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Wards tighten two drums over a fire in preparation for a Sweat Lodge Ceremony held each Thursday at the Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility in Chino, CA.

In 2005, Berkeley-based photographer and videographer Jan Sturmann documented the young prisoners of the Heman G. Stark Correctional Facility in Chino, California during their Native American Sweat Lodge Ceremony.

For over 20 years Jimi Castillo, the prison contracted Native American Spiritual Leader, has presided over ceremonies that serve to awaken more fundamental truths about prayer and consciousness. The space created by Jimi doubles to as an arena to ease tensions, practice equality and resolved gang differences.

“I don’t differentiate between the races,” said Jimi Castillo, . “Anyone from the two-legged tribe is welcome to sweat with us.”

Jimi’s is a mentorship Sturmann admires.

For Sturmann, the issue of incarceration is not about punishment but about how institutions provide opportunities for personal and spiritual growth. Jimi provides a space devoid of the daily stresses of imprisonment. Jan hopes his photographs “can help build empathy” and understanding between populations either side of prison walls.

Sturmann was not just an outside observer. He was invited into the lodge to join the proceedings. He put his cameras down and crawled into the dark. The “transformation” he shared with Jimi and the young prisoners was profound – you can hear his emotion at 16m20secs in the interview.


All Images © Jan Sturmann

An assistant to the Fire Tender brushes coal and ash off the glowing rock before it is placed into the Sweat Lodge. 56 rocks were heated for this ceremony, which Native American Spiritual Leader Jimi Castillo conducts each Thursday.

Wards offer each other comfort and support before entering the Sweat Lodge. No blood has ever been spilt in the Sweat Lodge area, and gang rivalries and personal disputes are often resolved during this time.

Fire Tender and ward, Jessy, distributes sacred tobacco to fellow participants, which they will toss onto the fire with a prayer, before entering the Sweat Lodge.

Since 1991, Native American Spiritual Leader Jimi Castillo has conducted this ceremony, which is open to all wards, irrespective of race.

Native American Spiritual Leader Jimi Castillo welcomes a ward who prays before entering the Sweat Lodge.

At the end of the ceremony wards pull tarps and blankets off the Sweat Lodge, which is made from bent willow saplings.

A beaded medicine bag hangs on a fence as wards shower after the Sweat Lodge Ceremony. Each bead is a sewn to the bag with a prayer.

Jimi Castillo in his office in the Heman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility.

All Images © Jan Sturmann


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