Young people sometimes find themselves dragged into violence and once that becomes their lifestyle, it’s hard from them to drag themselves out again. Now some people with past, violent histories are using mindfulness activities such as spiritual reading, breathing exercises and yoga in order to shake off their violent tendencies.

Marcos was nine years old when he was initiated into his local gang. Five people from his neighbourhood grabbed him and beat him up. They then told him that his mugging was an initiation ceremony, handed him a gun and told him which of the other local gangs were now his enemies.

Released prisoners are taught alternatives to ‘violence is the answer’

Marcos’s whole world became one of violence and eventually the law caught up with him. At the tender age of eighteen he was handed an eighteen year prison sentence and sent to Pelican Bay prison in California.

His sentence served, Marcos is now working hard on his rehabilitation so that he doesn’t lapse back into his violent ways. He is part of the ‘Homeboy Industries’ programme – a system designed to teach released prisoners that there are other paths to ‘manhood’ than violence. Among the approaches utilised by the programme are developing an awareness of spirituality, and the use of yoga and breathing exercises.

Spiritual healing is one of ways released convicts are being rehabilitated

“I was basically looking for family,” says Marcos about his violent past. “Looking for some type of father-figure, you know? And then my older ‘homies’ were father figures,” he added.

Although it began in the USA, this approach to the spiritual side of rehabilitation has already spread to Scotland, Denmark and Hong Kong. A spokesman for Homeboy Industries said “What we found with these groups all around the world was that as well as abuse and trauma in their background, they had this very toxic perception of what masculinity is about. These approaches let them deconstruct such narratives of violence, aggression and dominance. It is an approach we really need to become more open to.”

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