Wednesday, May 19, 2010

East Bay Inmates Breathe Easier

MARTINEZ — The qi gong meditative class begins with instructor David Ezra asking the participants if they have any worries this week.

A burly man with tattoos running down his arms speaks up. "Any little thing will set me off," Sonny Mitchell says.

Ezra tells Mitchell to control his emotions and then instructs all the men in orange jumpsuits to stand in two rows of five or six. He turns on a portable CD player, which plays soothing melodies.

Several feet away, Deputy Frank Oathout, a guard at County Jail in Martinez, watches to ensure the inmates behave while they're performing their slow movements and controlled breathing techniques.

Oathout said he has seen a decrease in the number of fights among inmates in the cellblocks. Suicide attempts and medical emergencies have also decreased, Ezra said.

"It helps me relax and stay grounded," Mitchell said. "I wish this class was more than once a week. I look forward to it."

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