WBEZ | Illinois River Correctional Center http://www.wbez.org/tags/illinois-river-correctional-center Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Former inmate brings yoga to Chicago’s West Side http://www.wbez.org/news/former-inmate-brings-yoga-chicago%E2%80%99s-west-side-108571 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/130830_Austin Yoga 1_kk.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>A man who spent nearly half of his life in prison for murder is opening a yoga studio in one of Chicago&rsquo;s more violent West Side neighborhoods.</p><p>Marshawn Feltus hopes his new yoga studio will bring peace to the troubled streets of Austin.</p><p>On a summer day, Feltus walked past boarded-up buildings and groups of people clustered on front stoops and street corners.</p><p>He and two staff members wore matching t-shirts and carried yoga mats.</p><p>They regularly recruit people this way for their yoga studio -- the first in Austin.</p><p>The first group he approached just blankly stared at him from the front porch they were sitting on, but he pulled a teenage boy aside and started talking to him.</p><p>Feltus told his story to everyone he ran into along Chicago Avenue that day. Within a few minutes of recruiting, he had a six-foot-tall former inmate reaching high into the air and breathing deeply.</p><p>He says he knows what young people on the streets are going through because he was a gang member 20 years ago -- in the same neighborhood.</p><p>Feltus was in a gang, and what started out as an argument and fistfight over territory, ended with him seeking retaliation.</p><p>He shot a guy twice and killed him.</p><p>&ldquo;The crime I committed was some of the most senseless violence -- much of what you see today,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>That&rsquo;s one of the reasons he recruits on the streets of Austin.<br />&ldquo;I have a specific and a personal mission for the young black males -- to show them there&rsquo;s more to their lives than just hanging out on the street corner,&rdquo; said Feltus.</p><p>But Feltus didn&rsquo;t make that connection right away. He spent the first half of his sentence the same way he lived on the street -- being angry and getting into fights, he said.</p><p>About halfway through his sentence, two things changed, said Feltus.</p><p>He found new meaning in a faith he grew up with, even though he can&rsquo;t point to a specific instance, he said.</p><p>&ldquo;It was an accumulation. It happened in bits and pieces,&rdquo; said Feltus.</p><p>Around the same time, he said he and the other prisoners started watching another inmate stretching in the yard. They tried to guess what he was doing.</p><p>&ldquo;We called him Buddha. We actually thought he was really weird at first. He&rsquo;d be out in the yard doing these strange poses,&rdquo; said Feltus.</p><p>Buddha, whose real name is Bartosz Leszczynski, invited Feltus to his prison yoga classes, but Feltus wasn&rsquo;t exactly looking to change his ways.</p><p>But Buddha was persistent.</p><p>&ldquo;Finally, I went to my first yoga class in prison and I could have married yoga,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>He said the soothing practice was different than anything he had ever done.</p><p>Soon after, Buddha was transferred to another prison and asked Feltus to take over his class.</p><p>Feltus would teach anywhere between 20 to 200 inmates at a time. They would use state-issued towels instead of yoga mats.</p><p>A noted psychiatry and violence prevention expert sees the value in the practice.</p><p>Dr. Carl Bell thinks Feltus can reach young people on the West Side through mastering an art that teaches discipline and breath control.</p><p>&ldquo;You have a model that works to help you calm down and relax, you&rsquo;ve got a skill which gives you a sense of power over your own body. So, it doesn&rsquo;t matter where you&rsquo;re from,&rdquo; said Bell.</p><p>After being released from prison two years ago, Feltus worked at Bethel New Life on North Lamon Avenue, where he went from a volunteer janitor to store manger of one of the community center&rsquo;s retail stores.&nbsp;</p><p>But yoga was his passion and within two years of being released from prison, he completed an <a href="http://ttp://bethelnewlife.org/our-investments/community-economic-development/business-development/" target="_blank">entrepreneurship training program</a> at Bethel while taking classes to become a certified yoga instructor.</p><p>He graduated from the entrepreneurship training program a day after he was laid off at Bethel due to restructuring, he said.</p><p>But that only gave him more time to focus on starting his own yoga studio.</p><p>He held the first class earlier this month at Bethel, in a chapel with stained glass windows.</p><p>Feltus taught the group of six students from a stage overlooking them.</p><p>Two long-time Austin residents, Deloris Bingham and Sarah Evans, practiced yoga next to each other.</p><p>After class, the women talked about what having a yoga studio in their own community means to them.</p><p>Bingham said she hopes the studio succeeds because she hopes it will help return the neighborhood to what it was.</p><p>&ldquo;When I was raising my children when I first got the home, about 30 years ago, it was nothing like this, no shooting everyday, are you serious? Killing kids and stuff -- they don&rsquo;t care,&rdquo; said Bingham.</p><p>Evans said she thinks yoga can help stop the violence she sees in parts of her neighborhood.</p><p>&ldquo;When you take time to focus on yourself, you don&rsquo;t have time for all this craziness out here, yoga promotes peace within. And when you got peace within, you got peace without,&rdquo; said Evans.&nbsp;</p><p>Feltus said he hopes ACT Yoga -- which stands for awareness, change and triumph -- will provide a safe place for the neighborhood and a different way to deal with aggression, just like it did for the prisoners he taught.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;When we made the call to breathe in, you exhale and let it all go. When you come to yoga, that&rsquo;s what you are,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>When doing yoga with the prisoners, all their differences dissolved -- there was no race and no gangs, said Feltus.</p><p>And he said he&rsquo;s excited to bring that to people in the Austin community, especially young black men, because he said he&rsquo;s been where they are now.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t feel like I&rsquo;ll be able to go out and save the world, but if I could just grab me a few guys every day or every week and get them to see it -- that&rsquo;s my contribution,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Katie Kather is an arts and culture reporting intern at WBEZ. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/ktkather" target="_blank">@ktkather</a>.</p></p> Fri, 30 Aug 2013 10:13:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/former-inmate-brings-yoga-chicago%E2%80%99s-west-side-108571