New Civilization News: Health Promotion, Health Fitness and Stress Managment for Prisons    
 Health Promotion, Health Fitness and Stress Managment for Prisons14 comments
picture19 Apr 2005 @ 14:50, by Gerald Vest

In the October 1985 Issue of Corrective and Social Psychiatry and Journal of Behavior Technology Methods and Therapy, I published the article, "Health Promotion, Health Fitness and Stress Management for Prisons." I received letters from all over the world requesting a copy of this article so I assumed that our correctional systems were interested in examining and beginning to offer health practices to their incarcerated populations. However, the general attitude of citizens in this country is to lock the criminals up and throw away the key. And, institutions(schools, families, prisons,religions, etc.) by their very nature, are slow to change.

KOJO NNAMDI: From WAMU at American University in Washington, this is Public Interest. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Maybe you've heard the numbers before: 1,600 prisoners being released in the United States daily, about 600,000 prisoners to be released this year. The prison population in the United States now stands at about 2 million, which is about four times the number of people who were incarcerated back in 1973. What this all means is that most of those people will be getting out of jail or prison—prisons and jails that are located generally in rural areas.
Ohio System

About Visions for Prisons

Bureau of Justice Statistics

Robina Courtin

Although the prison community emphasizes fitness with body building equipment, weight lifting, boxing, basketball, and other competitive sports, these activities do not necessarily foster attributes of total health; empathy, curiosity, caring, compassion, openness, responsibility, dignity and self respect. The holistic or integrative approach, on the other hand, encourages emotional, physical and spiritual fitness without creating winners and losers. (Does this sound familiar with our public schools as well?)

Realities of penal organization and purpose present real challenges to the establishment of a comprehensive health promotion/health fitness/stress management program in that setting. Security is, of course, a primary consideration of such institutions--and rightly so. Consequently, scheduling of any program has to be considered in terms of tight, often inflexible, time slots in order to allow for prisoner checks and other facility and organization requirements. Another primary consideration concerns residents themselves. Some screening should exist initially to insure the safety of those residents who are sincerly interested in participating in the program. Finally, and most important to the health promotion worker, is identifying the special needs of this special population in order to offer maximum health potential within the limits identified. And, treating drug problems alone is not the solution to this problem, rather using an integrative approach is more successful. [link]

It is a very important lesson to reduce the tensions that often lead to serious problems within a prison facility. This tension also may well build up so that the prisoner who is released into society continues to see himself/herself as the victim and society as the criminal. This, unfortunately, has been the vicious cycle that has confronted law enforcement officials and justice systems for decades. Thus, punishment, protection of society, and rehabilitation are all essential elements for prisons to incorporate into every prisoner's health care plan.

We can't solve any problem without first solving the problem of human nature. We won't be able to solve the problems of homeless, impoverished, illiterate people, of murderers who would never have become murderers had they been adequately loved. You show me a murderer, and I'll show you a person who's been failed in the supreme need for love, who never learned how to love, and will hate, as I heard one saying, "I hate the whole world's guts, and the whole world hates mine." These are the victims of society, just as the doctor is a victim of society, as most of us are victims of our society.

We don't love children adequately, we don't even know what love is. It's a great help to know exactly what the criteria of love are, because these murderers, these violent people, these terribly undisciplined characters are exhibiting the frustration of love. [Love, Montagu says earlier, is the ability to communicate to others your profound involvement in their welfare, is that you will never commit the supreme treason of letting them down whenever they most stand in need of you, and that you will minister to and encourage the growth and development of their potentialities. That's love.]
Ashley Montague

I have designed a balanced approach to health care in prisons that I believe can make a significant difference to the high recidivism and recurrent crimes of this population. Those who find themselves outside of society rules are punished by the very fact that they are isolated and separated from the main body. However, most felons, 98% of them, will return and will find their transition less fraught with difficulty if they develop and maintain a comprehensive health fitness and health awareness program. As Fritjof Capra, one of our great physicists in the health movement states: "Health care cannot just be 'provided' or 'delivered'--it has to be practiced." [link]

The following practices are incorporated into my plan for introducing to youth offenders in a state detention facility here in southern New Mexico.

SUBJECT: Introduction to Holistic Health/Integrative Practices for Juvenile & Adult Facilities – 6 week course.

I. Scope of Work & Activities – This six (6) week course offers two weekly, two-hour sessions, Tuesday & Thursday, for six to eight (6-8) participants, introducing student residents to an Introduction to Integrative Health Practices Program that enhances the whole person—physically, mentally, socially, emotionally and spiritually. Cross-cultural health practices will be introduced to acquaint the participants with methods or disciplines that include: Kum Nye, T’ai Chi, Yoga and Acupressure. Western practices will also be integrated into the course such as Arica Psychocalisthenics-Master Level Exercise, 15-Minute StressOut Program, progressive relaxation, gestalt strategies and mindfulness.

II. Goals & Outcomes -- Students will: 1. Have an overview and direct practice experience with traditional and modern health promotion and health fitness methods; 2. Become aware of cross-cultural and inter-disciplinary approaches to health and wellbeing; 3. Learn to assess and identify strengths and negative patterns of conditioning; 4. Be able to demonstrate at least twelve (12) "Master-Level Exercises" that promote revitalizing the body and awakening their organism; 5. Learn to coordinate their daily activities and incorporate a daily health routine to promote balance with their physical, mental, emotional and social relationships.

III. Details of Monthly report & performance measures: Students will be introduced to the development and maintenance of a Daily Health Journal. This journal will include: 1. A personal commitment to maintain a holistic health experience with identified health practices that support their physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing; 2. A student report, each session, to the instructor, describing their personal experience with daily health activities (this includes their emotional state and behavior); 3. A Log that includes their class attendance and description of time spent in meditation, mindfulness and other health related activities.

IV. Other performance measures will include a closing evaluation instrument to review the changes and improvements of the participants during the six week course.


Kum Nye Relaxation, Tarthang Tulku, (1978, Dharma Publishing)

Kum Nye Relaxation is a gentle healing system which relieves stress, transforms negative patterns, helps us to be more balanced and healthy, and increases our enjoyment and appreciation of life. ". . . The written tradition of "Kum Nye" is contained in Tibetan medical texts . . . ." [link]

T’ai Chi

The movements of the T'ai Chi form, follow a precise system of balance and relaxation. The most important principle in T'ai Chi is relaxation. In doing the T'ai Chi form, we become aware of where we are relaxed and where we hold tension. The postures and movements help the body to release tension in the muscles and encourage flexibility in the joints. [link]

Yoga & Mindfulness

Specialized breathing exercises and relaxation techniques are introduced to improve concentration, balance and reduce hyperactivity. [link] [link]

Master Level Exercises – Psychocalisthenics, (1993, Oscar Ichazo, Arica Institute, Inc).

The series of 23 exercises is based on elemental callisthenic movements plus yoga asanas, it is strictly developed for awakening the organism in a serial fashion, with which we produce a flash of vital energy through all the organs, glands and tissue. The series produces strength, coordination, balance and flexibility of body, mind and spirit. [link]

15-Minute StressOut Program, (1980, Gerald Vest)

I designed this 'healthy touch' program, in collaboration with the Associated Students Organization - New Mexico State University (NMSU), Health Promotion Team, NMSU School of Social Work and the Family Preservation Institute, as one alternative for improving health and wellbeing in our university, society and beyond. The 'stressout program' includes "guidelines for the safe use of touch" with all populations. Touch techniques are self-administered or exchanged with a partner. We use our skillful touch program with individuals, groups, couples, families and communities. The program develops trust and empathy while learning to coordinate the power of touch with the vitality of the breath. [link]

Continued and advanced courses will be designed using the same methods for participants interested in improving the quality of their lives, health and relationships.

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20 Apr 2005 @ 11:50 by judih @ : Highly integrative
I'd love to watch this program in action and how all these elements are worked in. How do you flow throughout the session? Are there permanent forms of warm-up?


20 Apr 2005 @ 19:10 by jerryvest : The Flow
I have modeled this program after the stress management program for the Army. I start with several Psychocalisthenics, then move to a few yoga followed by a brief discussion on the 3 Instincts (Oscar Ichazo), I then introduce the use of touch and acupressure that is incorporated into the 15-Minute StressOut Program. I complete the program with some brief introductions to meditation and a progressive relaxation experience. I generally close the workshop with some movements from tai chi.

That's All Folks....

Thanks for asking,

I also like to take my drums and other percussion instruments for at least one session so that we can make some rhythms together. I have some great music that helps these young ones feel more at home as well.

I can hardly wait to get going.

Much love,


21 Apr 2005 @ 03:10 by judih : ! Yeah !
It sounds highly structured for maximum usage of the time. Making group music is a wonderfully bonding experience. Last time i was involved was during a course in using music to open up educational channels. It worked for teachers, oh did it work!

We also tried using our names as a kick-off point. After getting a rhythm established, those who felt inspired would say their name to the rhythm, in any variation they chose. It took a few gutsy beginners, but it was also very empowering that the entire group would listen to a name in a unique rhythm and then repeat.

This is something i haven't brought into my class, but i will the next time a likely opportunity arises.

Whenever you begin, Jerry, may it be good.


21 Apr 2005 @ 23:09 by jerryvest : Names in Rhythm
Thanks for this exercise. I can always test these fun things with my grandkids-they love creative activities--me too. I did want to say that this program that I have designed for prisons and detention centers using these traditional and westernized methods is but an 'introduction' to them. Everyone has to start in their own way and these methods or practices may not attract them. However, with this wide range of practices, most students can find something of real value that has been missing from their lives.

Most of the offenders are serving time for drug related crimes. Our policies related to drug possession, drug distribution, drug addiction and dependency are all dismal failures in the legal (pharmaceutical markets) and illegal drug related industries. It seems obvious to me that humanity is suffering and those who have insurance and money to pay for doctors and prescriptions will use pain killing drugs to ease their pain. Both legal and illegal users may become dependent or addicted to these chemicals.

I have seen how effective integrative health practices can be with persons craving higher consciousness and for relieving stress, anxiety and depression, our great killers of our spirit.

Thanks for staying-in-touch, Judih.


25 Apr 2005 @ 14:34 by jerryvest : US Prisons Swell
In this morning's local paper, an Associated Press report noted that "Growing at a rate of abut 900 inmates each week between mid-2003 and mid-2004, the nation's prisons and jails held 2.1 million people, or one in every 138 US residents, the government reported Sunday. "...the number of people in prison and jail is outpacing the number of inmates released, said the report's co-author,Paige Harrison. Furthermore, it was reported that the US has a higher rate of incarceration than any other country, followed by Britain, China, France, Japan and Nigeria.

These alarming statistics should be viewed as symptoms that our country is in deep trouble. One of our great philosophers once noted that the quality of lives of a nation can be assessed in terms of the incarceration of its people in prisons. Obviously, these statistics show that there is great disparity between the haves and the have nots.  

29 Apr 2005 @ 23:45 by astrid : Dear Jerry,
here's more of that Info I promiesd to go out and find for you. Here's alot of good things to study! : )
Good Luck!/ w/Love Astrid
Thank you, Astrid. Looks like I have a lot of reading to do, but I do enjoy integrative health practices. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and caring. Much love,


30 Apr 2005 @ 18:30 by jstarrs : This lady... also doing a lot of good work in prisons, Jerry :

Thanks for the Link, Jeff. This woman is very interesting and exciting to have working in the prison systems. No doubt about it, once someone realizes that "what comes around, goes around" is their karmic life they make a change in their actions. Learning this surely helps prevent lonliness and acting out. Some of my students in prison had to return a few times before realizing that they don't have to suffer any more when they follow the path to freedom, responsibility, love and happiness.


5 May 2005 @ 03:14 by judih : For everyone who learns
for everyone who learns that change is possible, my life is enriched ten-fold. To be part of stimulating that change is the luckiest role in life.
Sometimes, i'm fortunate and can witness one person's change, sometimes i'm fortunate and i am just about to witness one person's change. But it's a moving, living process.

He ain't busy being born is busy dying (Dylan - i love that quote)


5 May 2005 @ 14:15 by jerryvest : Change is possible
Thanks for addressing change, Judih. I think we often give up too soon on persons who error, especially those incarcerated. Change is often subtle, but as I get older I realize that having loving relationships with my family and friends is everlasting.

I appreciate you being here, Judith, dear friend.


7 May 2005 @ 20:47 by magical_melody : Jerry, What a wonderful program!!
Thank you for bringing your health and wellness program into the prison environment. Good on ya! I wish you continued success!  

7 May 2005 @ 23:18 by jerryvest : Thank you for those thoughtful and kind
words. I hope that we can encourage others to join with us in helping this population return to our society with some personal skills and desire to continue on a path toward real freedom, health and wellbeing.


6 Jun 2005 @ 18:49 by @ : Article from Library
Hope this helpd  

6 Jun 2005 @ 20:55 by jerryvest : Article
Hello, Sgt Scott...I didn't see any link or article from the library in your note, but do appreciate that you visited my weblog. Jerry  

12 Aug 2007 @ 14:14 by jerryvest : Great Article on Huffington Post--
When Neither Crime Nor Punishment PaysCory Booker, 08.09.2007

I hope that more government officials will address these issues that are killing the spirit of America and commuities. Let's get creative! "The way we have chosen to deal with crime is leading our nation away from its highest ideals and producing results that stand in stinging contradiction to who we claim to be." {link:}  

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