Kimberleigh Weiss-Lewit and eight other women made a makeshift circle in the middle of the cell.
“It’s just you, your baby, and your breath,” Kim said.
One woman got up and left for the yard. Two others drifted off soon after.
“Let’s try to connect and trust one another,” Kim said.
“You don’t trust anybody in here,” scoffed one of the remaining four mothers-to-be. This is how Weiss-Lewit recalled her first prenatal yoga class, through Prison Yoga Project-NY (PYP-NY) at the Rose M. Singer Center, the women’s section of Rikers Island.
Weiss-Lewit says she has to remind herself, “My version of Rikers is not theirs.”
Entering any prison to help pregnant women prisoners relax always made her feel like she was walking on eggshells. A corrections officer stood at the door with a big smile and maintained it for most of the class, “Girl, you can do it!”
For years, Weiss-Lewit has taught yoga and art therapy in New York State correctional facilities. She had her first pregnancy while teaching at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (its prison nursery, founded in 1901, is the oldest in the nation) and bonded with mothers serving time with children outside.
It is one of only nine prison nurseries in the nation, four of which have been created within the past five years. She had developed relationships with many of the women she met at Bedford Hills who were serving long sentences. At Rikers, inmates serve one year or less, often for things as minor as missing bail. Kim might not see the same women from one week to the next.