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Utah inmates graduate as certified yoga instructors

EYE on UTAH: Inmates in the Utah State Correctional Facility are completing 500 hours of training to become yoga instructors. When they've served their sentence, many of the graduates have gone on to help trauma victims, the elderly and people in addiction recovery. (KUTV)
EYE on UTAH: Inmates in the Utah State Correctional Facility are completing 500 hours of training to become yoga instructors. When they've served their sentence, many of the graduates have gone on to help trauma victims, the elderly and people in addiction recovery. (KUTV)
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Inmates in the Utah State prison are becoming certified yoga teachers. The women in the class said the training has forever changed them, and has helped them create a plan for when they get out.

“I would say every student I work with in here struggles with deep trauma,” said Denise Druce, a yoga therapist with Yoga Forward.

Druce’s father was in prison for 15 years while she was growing up. She said she started teaching yoga classes at the prison as a way to be of service. In 2017 she also started a yoga teacher training course.

After a 500-hour training, inmates are able to become certified instructors like anyone else on the outside. The only difference is they don’t have all the equipment or a temperature controlled studio space.

"If anything, they are more committed here than my students on the outside. They take this so seriously, and they don't take it for granted at all,” said Druce.

Ferosa Bluff was a yoga student for ten years. She went on to complete the teacher training, and is now the first inmate to go on to become a yoga teacher trainer inside a prison.


"People learn how to treat each other with respect, to love themselves, to put the past in the past,” said Bluff.

She said yoga is a sanctuary for the women in the prison, and that she is honored to be able to have a positive influence on the lives of the women she teaches.

"So when they leave, they are the best version of themselves."

Karen Butterfield said outside of prison she never would have tried yoga, now she wishes she had it growing up.

"I definitely believe if I would have known about yoga when I was a child, I wouldn't have been so depressed, I wouldn't have had anxiety as bad as I did, I wouldn't have isolated myself,” said Butterfield.

Many of the students who have graduated from the training and left prison, have gone on to teach outside helping trauma victims, the elderly, and people in addiction recovery.

Butterfield said she hopes to bring yoga to her home in Louisiana and serve her community. She wants to use what she's learned to help veterans and those struggling with postpartum depression.

Chelsea Cook also sees becoming a yoga instructor as a way to give back.

"When the day comes for me to parole, I will definitely continue doing it,” said Cook. “It's a lifelong thing now, can't go back.”

Cook said she dabbled in yoga before getting arrested, but was a changed person after taking Bluff’s class.

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"Something I'm really interested is the prenatal yoga, and there's a lot of women that come in here who are pregnant and it's so uncomfortable being pregnant anyways, but being in prison, I can only imagine,” said Cook.

She uses her training to help pregnant inmates deal with the anxiety of possibly having to give birth then be separated from their child.

The women said the yoga teacher training also helps with recidivism. Bluff recalled an inmate who came back to prison eight times, that was until she was trained as a yoga instructor.

"She is not coming back,” Bluff said. “She is now out there serving her community.”

For Shutney Kyser, the classes helped teach her how to break down problems and overcome weaknesses. She’s even mastered a headstand despite having a shoulder injury.

"Anything that's impossible is really possible,” she said.

Kyser said she loves that the class is taught by a fellow inmate, and that they learn yoga beyond the poses. She said she wants to use her training to help the elderly with fascia yoga, or help kids at the Pride Center.

Along with mental and emotional benefits, yoga has physical benefits. Crystal Jack said she's lost nearly 100 pounds through yoga.

“I never thought I'd be doing this. Here I'm over here bending and snapping and everything,” said Jack.

She said yoga training has changed her on the inside even more. She said when she gets out, she says she wants to help troubled youth. Saying she will start with her own kids.

"From me not being there I want to let them know that we can get through this together."

All of the women said yoga helps with stress, anxiety, sleep management, and they take that knowledge back to their living units in the prison and beyond to their family and friends,

"They come out of here different than when they walked in, and to me that's what a correctional facility really should be,” said Druce.

The current class of instructor trainees with graduate on September 10th. Yoga classes are also offered in the men’s prison. The COVID-19 pandemic put a pause on the men’s teacher training course, but Druce said they hope to bring that back soon.

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