It’s been on my mind…
One Friday out the month I get up early AF and drive towards Baltimore to either shadow or teach yoga in a prison, with a male population. I can only bring certain things in, wear certain shit (which is hard af because yoga clothing is tricky and I am not shaped like the average caucasian female instructor), can’t be too polite/friendly, nor can I make as much eye contact with them as you would the average individual. Being restricted to these rules makes me even feel like I’m about to give up my freedom and join the population in there. It’s crazy coming from law enforcement and I know how everything works, but clearly I can’t utilize that because I don’t have the badge or credentials to validate my authority… but keep on reading.
When I was younger, I used to think anyone who went to prison was a monster 😈 and absolutely deserved to be there (clearly my thoughts and feelings towards that has changed). As I got older, went to college (CLJ Major) and got to experience being in a prison (my professor was a warden and drove a lit ass Caddy)… Anyways, I realized that everyone in prison is indeed a human being trying to survive everyday like the rest of us. It was not until I became a yoga instructor and got a scholarship to attend yoga teacher training for the Prison Yoga Project under James Fox, it’s founder and curator. He has been teaching yoga and meditation in prisons since 2002 and began his program at San Quentin, which ultimately spread to prisons all over the United States & internationally. Presently, there is yoga taught under this program in over 204 correctional facilities.
If you are like me, you may have had friends and even family fall victim to the correctional system and you can only imagine how that experience is for them. During our training, James had us complete a exercise where we had to go back and list our first traumatic experience. Whether it was parents divorcing when we were young, losing a loved one extremely early. Something that affected you as a child. I never looked at my mom & pops divorcing when I was a child as trauma, but that day I learned that was my first dance with it. He went on to tell us to then begin building a timeline and look at everything traumatic that has occurred since then and how that one incident shaped our lives ultimately. DAMN. Pass me a slice of that humble pie please??
James went on to explain that this is the same thing that causes those individuals to end up in prison or incarceration. Basically, they were affected deep af at some point in their lives and did not have the proper resources or environment to even be able to heal from it. Things began to pile on like scar tissue and eventually one decision led this person to lose all sense of freedom. But think about it, violence is not something we are born with. When everyone is born you are love, you are the epitome of bliss and all you want to do is explore and try to figure things out… Full of naivety and interests. Love is the first thing we are taught… Violence is taught, it’s learned, it’s instilled. IT can also be unlearned. We have to build a sangha (community) and hold space for those who are in situations where they may have a parent or two incarcerated, don’t have the proper resources to receive mental health assistance or even the proper educational materials. WE can save our Sanghas. It’s our home.
I know you are probably thinking “What’s her point writing this blog post. It’s so deep and emo.” I’m writing it to let you know that everyone in prison is not a monster and trauma is real AF. When I left my job to pursue my passion of serving others, there was not an exemption for prisons. They still need healing as well. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some people who are extremely lacking the mental capacity to function normally in society. But there are also some, who fell victim to their circumstances and environment growing up.
When I told my family I was about to start teaching in the prison, they were of course not with the shits. haha… I assured them I would be ok and I was not worried. I was actually excited, because I just knew I would have such a humbling experience. My first time going it was cool. Not much going on. I felt safe.
Now. Last Friday. Lawddddd. For some reason everyone was super active that day and both classes we taught were packed. I got more attention than usual, which made me a tad like ehhhh… but overall I was good.
Two things that stuck with me though:
In the 8:15am class, there was one gentleman who came in. I asked him has he ever done yoga. He responded “no” so I asked him what led him to show up this morning. He let me know that it seemed calming and a release. (come on nowww…. like wow.) These men are in an environment where they don’t know wtf is going to happen, let alone in the next 5 mins. It is a fight for survival everyday. Myself and the other instructor introduced ourselves and after he found out my name was Tierra, he told me a story.
“My sister’s name was Tierra, she died on her way to visit me at another facility” - let me tell you how my heart hit the floor. It was no coincidence he showed up that morning. I am pretty sure it was Universe way of reminding him his sister is still with him. Needless to say damn, can’t take life for granted man.
Watching these men find peace and calm in an environment that’s dog-eat-dog is so fucking humbling. The fact they trusted the other instructor and myself to watch over them during Savasana. Feeling comfortable and safe enough to close their eyes and allow their breath to just flow. It was amazing to me.
Ok, I lied I got 3 points! I can leave. Go about my day. Go hug and feel my family & friends. Sleep in a comfy ass bed. Eat bomb ass food on my terms. Point BLANK. Those men can’t and who am I to complain about little things, when I could easily be in their position with one wrong decision.
I am honored to assist in bringing peace & stillness to those who are incarcerated. I don’t like to call them prisoners because they are human beings just like you & I. I appreciate the regulars who show up to practice & take it seriously, that shit keeps me going! I don’t know any of their stories but at the end of the day, they show up on that mat as a normal person, only difference is they are identified by a number and can’t leave when they want.
So my question to you today is, “How can you serve?”