The Prison Yoga Project: Stories From The Inside

FEBRUARY 02, 2013 07:53 PM

Having been involved in the Hatha Yoga program at San Quentin with an instructor for two hours a week for over two years, the benefits have been immeasurable. My very perception of reality and events, all sensory stimuli, thoughts of life, purpose, and being have been affected. Having served 21 years in prison on a ’15 yrs. To Life’ sentence, I’ve been involved in all types of Self Help groups over the years. For almost four years I’d Facilitated Non violent communication and Conflict resolution classes. I have worked on my personal violence, and the roots of violence, but dealing with other people’s violence had often been difficult to say the least. In prison the penalties and consequences of your actions are more severe. The Ripple Effect becomes the Tidal Wave Effect, a simple disagreement can become another Life Sentence, real fast.

Image from The Prison Yoga Project

Image from The Prison Yoga Project

Not long ago my new cellmate and I had a serious disagreement over an item of his personal property. An item, if found in the cell would be a minor infraction for him, but would cause for me to never be given a release date. There are two sets of rules. One for ‘short- termers’ and one for lifers, and the system punishes the most anyone who trys to do what is right, welcome to prison. I had offered solutions to him for a week or so and his reaction was always the same: ‘F— You! Mind your own business.’ So one morning when I suggested that he find another cellie that he would be more compatible with, his reaction was the same. That afternoon when I got ‘home’ from work and was bending over to untie my shoes, he dove on me from my left side in the tight confines of the cell! My focus went to the core of my being, (where your center of gravity is) in the area of the first two chakras. I simply stood up and let his motion continue, and pushed him to the right side of me. I said, ‘You need to chill out!’ and I exited the cell. I immediately went to my breath and noticed my calmness, and my balance. I wasn’t breathing heavy or fast, my adrenaline wasn’t pumping and I really wasn’t even mad. I had no ‘ill will’ towards my cellie, just a little sad that things had to be this way. But I knew that the feeling, like a cloud, would pass. After I ate dinner I had an evening self-help group to attend so I went.

I returned to find oId cellie had moved out and a new cellie there. My new cellie said that while he was moving in and the other cellie was moving out, the other cellie was trashing the place. I noticed several items of my personal property destroyed. He’d also taken a black magic marker and written profanities on the wall. He took my toothpaste and squeezed the whole tube onto my blanket. And some of my ‘goodies’ form the commissary was missing! Still I did not think or feel there was a need to be upset, I took a deep breath, paused for a moment, and then introduced myself to my new cell-mate and began cleaning up the mess.

The next day the word on the yard was that I owed that dude a complete ass kicking, and that none of ‘his people’ would retaliate be cause of the way he had disrespected me. Everyone was mad at me for not beating the guy up and kept asking me when I was going to do it? Some of the people who I thought were my friends told me they were told that they were not aloud to talk to me anymore, unless I go smash on that guy right now! I told them I’m due to go to the parole board and the last thing I need is a ‘write up’ for fighting. How could I then say: Oh but I’m ready for parole now! Later that same day they all said, ‘Ok’, when you get done going to the parole board, then you can beat him up. They just didn’t get it.

Only one person commended me for showing tremendous control, and he just happened to be another one of our fellow students from the yoga class! At the next class I took the time aside to personally thank our Instructor. Also to let him know that it was only because of the inner peace and trust that was instilled, developed, and nurtured in the Yoga class, that I was able to respond to that situation with calm. Calmness developed over years, through the months, week to week, day after day, hour by hour, minute by minute, one breath at a time.

– B.T.