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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Yoga training gives Dubai inmates renewed purpose

Officials claim the initiative has reduced violent behaviour

An inmate begins a yoga session at Dubai Central Correctional Facility. Reem Mohammed / The National
An inmate begins a yoga session at Dubai Central Correctional Facility. Reem Mohammed / The National

Prisoners in Dubai are being taught how to become yoga and fitness instructors in an effort to provide them with a vocation once they are released.

Thirty-five inmates in the city recently completed their yoga certification course and are already teaching their new skills to cell mates.

Convicts learnt about the fundamentals of yoga, including how to design a training programme, manage a session and treat yoga-related injuries.

Authorities hope the initiative will improve prisoner behaviour and reduce tension in jails by providing a worthwhile activity.

“After being released from prison, inmates could go on to become a trainer or open their own gym or studio,” said Brig Gen Ali Al Shamali, director general of the Department of Correctional Institutions.

“If you lock someone inside a palace and tell them they’re not allowed out they will still get bored. So imagine a person locked up in jail.

“An inmate wakes up between 6am and 8am and stays up until 9pm with nothing to do. We’re trying to provide a variety of fitness programmes to fill their free time.”

Inmate WR works out in the gym at Dubai Central Correctional Facility. Reem Mohammed / The National
Inmate WR works out in the gym at Dubai Central Correctional Facility. Reem Mohammed / The National

Prison officials first introduced the idea of teaching yoga to inmates to three jails in the emirate a year ago.

So far 20 men and 15 women have taken up the classes, and already authorities say they are seeing a drop in violent behaviour.

As part of the programme, inmates can also use their prison yards to play football, basketball or volleyball each weekday.

On top of this they can visit the prison gym to exercise under the supervision of professional trainers.

“Instead of fighting with each other, inmates can release their stress through yoga, and clear their minds through meditation,” said First Lt Faisal Al Ali, head of the prison’s sports programme. “Fights have dropped significantly, especially in the one women’s jail.”

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One inmate from Saudi Arabia, who is serving a sentence for issuing a bounced cheque in the UAE, said the yoga training had left him feeling invigorated.

Choosing to call himself W R rather give his full name, he said working out at the prison gym had proved a great way to stay fit and healthy while locked up.

“Yoga helped me a lot. It makes you feel refreshed and clears your mind to read a book or learn something new,” he said.

The 60-year-old was recently crowned winner of his prison’s weight-loss competition, losing 37 kilograms in three months. He now weighs 98kg and has become a regular at the gym as well as yoga classes.

“We have everything we need here,” W R said. “One of the inmates, a jiu-jitsu champ, is always pushing the others to train.

“He forces them to lift six, one-litre water bottles while doing exercises.”

“Some of the inmates are quite innovative,” said Brig Gen Al Shamali. “You see this rugby ball? A British inmate brought it in and invented a new game for them all to play in the yard.”

The prison’s fitness programme is run in coordination with the Dubai Sports Council and under the sponsorship of Saif Belhasa Holding, a Dubai umbrella group with interests in the transport, fashion and travel sectors.