Meditation and yoga have been shown to help reduce anxiety and enhance a person’s mood and overall sense of well-being. So what better place to use these relaxation tools than in an environment which carries an inordinate amount of stress: prison. That’s why Anup Sharma, MD, PhD, a fourth-year psychiatry resident, decided to volunteer his time for Prison SMART (Stress Management And Rehabilitation Training), a program that brings yoga and meditation techniques to prisons around the globe to help end the repeated cycle of violence, abuse and a return to prison. The program is part of the International Association for Human Values.
“These sessions help people control anger and better manage their emotions,” he said, “increasing self-esteem, providing an alternative to violent behavior, and teaching practical conflict resolution.”Sharma heard about Prison SMART through his interest in stress management tools, especially for people with mental health conditions. He has served on the Prison SMART advisory committee and helped to implement the program in Philadelphia. He continues to meet regularly with the organizers and teachers.
Each session of the 4- to 5-day course runs three hours. He said there are separate but similar programs for prisoners and prison staff. Prison SMART is currently offered in three prisons in Philadelphia.
Sharma’s Penn Medicine CAREs grant will help purchase equipment for the sessions, such as yoga mats, as well as offset costs to train volunteer facilitators and print materials explaining the workshops to prison wardens and administrators. “It’s essentially a voluntary-based program. The prison systems don’t have the money to pay for it,” he said. “We’d love to be able to offer it in additional prisons and have regular weekly follow-up sessions.”
Attending the sessions is not a requirement, but the feedback from those who have come has been “remarkable.” Said one prisoner, “It helped me figure out what was deeper inside of myself. It also helped me to release negative energy and find peace.” Another said, “Now I have something I can do when I feel stressed or angry.… it shows you your own little way to relax yourself.”
Click here to learn more about Prison SMART.
Photo caption: Anup Sharma, MD, PhD, (c) with Warden Karen Bryant and SMART instructor Anil Enum at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center.
Apply for a Grant!
Employees who volunteer their time in outreach activities are encouraged to apply for a Penn Medicine CAREs grant. Go to the Penn Medicine CAREs website to learn more.