was glad he came because it gave him something to do and a break from all the chaos.

The next class we held weeks later was magical. We had 9 men show for class and they were all open to trying different poses. One guy was determined to perfect the handstand and laughed each time he fell over. Eventually, he got it and we cheered for him. For me, I felt proud and humbled to be able to supplement the class and atmosphere with my violin.

I noticed how some struggled during the meditation portion of the class. I played softly with warmth as the sound scattered in the hollow room. I watched as some of the inmates seemed uncomfortable being still as if they couldn’t trust anyone or whatever was around them. Others seemingly lulled into a time of reflection and let go.

“Can you please come back next week?” one of the inmates asked. “It’s out of our control,” Di replied. “We volunteer our time but can only hold classes depending on the facility schedule and people in charge of deciding activities. My hope is that you take what you’ve learned today and teach your peers here. I also hope that when you’re released you come to my studio so I can give you the techniques and tools you need to reach those in troubled spaces whether it be in jails or broken communities.”

I stood and watched as the men asked questions about yoga and shared how it helped them feel balanced. These were guys who at first glance would be the last person you’d expect to be in the class yet during the session, smiled and really tried.

I love going to play and thankful I can share music for people who have yes committed crimes yet have the opportunity to make a positive impact in a broken place.