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Lifting Kettlebells

From Metal Stools to Yoga Mats, Cheers to Back Cracks

The day kicked off on a high note as soon as I landed on the island. The traffic was its usual self—smooth with a hint of predictable delays. Today's gig was at a place we call 'Ol' Boy', officially known as Otis Bantum Correctional Center, or OBCC for short. There’s always been a tough vibe to this facility, but after a year of frequent visits, it’s showing its softer edges, at least through the lens of the areas I get to see.

For those of you tuning in for the first time and wondering what I do here, let me paint the picture: I run a one-hour program split between yoga/movement and sound meditation. It’s truly a profound scene when I can step back and see it all from a broader perspective—quite the beautiful spectacle.

But let’s dive into the heart of today’s story. My plan was to hit the second housing unit on my list. Typically, I make my way straight to the setup spot where I lay out mats and gear up for the session. This particular unit has us setting up at the back, where four cold, metal tables square off against each other. Each table is bolted down with four stools, and among them, there's the "game table," marked in yellow in the blueprint I've sketched below.

a sketch of the dayroom

At this game table was BC, a guy who initially resisted joining our last session. I convinced him by promising his back would feel nine times better afterward. Post stretching and sound bath last time, I cracked his back, and he couldn’t stop thanking me. This session, however, he was deep into a spades game and sat out. Funny thing about these guys—instead of enduring hours on those hard stools, they smartly place comfy plastic chairs atop them. The sight is something else: all of them slightly reclining, looking like kings of their tiny domains.

Today’s session had just one participant, but that's the way it needed to be. He was the one meant to be there. And although no others joined us on the mats, the room always has eyes—observers who end up learning a thing or four just by watching.

As I was packing up, BC tapped me on the shoulder. “Yo man, you think you could crack my back again? I know I didn’t join in today, but as you saw, I was busy whooping ass at the spades table,” he said with a chuckle. I laughed and replied, “Of course, brother, I got you. That back crack—get it, BC—did you right last time, huh?” He grinned, “Hell yeah, it did. Been waiting for you to come back.”

I rolled out a mat, and he laid down. Everyone at the game table paused to watch. BC was flat on his belly, arms by his side, eyes looking left. I stood over him and instructed softly in Spanish, given he’s Dominican and I practice my Spanish now and then, “Inspira y espira.” With each exhale, I applied pressure up his spine to his neck.

When BC rose from the mat after the session, stretching up his towering frame, he let out a huge, relieved sigh. The spectacle drew a line of 22 men, all eager for their turn. It was a highlight on the island! This unit, housing 46 out of its 50 capacity, now had 22 of its members lined up for a crack at relief. We laughed a lot, shared stretches for common aches, and enjoyed the moment together.

It’s a common sight here. Nearly all of these men suffer from back and shoulder pain, thanks to thin, unyielding mattresses on unforgiving metal frames. “Damn, this yoga mat feels nicer than my mattress,” they joke. But it’s no joke.

I ran over my allotted time, but it was worth every extra minute. Bringing any kind of relief or joy to these guys is a nourishing experience for me. As I type this, I can't help but smile, tears welling up in gratitude.

My other sessions today were just as meaningful, each one providing exactly what was needed in the moment. My third house had its drama—a brief fight broke out but was quickly resolved, allowing us to dive into our sound meditation.

So, here’s the lesson from today: smile. Despite a shaky start with just five hours of sleep, my first smile on the island set the tone for a smoother day. It attracted more people to the program, spreading positivity throughout the facility.

"From Metal Stools to Yoga Mats, Cheers to Back Cracks"

Health, love, and gratitude,



If this story has inspired you and you're interested in supporting our formerly incarcerated and justice-involved brothers and sisters, please consider learning more and donating to one of the following organizations. Click on the names to find out how you can help.

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