FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — Since the pandemic began, the Fulton County Sheriff's Office said they've seen an increase in the number of women detained at the jail. With the backlog of court cases, it can take many months before they go before a judge.
The Fulton County Jail South Annex currently holds 260 female inmates, 50 of whom are considered mental health detainees, but a new program aims to help that group with yoga.
On Wednesday, eight detainees filed into the gym, walked to their places on their yoga mats and started a one-hour yoga practice.
"The days will all blend together if you're not careful to add a little spice to our day and this adds spice to our day," Aria Semke-Gargano said, who has been in jail for six months.
Semke-Gargano said the last two months have been better because of the yoga class.
"My body feels more relaxed because being in here is a very stressful environment so the yoga... it's a blessing," she said.
The inmates are in jail for a range of alleged offenses, some dealing with mental health issues like anxiety, chemical dependence and schizophrenia.
This yoga class is now part of Fulton County's re-stabilization program for mental health detainees. For years, the program included therapy for the inmates but now that yoga is in the mix, Captain Terri Glanton said they've seen a huge difference.
"There will be less fighting, less stealing, they're getting along and it's a wonderful thing to see them coming together," Glanton said.
"We've actually gotten a lot closer, we tend to take care of each other a lot more than before," Semke-Gargano added.
The instructors come from the Dharma project, making yoga available to vulnerable populations across Atlanta. And while every week they come for yoga, the inmates said they leave with so much more.
"Because it makes me feel like a person instead of just like an inmate," Semke-Gargano said.
Sheriff Pat Labat said they hope to expand the yoga program to all women who are detained over the next 12 months.
For more information on the Dharma project, click here.