Global: Incarceration – Structure – Exercise – Sober

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I Abused Drugs for 10 Years. Exercise Helped Me Get and Stay Sober

It was July 2009. Dana was 25, and had been abusing a variety of drugs for the past 10 years. “During those years, I lost a boyfriend to suicide and watched several friends overdose,” she says. Her parents did everything they could think of to try to help, including sending her through three rounds of expensive rehab. “I was hopeless and truly didn’t see a way out.”

Dana was arrested the day of the accident and sent to county jail for a year, then to state prison for four years. “I had lots of time to think,” she says. “I knew the only way I could try to make amends for what I had done was to commit to a sober lifestyle–and vow that someday I’d help other people, as well.”

To give her life structure and discipline, she began meditating and doing hour-long workouts. With no gym and little space in her jail cell, she did pushups and burpees and crunches on the floor and created imaginative new ways to get fit.

“Before I was incarcerated, I had worked part-time in a health club, so I knew how to do a lot of exercises–and my parents gave me subscriptions to fitness magazines so I could find new exercise routines that didn’t require equipment,” she says. “I’d jump rope with an imaginary rope, or I’d throw a whole deck of cards on the floor and do squats to pick them up.”

The physical activity brought her out of the murky mental state she’d been living in while she was addicted. “I began to think more clearly, and while many of my thoughts were extremely painful, I also started to regain a sense of self-worth and self-control–things that had been missing from my life for years.”

“Fitness was an escape from the chaos and violence of prison, as well,” Dana says. And she became known to her fellow offenders as an expert on the topic. “Other women would come to me to ask how to do squats or crunches,” she says. “The ones who wanted to be healthy and stay out of trouble gravitated to me–which meant my social network remained safe and positive.”

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