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Janine Francolini Headshot

Liberty and Justice for All!

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This week we celebrated the Fourth of July! A holiday we associate with fireworks, flags, picnics at the beach and a festive celebration of our country's independence. So why on the fourth was my first thought not of fun and frolic but of the teen girls in a juvenile detention center I had recently had the privilege of meeting? I was reflecting upon, instead, the profound experience of freedom that touched me deeply on my visit a few weeks ago to the San Mateo County Juvenile Correctional Facility.

When the girls were escorted into the room for their yoga and art session with us, there was an eerie shuffle to their walk and all of them were looking down. An aura of disenfranchisement was palpable. It was striking to me that the despair in their demeanor was as mono-toned as their uniforms of white T-shirts and sweat pants. Yet, within a few minutes, they melted into a place of peace as they were met with love and light from their yoga teachers who steadily practice with them a few times a week through The Art of Yoga Project. When asked what animal described how they were feeling, one of the girls said, "I feel like a cuddly, sweet purring kitten." Peaceful surrender washed over them as they bowed down on their mats in child's pose where inner trust and connection to their core became the most protective blanket.

Glitter, glue and creativity ignited a vibrant spark in each of them as we created art together. Yes, hearts, flowers and rainbows in a place where these young girls are being "locked up." Held against their will for their transgressions, which are in reality, street crimes of survival and include; gang involvement, illegal substance abuse and trafficking for sex. For the 60 minutes that I was graced to join into the circle with these truly inspiring girls, I felt within myself, and all through the room, expansion, opening and freedom. Freedom from anxiety, the weight of their punishment, depression, victimization and loss of their innocence. The powerful energy in that hour was one of rebirth, beauty, and strength. The gift of breath and life force was pulsating in all of us!

At the end of our sacred time together, I shared with the girls that the session was reminiscent of my days as a teenager with special bonding time I would feel with my girlfriends at slumber parties. I made eye contact with each one of them as I spoke and was met with smiles and sisterhood. A recent quote from my yoga teacher, Seane Corn, flooded my mind and heart "Love bigger, forgive always -- WE ARE ONE!" On this day of Independence, lets remember all those who are imprisoned for various reasons and reflect on the true essence of what our forefathers were declaring when they said " United we stand, Divided We Fall!"