Shiatsu in prison: the “Not only mimosa” project

Shiatsu in prison: the “Not only mimosa” project

Stefania Ferri met Shiatsu at the end of the 70s and has always worked hard to bring this technique into places of care. In the Bologna prison, “Non solo mimosa” is the project aimed at inmates.

not just mimosa

Stefania Ferri met Shiatsu at the end of the 70s, recognizing the transformative power it exerts on the people who receive it.   


Shiatsu , then , can become a service, a contribution to the community in which one lives as an important act of civic commitment and gratitude . For this reason Stefania is particularly committed to making shiatsu known in the contexts where “care relationships” take place, focusing her attention on the problems connected to the person’s deviant and deviant behaviors. The Bologna prison is one of these places.


Tell us about the “Not only mimosa” project

It was promoted in 2014 by the Municipal Councilor Mariaraffaella Ferri, then President of the “Commission of the Elected” of the Municipality of Bologna (today “Equality, equal opportunities and rights”), together with Claudia Clementi, Director of the Prison and Dr. Laganà, then Guarantor for the rights of persons deprived of their liberty. 


“Non solo Mimosa” is designed for the health and physical and psychological well-being of women detained in the women’s section of the Bolognese prison and currently involves numerous associations and individual professionals of various kinds that offer, in addition to a symbolic mimosa on the day of the 8th March when visiting, a concrete and extensive program of activities dedicated to women and the theme of detention.


The “Non solo Mimosa” project saw the light starting with a shiatsu laboratory , then it was expanded with Podiatry and Reflexology with the aim of involving the largest number of inmates.


Shiatsu embodies the meaning of Contact , Support , Protection and Listening , elements that are not limited to the pressure with the hands during a treatment. 


At the same time they also express a physical, energetic, emotional and spiritual empathic quality of non-verbal and non-violent communication with each other. These qualities allow me to be able to welcome and integrate in the work group people of different languages ​​and cultures and more fragile subjects, such as psychiatric subjects detained in the Articulation (an area present in the Women’s Section).


Initially, the greatest difficulty was to break the mistrust not only of the inmates but of the Guard Assistants , since without their support we would not have been able to communicate and inform the women who do not speak Italian about the activity. 


It was not easy to stimulate, motivate and remove them from the torpor of the days all the same but already from the first meetings the participants increased in number and all the practitioners placed themselves in a condition of perceptive listening and availability, with an attitude of trust and care, of mutual “maternage”.


It was therefore possible to build together a path of knowledge , perception and body awareness, to teach the participants to use useful tools in the management and containment of physical and emotional states such as stress , tension, anger, anxiety and pain, even physical, which can emerge in a condition of “closure”, such as that in which one lives inside the prison.


It is not easy to alienate oneself from the context in which it is practiced, prison, and I am aware of the particular condition that these women live, so I act with the utmost respect and caution in leading them to deep places of their feelings, in contact with their soul. Here and now. In the Here and Now we can touch and look each other in the eyes without embarrassment and without the need for words , here and now a smile and an authentic affectionate embrace, free from prejudices, arise spontaneously, which I carry with me every time I return home. Free. 

Who are the women you met?

Women of all ages, from twenty to over sixty. Some are Italian but mostly foreigners – for example South American women unscrupulously “used” in drug trafficking – Eastern women, Roma.


Many of them are afflicted by a high degree of anxiety and depression , often users of psychotropic drugs; there are drug addicts who follow me very well and implement a growth path that bodes well.


Not all of them come from situations of degradation or from less affluent classes, there are also women who have made mistakes or have been involved, perhaps out of naivety, in illegal activities related to their work.


They are, looking at their past, worried about their future but have gained greater awareness ; They “take advantage” of the multiplicity of tools made available to them not only to grow internally but also to learn, to obtain new skills, personal, relational, formative, to be used one day outside. 


Some take university courses, want to become lawyers or psychotherapists. I hope for an educational and rehabilitative prison , not merely punitive as is likely to happen today in many places of detention. 


Consequently, all the activities I propose go in this direction because I believe that shiatsu is able to support a profound transformation in people , educating them and making them more aware of what they are and the actions they put into practice. 


Is there a meeting that struck you most?

In this context , every story is unique , sometimes lacerating but I made the choice not to ask too much about the reasons that led them to prison, out of respect, out of confidentiality and not to be conditioned by any judgment against them.


Regarding the prejudice and the conditioning that we can suffer, even unconsciously,  I can instead tell an episode that happened to me . Before a lesson, as I was entering the small gym where the group was waiting for me, I am approached by an assistant on call who, in a whisper, asks me if I can admit an inmate of the Articulation, the psychiatric area of ​​the Women’s Section. 


The assistant’s “cautious” behavior upsets me a bit but I agree with curiosity. She introduces herself as a very young girl with two very large black eyes , wide open, which stare at me fixedly from head to toe. She is not very tall, but she has a “well placed” tonnage. I notice a thread of agitation in the other participants, such as the surface of the water that just ripples with a slight breeze and I immediately decide to pair with her, avoiding any eventual embarrassment scene. All the women get in pairs and we start practicing. Every now and then, while I am treating the girl, she makes
rash gestures as if to attract her attention and, suddenly, she emits a powerful and disturbing laugh, then becomes quiet and finally falls asleep. 


At the end of the treatment she lifts herself up a bit dazed and as I turn to answer a request, she takes me from behind, wrapping
her strong arms around my neck. For a moment I suspended my breath, I stiffened and thought about escape routes, then she gave me a very tender kiss . 


While I had unconsciously allowed myself to be influenced by the circumstances and the experiences of the various people involved, she just wanted to thank me for the Shiatsu she had received! 


She also tells me that no one had ever treated her with such kindness and affection in her entire life. This girl was then among the most assiduous , passionate and attentive practitioners of Shiatsu that I have met in prison. 


Only later did the psychiatrist who follows her, amazed by her positive reactions, told me her gruesome personal and family story of abuse and violence suffered in a degraded context. 


What other projects have you engaged in with this same motivation?

From 1995 to 2013 I promoted and coordinated initiatives for the assistance and recovery of drug addicts in Sert , Day Centers, in sheltered homes (small communities) and in the “Detoxification, Diagnosis and Care” department of an affiliated facility in Modena. 


In 1996 I activated a pilot project within the Child Neuropsychiatry Operating Unit and Regional Center for Eating Disorders (Dca) of the S. Orsola-Malpighi Hospital of Bologna, for the treatment of anorexia and bulimia . 

Following the earthquakes of May 2012 I was the promoter of “Touch the heart of Emilia” in San Felice sul Panaro working in a psychiatric nursing home. 


What do you wish for the future?

I think that shiatsu is a discipline that can have a strong social impact , it is enough just to think of the virtuous behaviors it arouses and the many volunteer projects scattered throughout Italy and in the world, which provide thousands of treatments at no cost to the community, improving the quality of life of people.


Working in many contexts and often in health facilities, they are frequently in contact with professionals of all kinds; I have always tried to be very clear on the type of intervention I propose and I have never put it in opposition to or as a substitute for other types of treatments or therapies . 


Over the years, Shiatsu has made its way and gained the trust of these professionals. Despite my positive experiences and those of many other colleagues, I think that the commitment of all shiatsuka is necessary to be able to understand and appreciate the advantages of this extraordinary discipline , because the current organizational models, protocols, the concept of health and above all the dominant culture, hinder the realization of real integrated and synergistic interventions where the person is placed at the center of his own vital project. 

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