I started offering bodywork to the youth of Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall in April 2014. The facility is wedged in the redwoods of Felton. It houses youth under the age of 18 for various charges and many of these adolescents are people of color. Out of 15 to 17 bodies I massage in a visit, 4 of them are serving long term sentences. I have provided massage to incarcerated youth as young as 11 years of age. The cells look like what you would find in prison: a heavy green door with concrete floors, cinderblock walls and a window. Each cell is an 8×10 box for a single person furnished with a slab of concrete for a bunk topped with a 2 inch thick mattress and a stainless steel sink-toilet combo.
Even though the County of Santa Cruz is considered to be one of the most progressive in the state, this facility continues to resort to solitary confinement to control adolescents. That means isolation is used to keep teenagers in their own cells for up to 23 hours a day. For extreme cases a youth can be placed in one of three isolation cells with no windows for an unknown period of time. *
I know that we are products of our environment and many of the these incarcerated youths are products of neglected and racially targeted communities- lacking resources and access to whole foods, affordable housing, adequate healthcare and education rooted in life skills. Many if not all come from physically, verbally, emotionally and spiritually abusive circumstances, which after they are incarcerated continue to experience different degrees of abuse. I offer massage as a tool for change and growth, exposing the effectiveness of compassion and therapeutic touch. This exposure not only affects the youth but the correctional officers as well because they are given the chance to witness the power of touch as an healthy alternative to the punitive consciousness.
During my last visit in Dec 2014 I asked participating youth “How does your experience in jail affect your body?” In response they said:
- “My body usually hurts from sleeping and my body isn’t used to eating so much.”
- “Being locked in a room most of the day, surrounded by white walls creates stress and sleeping on a slab of concrete creates knots in my shoulders.”
- “The mattresses here suck, so it hurts my back. I stress so it makes my body tense.”
And then I asked “How does receiving massage change your jail experience?”
- “I feel lighter and relaxed.”
- “It makes me relax and feel good.”
- “We are able to sleep comfortably and wake up more happy.”
I support abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex because it fails to provide the core needs of a community. Our youth need healing rooted in accountability. Our youth need safe spaces for introspective solitude and not traumatic solitary confinement. Our youth need to be held with gentleness. With each massage provided to a youth incarcerated, I know I plant a seed of empowerment. And with each empowered youth, a step is created towards dismantling this system.