This is an excerpt of a talk I gave for Compassion in Action, an initiative of Compassionate St Augustine.
The talk was on “Moving Meditation for Mental Health in Juvenile Justice”.
Here is part one of three parts.
"I teach a form of moving meditation to the residents at the St. John’s Youth Academy Juvenile Justice facility.
That form includes Qigong - I am a certified Qigong instructor - Kundalini yoga, movement, breathing and energy work, readings from inspirational leaders, and the playing of Tibetan and Crystal singing bowls.
What I want to do above all else is to talk about my classes and my students at the Academy.
SJYA is not only a juvenile justice facility but it specializes in rehabilitating residents who are also challenged with mental health issues.
Imagine (for the first time) being buzzed through a front gate surrounded by 20 foot fences, and topped by barbed wire.
You enter the lobby and sign in with the front desk manager. He or she sits at a bank of video screens. They monitor every hallway, every room, except for the resident’s private room.
It is eye-opening and easy to get turned around in the facility.
Getting from hall to hall only happens via a large, round set of keys or being buzzed in and out of each hallway.
The entire facility is on video surveillance.
That being said, I never feel at risk for my safety.
I know there are residents who act out but anyone who really causes damage or harm is sent to a different facility.
This is a high security, not a maximum security facility.
When I talk about mental health in the facility I don’t look at it as just the mental health of the residents. I look at it as the mental health of the staff, too. I discuss that in part three of this series.
For several years Sequel Youth and Family Services has been the management organization for the Academy. In the past it was strictly a punitive facility like the majority of facilities in the United States.
Today it is rehabilitative.
I know for a fact that offering them rehabilitation and life skills IS making a huge difference.
What I teach is from years of experience as a meditation practitioner, training as a teacher, then exhibiting the knowledge, education, and training to be certified a “master”.
In my training, I studied the psychological, emotional, and mental ramifications of meditation work.
I am experienced in teaching former incarcerated adults, seniors, in the LGBTQ community, veterans, youth, tweens and teens, and those in recovery.
I, personally, came to meditation because of a very stressful and high pressure career in entertainment.
*Hit the “ KaZ Welcome” tab above to learn more.*
How did I get to the Academy?
My relocation from California to Florida brought me to Compassionate Saint Augustine and the Youth Academy.
CSA and its founder, Caren Goldman, introduced me to SJYA and their director, Orvando Freeman.
From the very beginning they embraced me as a healing art teacher. Luckily, I have their trust and support.
My first eight weeks were a trial by fire. I won’t kid you.
At that time it was determined that the the newest residents needed my teachings the most.
That didn’t mean they would be the most receptive.
As a matter of fact, only one or two from that group actually went on to take the class with me on a regular basis.
Most weren’t ready, especially to do something that seemed really weird. They were simply trying to adjust to being incarcerated.
Qigong? That sounds like a medical condition.
"Have any of you heard of Qigong?"
No one had.
"Have you heard of Tai Chi?" A few hands went up.
I explained that Qigong is the mother of Tai Chi. Lightbulbs went on.
“OK, did you know that Tai Chi is the mother of Kung Fu? Who has heard of Kung Fu?”
Hooray! Everyone had heard of Kung Fu. Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat.
I had an IN!
I relayed to them my experience as a stunt person in film and television and that helped connect the dots.
Still, the difficulty of maintaining a class that accomplished anything was hit and miss.
A few students were into it and the rest wanted to rap, dance around, play videos, get under each other’s skin and look out the windows to see what everyone else was doing in the pod (area).
More than that, they wanted to make sure they weren’t being watched which might later lead to ridicule.
To do my best to get through to residents and find those who might be interested in the class, I came up with the idea to pick students from each pod via recommendations from the staff and management. Potential students they thought were ready to take this type of class.
Since then I have found the perfect number of students for a dynamic class.
It doesn’t get out of hand with too many students or students that really DO NOT want to be there. One person can't represent themselves as the leader the others follow to be cool.
There are the overriding principles I have discovered work beautifully in the classes:
3) Go with the flow.
This week let’s look at TRUST:
These young men can smell someone who is a fake or deceptive from a mile away.
Our energy is reflected by our emotions and our behavior.
It took months of working with the same students week after week for us to trust each other. Not because I was fake or deceptive but because they had been disappointed over and over again in their lives.
"Are you coming back next week? You're not coming back, are you? When will you be back? Can we do X, Y or Z again?"
AND I had to trust they weren't going to behave inappropriately.
New students began to request to be in the class.
Word spread about the class because residents heard I was “OG”.
WHAT does "OG" mean? Yeah, I had no idea, either.
Here’s a little story:
I have silver hair. Long, silver hair. It used to be blonde.
I stopped coloring it when I was on an extended trip to Europe.
I said “what the heck - get past your ego, take better care of your hair and don’t listen to the naysayers who tell you their opinion about silver hair making you OLD." (Even friends can be unkind! But then are they really friends or is it about them? That's another post entirely.)
As my son told me “You do you, mom.”
I had a lot of silver growing in so I decided to match the length and make it silver, too.
Some silver hair tint or dye makes the hair purple or blue for a while until the color washes out and all that is left is silver.
I think it’s pretty cool.
I was teaching one night and one of my students, being honest (sometimes brutally, but you learn to go with it) said:
“Hey Ms. KaZ, is your hair purple?”
I said, “Yes it is. I like it. What do you think?”
He said (while snapping his fingers) “It’s OG, man, OG.”
I don’t know if they could tell from my "fake it ’til you make it" expression that I wasn’t up on the slang.
Was that good? Bad? Something else?
Later that night I looked it up and the definition is:
"Original gangster or original gangsta (OG) may refer to an individual (regardless of criminal affiliation) who represents ideals the speaker sees as gangster and generally "tough" or "hood" in behavior, looks, or both as well as a connection to the past or being older: commonly used as a sign of respect.” Wikipedia
It was a thumbs up. I was my true self regardless of what others thought.
Just like my son said, I was being me: they saw that and they liked it.
Things were never the same after that.
There were times they told me they trusted me and said they hoped I knew I could trust them.
Some residents get written up for things that happen in their daily life at the facility and I would NEVER know it by their behavior in class.
If the director hasn’t told me about the write ups I only see what is in front of me in class. Well behaved, dedicated, focused students.
Students who teach me as much as I teach them.
Students who laugh and cry with me.
Students who confide in me.
Students who want to discuss what's on their minds.
I NEVER ask about their lives, or why they are incarcerated. They trust me enough to share that with me, knowing I won’t judge them.
I DO, however, let them know when I feel they're out of line.
I discuss with them how to stay out of juvenile justice or jail.
I listen to their dreams and aspirations.
I have boundaries, too. Friendly and firm when necessary.
My rules are: if they are not intending to harm themselves, someone else, or me, what they confide in me is held in the strictest of confidence.
The technique I developed combines elements that work consistently in every class with the students, and trust is one of the elements.
It works like a charm.
It is still evolving.
I’ll reveal HOW in one of the next posts in this series.
Come back next week for Part II of the three part series.
As always, thanks for reading.
See you next week.
KaZ has been in many facets of entertainment, plus the co-owner of two restaurants, a fitness center, a television production company and the owner of a cinema. She did a stint in politics, and in veterinary medicine, She now focuses on writing.
In addition to the above, KaZ is an award-winning vocalist, a former dancer, stunt actor, circus artist, & professional water skier. She has worked as a theater artistic director & writer.
KaZ has been a published writer in magazines & books since the age of 15. She has written plays that have been produced in New York, Florida & New Orleans. She has a featured chapter in the book How To Survive A Move. (Up-to-date she has moved 45 times!) She wrote an article for Organic Wine Journal, and also wrote an article featured at the Ground Zero Memorial.
KaZ co-wrote 2 television informational series & 3 television pilots. One of the pilots, a sit-com, was produced as a reality pilot. KaZ has revisited it and it's now a one season cable series.
“(And ) Then This Happened.” based on life, love, and everything in between in the mid-life years. Loosely based on her life and the life of two of her best girlfriends.
KaZ's many high pressure pursuits led her to meditation.
She began studying meditation in '91. Her initial training focused on Kundalini Yoga with Yogi Bhajan and his teachers. She is a certified Master Meditation and Qigong Instructor, having taught
throughout California, Florida, New York & British Columbia, Canada and online worldwide.
Most recently KaZ taught in a juvenile justice facility, and lectured on mental health in juvenile justice.
With writing being her first love, look for KaZ's upcoming children's books:
from the tales of two grandmothers.
Plus, a play based on letters from her two great uncles during the Second World War.