Dancing to feel free was the unspoken theme, but Dance to Be Free (DTBF) was the name of the program that just completed inside the South Dakota Women’s Prison Wednesday Jan. 8 in the Solem Public Safety Center in Pierre.
“I’m so glad I got it here,” Women’s Prison Warden Wanda Markland said.
The program was led by Lucy Wallace, the owner of the 501.3c non-profit based out of Colorado. The prison in Pierre was the fifteenth prison, in nine states, visited by the program since it began in 2015.
“It is hard (to get programs) because in here, in South Dakota our prisons are on a very limited budget. We don’t have money for a lot of programs. So the financial aspects of programs are always difficult, and as far as space, here too. This is a $6,000 program. There’s no way we could’ve came up with $6,000 for it. We were lucky she has sponsors. To help us get this program in here.”
Markland knew she had to have it at her prison after hearing about it from her friend and mentor, then watching a news story from CNN on it.
“I want this at my prison,” Markland said. “I emailed her (Wallace) after we got done that day and she emailed me right back. We didn’t have the money. She actually got us sponsors. I was really excited to get it here.”
Markland and Wallace both acknowledge there are more than just classroom locales to fix issues.
“Everybody doesn’t learn from books,” Markland said. “So it’s another way to do it. It’s a physical way for them to do it. For some of them I could even see it was working better than you’d have making them sit in the classroom, where they could be acting up.”
Markland knew it was for her girls and had no apprehensions about moving forward.
“I didn’t have any apprehension about doing it,” Markland said. “I wanted it. As soon as I had seen it and listened to the thing on CNN. That’s the first thing I said, I want this at my prison. Maybe other people are a little bit more apprehensive when they hear dancing in prison, but I was not. I looked at it as therapeutic dance.”
The program is three days and involves stretching, dancing, writing in journals and poetry, and sharing.
“Watching the transformation of inmates when they were realizing themselves, the change in them and talking about how it was helping them release. The emotions were coming out and it was helping them do it in a positive way, and they were admitting the activity really helped them.”
Not only does the program self-perpetuate, the women who earned certificates of completion will be next tasked with teaching the class to other inmates. Having the initial program seemed to really make an impact on the whole prison.
“They were looking forward to something,” Markland said. “They were looking forward to the next day in here. Where they don’t feel they have a lot of things to look forward to and this Dance to Be Free was something they looked forward to.”
Dance helps heal the brain through movement, Wallace said she had read n multiple studies. Originally, she was just going to teach the inmates dance. She thought better of it and thought she could teach them to teach each other to heal.
“I know a lot of these girls have trauma,” Markland said. “It’s a different way to deal with it. Any way they are dealing with it in a positive way is a good thing.”
Not all prisons have a lot of access to extra budgetary items, yet they still need programs. While being in prison isn’t about being on vacation, rehabilitation is a commonly used theme word to describe the process. To have rehabilitation, positive activities are needed to realize potential.
“It is very important for the prisons to have something for these girls to do as an outlet, for them to have to learn to be more positive and find ways to get those negative emotions out and deal with stuff in a positive way, Markland said.”
One inmate in the DTBF program, Tori Ray Scheirbeck, 26, from Rapid City has been incarcerated for almost two years. It will be two years in February, she said. She is in for possession of meth.
“With the dancing you can bring your emotion into the dancing,” Scheirbeck said. “If you have anger. If you deal with anger, you’re dancing. You’re out there, fist pumping and doing this, and that’s what I like most about it, you can put you emotion into your dance.”
All of the women at some point rotate to the front of the group to help lead either by example or through voice. It is an exercise in empowerment as much as it is a dance.
“Being able to just be myself,” Scheirbeck said is her favorite thing. “Free. I feel like a free spirit. Just have fun. Laugh. Dance.”
Not all of the women knew each other before showing up in the first day. Markland hand-picked women she felt would not only benefit from the process but be able to in turn benefit her sisters.
“I knew some of them, but I wasn’t really associated with them,” Scheirbeck said. “It’s kinda nice to interact and meet different people, so that you know when you leave these doors, this dance group, you know who you can talk to. I’ve gotten a lot of different conversations out of the girls I’ve never had before.”
The ultimate goal is the women get out and become our neighbors. It is encouraging to see the positive interaction.
“It takes you out of your comfort zone and you realize, these guys can be my friends,” Scheirbeck said. “You don’t have to try to fit in, pretty much, because you realize that we are all our own self, and at the same time none of us are in here judging each other.”
Sometimes she gets a little nervous dancing and letting loose, she said. But she ends up doing it anyways when she sees other people are being comfortable and she finally gets out and is comfortable too.
Scheirbeck admits the community and interactions inside can sometimes be a bit of a struggle. Especially, an inner struggle within one’s own mind and thoughts.
“The other day they were talking about being a rainbow over someone’s cloud, and this has been my rainbow,” Scheirbeck said. “Because being in prison and being incarcerated, it could get a little dark. You could be going through a hard time, but coming to this, it just opens your spirit. I’ve gotten so much lifted off of me. I go back to the block peaceful. It’s been a blessing for them to do all this and even be involved in this group. It’s a blessing.”
“I’ve gone to bed these past three days looking forward to the next day,” Scheirbeck said. “These past three days since forever I am finally waking up excited to ‘I’m excited’ the next day. I am looking forward to it.”
Another inmate, and now graduate of DTBF, Cali Ginsbach, 26, from Bell Fouche has been incarcerated for almost two years as well. She is slotted for release in June 2022 and is in for drug related charges involving meth also.
“Being an addict, I tend to want to hide my emotions, or I was emotionally dormant before I came into this,” Ginsbach said. “It’s stirred up my emotions in a good way and it’s been a good outlet for them. For the anger and the pain, and things I didn’t even know I had in me. It’s bringing confidence back into me. Some self-esteem. Just letting loose and being who I want to be because I think this is the lowest you get in life and we tend to not have the best judgment of ourselves. So, just being able to not care what others think and not have to meet a standard was very liberating. And it’s brought a sense of fellowship throughout the prison. There are inmates from max to minimum, we’re all united. You can definitely tell it has spread throughout the units and the blocks, back out there from here. People back in the blocks are listening to music and showing other girls dance moves. I think everyone is really excited to see what’s next and to keep this going. I think having the inmates lead something, the program, will bring a new excitement to here. There will be more devotion with the other inmates because it’s inmate led.”
“The hardest thing (about the program) is probably the activeness,” Ginsbach said. “Because we tend to nap a lot and eat a lot of commissary. But that’s good. We’re all sore, but that’s showing us that we’re doing something we need to be doing. We’re workin’. It’s a good exhaustion.”