Ex-felon turned yogi gives back one breath at a time - FOX 32 News Chicago

Ex-felon turned yogi gives back one breath at a time

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

A man who spent most of his life in prison is trying to change one of the toughest neighborhoods on Chicago's West Side one move at a time. Marshawn Feltus says yoga changed his life, now he's teaching classes.

Feltus was 17 years old when he killed another teen. Angry, with nothing to look at every day but the walls of jail cell, he says, he needed to reconnect with himself. Now, he's hoping some residents in the Austin community will take a deep breath and change what's happening on the streets.

"I served 18 years and nine months in prison," Feltus explains. "I had lived more time in prison than I had on the streets."

Marshawn Feltus has been out of prison for two years and this is what brings him peace. Three days a week, he teaches yoga, lights the candles, rolls out the mats, and erases his mind--something Feltus says he had to learn to survive a first degree murder sentence.

"It's breathtaking," he says. "To stand in this position knowing that some of the mistakes that I made my life, others have made and it is still continuously costing them and yet I'm able to come out and give back to the community that I once ran through recklessly."

Feltus was a gang member when in September of 1992, what started as an argument and fistfight over someone's girlfriend escalated into shots fired.

He says he spent the first half of the sentence the same way he did out on streets: fighting, mad, and not believing in himself. Then, he saw someone on the prison yard stretching. Those yoga moves transformed his life and now he's hoping to do the same for some of the teens still out on the streets in the Austin neighborhood.

"So those places where guys have been or going, I've been there and I'm able to speak to them on a personal level and let them know I've been there---this isn't the road you want," Feltus tells FOX 32.

Feltus wanted his own business. When he got out of prison, he got a job as the maintenance worker at Bethel New Life Center and found out about their entrepreneurship training program. Not long after, he opened his own yoga studio---something not found on Chicago's West Side.

"We have a lot of people in the community who want to run their own businesses," Lori Vallelulga with Bethel New Life Center says. "Like everyone else what they lack are connections and access to capital and know-how."

As a convicted felon, Feltus didn't think he would be given that chance.

Maurice Hayes is a former gang member and a convicted murder. Hayes did the second half of his 20-year sentence with Marshawn Feltus.

Hayes says yoga changed his life as well and he's been given a second chance.

"Yeah, yoga centers you," Hayes says of the practice. "It's not just a physical thing. It's mental, spiritual, emotional...it relieves stress and gives you the opportunity to know that you can think if given the opportunity too."

Feltus says he's got a five year plan of opening yoga centers all over the city and one thing he says he has to do soon is apologize to the family of the teenager he killed back in 1992.

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