A group of women are trying to break the cycle of addiction, crime and imprisonment by turning to an age-old form of therapy: yoga.
Greenhope Services for Women, Inc. is an Alternative to Incarceration and recovery facility located in East Harlem, New York. Women ex-offenders come to Greenhope to reclaim their lives and rebuild their families. The facility is a residential building offering programs for recovery. Every Wednesday they provide a wellness day that gives an alternative to traditional recovery programs through connecting yoga with rehabilitation programs.
Leslie Booker, Founder of Urban Sangha Project, a collective that supports the sustainability of front line ChangeMakers through mindful yoga, meditation and dialogue, spends her Wednesday mornings with the women of Greenhope as part of a collaboration with Akosha Project. Booker shares her work of deep personal connection and self-awareness to empower them through a weekly, hour-long yoga session.
The intersection of women, recovery and yoga with ex-offender women is providing an alternative healing method from the inside out. Booker is engaging these women through a mind, body and spiritual journey by introducing yoga techniques to sustain the women during their stay and once they are outside the confines of the building.
October 9, 2013 – EAST HARLEM, NY. Greenhope Services for Women, Inc. resident, Moon B., takes time to reflect on impending motherhood. She will give birth during her time at the facility and begin parenting while in her recovery program.
Most women come to Greenhope with their children. The children will reside with their mothers until their recovery period concludes or the child reaches the age limit. The facility allows children from newborn to 4-years-old.
It’s 9:30 a.m. (l-r) Olive Grayman, House Manager for Greenhope and Leslie Booker, Founder of Urban Sangha Project discuss the morning yoga session and possible disruptions of the morning. Yoga is part of the wellness Wednesday agenda at Greenhope. Booker has been the women’s connection to yoga for the past several months and today she must tell them that she will be on sabbatical for 6 weeks.
(l-r) Booker, Tara B., Kenya D., Evette O., Rose C. Booker leads the women of Greenhope in meditation. She speaks softly asking them to clear their minds, close their eyes and listen. Then she rings the chimes once, asking the women to raise their hands when they can no longer hear the ringing. “When she hits those gongs, everything just dissipates. I’m not thinking, I’m just listening to them and calming down,” said Tara B. who is at Greenhope as an alternative to incarceration. Two years ago she was caught selling Oxycodone.
The women are learning to find the balance in their lives both inside Greenhope and eventually when they return home.
Tara B. has been at Greenhope for 9 months. She is there as part of the Alternative to Incarceration program. Tara is here because she was arrested and charged with obtaining and possessing narcotics with the intent to distribute. She was skeptical of yoga at first but now she looks forward to it. “I’ve learned teachings from being here, like the breathing. there’s a lot of things that go wrong when you’re out there and you can’t always pick up the phone and call your counselor. And no one in my family uses, so they don’t really get it. I’ve learned to stop and think. I never did that. I’m a drug addict, I’m impulsive, I do it and then think. For me, yoga is peace.”
Booker leads mindfulness through meditation and yoga with the women of Greenhope. The women find their stride and are in unison.
After each session, residents must sign paperwork indicating they were in attendance. This ensures they receive credit for their participation as well as enables the facility to know their whereabouts throughout the day.
A typical resident room in one of the suites that occupy each floor of Greenhope. There are kitchenettes with small refrigerators, a twin-size bed, a dresser, chair and small closet. For the residents that have their children with them, there are cribs in the suites as well.
(l-r) Evette O., Moon B., Kenya D. These three Greenhope residents participate in Wednesday morning yoga. It is one of the ways to introduce wellness to the recovery program.
Booker embraces Tara B., one of the women residents at Greenhope who attends yoga every week. “I just feel like I’ve been given a second chance at life,” said Tara. She is looking towards her future. “I would like to go into social work. I want to help people.” Tara has an undergraduate degree in education and says that once she has fulfilled her recovery program requirements, she would like to obtain her master’s and doctorate in social work. Tara has a discharge date of February 2014.