Do Prisoners Deserve Yoga?

Via on Mar 12, 2011

This is the first article in a series. The second can be viewed by clicking here. The third here.

CDCR Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI), Tracy, California

When photographer/artist Robert Sturman received an invitation to come and take photos by warden Ms. Salinas of Deuel Vocational Institution, DVI, a reception center in Tracy, California, he felt ready.

Robert Sturman became known for the vibrantly colored Polaroids that he manipulated to create impressionistic photo-paintings. The last series was on asana, like the one above of Vinnie Marino, the popular L.A. teacher who counts Robert Downey Jr., Kate Hudson and David Duchovny among his students. The dungeons sent Robert Sturman to the other side of fame, into the heart of pain. He made a drastic cut from his signature style: “I hadn’t used a regular camera since high school,” he says. “I was using natural light with the polaroids, but that beauty wasn’t prolific enough for the prison shoot.”

One photo of an inmate meditating on the bare prison floor was posted on Robert’s Facebook page. It quickly accumulated 82 likes and a string of admiring comments, until someone wrote: “I think you’re all in la-la-land… Get a grip. I would like to know if he killed someone… or if he raped a young girl before I got all sentimental… But… maybe it’s good to live in your head and the Lotus position and not in the real world…” Robert replied: “My hope is minds will be opened to a new paradigm that is neither uneducated new age la-la, or massive generalization. … We are not trying to shorten this inmate’s sentence.” Three People liked this comment. The dissenter fired back: “Admirable sentiment. However, I doubt that would mollify his victims or their families.”

“Are they actually getting it?” someone commented on the photo on Facebook of a convict doing Jyoti Mudra.

Prisoners have to deal with condescension and disrespect all the time, from correctional officers (the correct term for prison guards) and from each other, but they are also subjected to constant projections of darkness from the population at large. Inmates are finely attuned to all nuances of vilification. Possibly, this kind of transference is at the root of the psychological problems that landed them in jail in the first place. ‘Being bad’ may be a childish way to protect a parent’s skewed perception of them.

Judgment at a distance translates to fear up close. Inside the cage, Robert Sturman was briefly confronted with his own fears when he had each prisoner sign a release form. “As I was squatting down and talking and giving them the pen to sign,” he says, “I realized that every time I’m giving someone a pen I’m giving them a weapon that they can jab in my throat. But after that I thought: ‘Okay, no more Oz! No more Dexter! Too much television!’ I took a few breaths, and got over that stuff.”

He continues: “I was a little startled when I came face to face with someone who had eight teardrops tattooed on his face. In the gang world each teardrop represents a murder, and that threw me, but it passed quickly. He was actually the most responsive student, and spoke eloquently about how peaceful he felt from doing yoga. It was a beautiful experience. I realized that these men went astray for whatever reason, let their anger elevate to an uncontrollable level that is punishable and not okay in our world, but it’s the same kind of warrior energy and intelligence that, if directed properly, produces something entirely respectable and productive.”

Swapan Munshi (whose first name means ‘dream’ in Hindi) works as a Therapeutic Recreation Therapist at DVI, and also teaches the yoga class there. He says: “I feel yoga can be even more powerful than any psychological approach… Prison yoga offers solutions to a broken system. It can reduce medical costs of prisoners, decrease violence, reduce recidivism, [70% in California – the highest in the nation] and transform individuals and society.”

But what do you think?

About Anneke Lucas

Anneke Lucas is the director of Liberation Prison Yoga in New York. She currently teaches or supervises yoga and meditation classes at five facilities, to both male and female inmates and youth, and places trained yoga instructors in prisons and jails. Serving in prisons synthesizes Anneke’s experiences with psycho-therapy, meditation and ashtanga yoga, bringing physical therapy, mindful awareness and peace to students whose backgrounds often resemble her own - in spite of appearances. Anneke graduated from the American Film Institute as a screenwriter and published a novel in her home country Belgium. She is currently working on a memoir about her childhood.

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101 Responses to “Do Prisoners Deserve Yoga?”

  1. poppymama says:

    I grew up in a maximum security prison town – I know a lot about what goes on inside. I think that often we make too many excuses for criminals. BUT, that said, I think that everyone should have the chance to redeem themselves. If they have no hope of life ever getting better, they will not ever change.The prisoners who do best, who are most likely to try to do something with their lives both inside and when they get out, are the ones who have been given a chance to think there's a better way. If yoga can do that, I'm all for it.

    • Anneke Lucas Anneke says:

      Thank you. This is the first article in a series in which I hope to show that yoga can indeed made a powerful change for the better.

  2. Aparna Khanolkar says:

    Yoga is a gift for everyone. If it helps transform a criminal, all the more reason for them to be taught and encouraged to have a regular practice. In the grand scheme of karma, we are al equal.

  3. Liz says:

    Change is good. If practicing yoga gets an inmate back to center and starts a change in thinking then what is wrong with that? Most likely, these men will be back on the streets and if there is a possiblilty that yoga and meditation helps them to be more in control of their impulses that is a good thing. I am glad to see it.

    • 13thfloorelevators says:

      I'm not sure "being in control of their impulses" is really the thing at issue. The "impulses" typically stem from a great deal of anger, as most prisoners suffered a great deal of abuse in their past. I think you would be shocked at what some of these people have gone through. When I first started reading case histories, I spent an inordinate amount of time with tears streaming down my face. It's is immensely heartbreaking to follow a person's life from childhood to prison.
      Yet if yoga and meditation can help them let go of any small part of that anger, it is useful.

      Furthermore, I would estimate a majority of inmates in maximum security state and federal prisons to have some form of mental health problem, ranging from ADHD to sever schizophrenia. Many of them have multiple diagnoses, compounded with a fairly low IQ or mental retardation (below 70). This is particularly true in maximum security prisons and death row. Most of them are not going to be "in control of their impulses" in the near future or in this lifetime, but they may learn to respond better to the difficulties their mind is presenting them thus relieving a great deal of suffering.

    • Anneke Lucas Anneke says:

      Yes. Thank you for posting that comment.

  4. 13thfloorelevators says:

    I'm not sure who you think is often making too many excuse for prisoners. Who is "we?"

    In any case, presumably anyone who does yoga or meditation understands that it has a transformative potential that is premised on the idea that everyone is always changing and capable of such transformation. If you believe that to be true of yourself, it is true of anyone currently incarcerated. I work closely with incarcerated people and many of them beg for this stuff. I see no reason not to give it to them.

  5. beautifulbeastblog says:

    This is lovely. These pictures both break my heart and fill me with hope.
    I can't stop looking at them.
    I would frame and hang them up if I could.
    They are beautiful, and
    I am infinitely amazed at the power of yoga.

    Yoga saved me from a life of addiction and hopelessness.
    And because I started my practice and teacher training before I was incarcerated on a drug charge, (the justice system is slower than most people realize) I was able to teach yoga classes while inside.

    More humbled than any class I have taught before or since.

    There is nothing more profound, more authentic, than redemption.

    Thank you for this.

  6. Joe Sparks says:

    Many people are under the impression that prisons hold a large number of men with violent patterns, who are "dangerous." Creating such an impression seems to have been a deliberate attempt to use fear to justify cooperation with oppressive measures. The actual situation is quite manageable if it were faced with a rational program. In US federal prisons, only 11 percent of inmates are there for violent crimes.
    The prison system, far from working to assist men, instead brutalizes them and pushes them into becoming "more efficient" criminals. The idea that a person should ever be subject to the death penalty or execution is wrong! The understanding we now have, that punishment exacerbates misbehavior and that a person can be completely freed from distress recordings, completely negates any previous "justifcations" for the death penalty.

    • Joe Sparks says:

      In many parts of the world, prisons are warehouses for men whose violent or lonely lives have driven them to the fringes of society. Prisons are also used to scapegoat men for society's failures, particularly poverty, class inequality, and racism. Many men are imprisoned for the "crimes" they commit while hungary, scared, lonely, sick or standing up against injustice.Being unemployed and living on the streets is a crime in most modern societies.
      Replace criminal courts, police, and prisons with an intelligent way of handling violent patterns and any dangers they pose to other people in the world. Excellent article!

  7. ARCreated says:

    I love this…I adore this…I want to be a part of this…the people that need it most are here…if we change this population what an immense shift can occur…as yogis this seems natural and true. Perhaps more of this will turn our justice system into something more closely resembling what it is meant to do…rehabilitate. Love and forgiveness. Love and forgiveness.

  8. From Facebook:

    Kimberly Daniels Yes!!!! Everyone deserves yoga because it will change the world!
    3 hours ago · Like · 5 people

    Marta Lane YES!!
    2 hours ago · Like · 2 people

    Rosalind Clewley No.
    2 hours ago · Like

    Tommy Burke They NEED yoga more than anyone! For society to be truly enlightened, this basic need should be recognised. I'd recommend Vipassana meditation for a start…..
    2 hours ago · Like · 6 people

    Kimberley Rome Of course. That's like asking does everyone deserve Love? Yoga practice gives us the space and awareness to grok this … WE ARE ALL ONE. Yes, even perpetrators. The line of light and dark goes down the center of every heart. We commit acts of atrocity when we become unconscious. Yoga contains the possibility to bring the light of consciousness. Far more rehabilitative than the current system. The Dharma Prison Project has a non-recidivism rate of 98%. Check also the film The Dhamma Brothers for the effect of Vipassana practice on incarcerated humans. And before anyone even asks me — yes, I have been transgressed upon. Forgiveness is the elixir of healing.
    2 hours ago · Like · 3 people

    Vicki Tarrant Is the provocative heading for this article really essential EJ?
    2 hours ago · Like

    Jennifer Myers Judgement at a distance translates to fear up close. That's enough to ponder for today :)
    2 hours ago · Like · 2 people

    Jacquie O'Neill You can tell a lot about a society by the way they treat their prisoners, what better way to bring about change than to practice yoga!
    2 hours ago · Like · 5 people

    Meg Worden ‎70% plus people in prison are there for drugs. Many that are in for murder…are in for drug related murders.

    Even still…no matter what, it's not ours to decide what actions make humans unworthy of anythings, the hubris of anyone who thinks they can judge who "deserves" redemption.

    I taught yoga to inmates in a women's prison. I was also an inmate there on a drug related charge.

    I have so many things to say on this topic. There's just not enough space here.
    about an hour ago · Like · 1 person

    elephantjournal.com Hi, Meg. Please write me an article. Or write a long comment on the blog, or both. –Bob W.
    about an hour ago · Like · 1 person

    elephantjournal.com Hi, Vicki.The heading is highly provocative, I agree, but it comes verbatim from a quote in the article itself, so I think it makes sense here. It reflects the central debate itself. It is not the viewpoint of the blog author or photographer.
    about an hour ago · Like

    elephantjournal.com ‎(Last comment from Bob W.)
    about an hour ago · Like

    Evelyn Ruut It does not matter whether it is deserved or not. One might read the story of Angulimala and his necklace of fingers. There is hope for everyone to come to some better realization of themselves, even the worst. We are all capable of worse than we can imagine and better than we can imagine. If the resource for self betterment is made available, and someone uses it, then they are deserving.
    about an hour ago · Like · 1 person

    Meg Worden Ok, Bob. I would be delighted write an article for you. (The book is nearly finished.)

    Here's the gist: Circumstance is no obstacle to liberation.

    DM me the parameters and the best address to send it on.
    about an hour ago · Like

  9. More From Facebook:

    Christie Wardell although it has provided great fodder for conversation, in the asking of this question and noting the very genuine and passionate responses, i have to ask, really??? who is it that can seriously pose this inquiry , while professing to know the heart of yoga?
    about an hour ago · Like · 1 person

    Meg Worden Ok, just found the site writers guidelines. You will hear from me. Cheers.
    about an hour ago · Like

    Loretta Swain Everyone deserves yoga.
    about an hour ago · Like · 2 people

    Zac Morris I admire what you all had to say and cant wait to be able to think as you and release my mind from the judgmental / negative thoughts regarding this subject… here are my thoughts, prisons are or should be a place that NO ONE wants to go to it is the one place that strikes fear into every person that even remotely thinks of committing a crime against property and or a person particularly rape, abuse, kill or intentionally injured a person so that they can no longer live a normal life although i do believe that everybody should practice yoga and it is our right as free living human beings but here the thing prisoners should not have this right nor any rights other than clothing food and some sort of shelter and that's it! I know it's a tough life in there and there is so much stress in their day to day life but they choose this life not once but several times over and over and it's us the riding a bicycle to work yoga free thinking dealing with society's pressures on a daily basis sometimes called life with out committing a crime against anything or anyone who is flipping the bill for THEIR new found yoga enlightenment or a GED or their lawyers fee to appeal the previous conviction the satellite television, movie night, sporting equipment and lets not forget their right to the conjugal visits. they are called CONS for a reason, just saying… can't wait to think and be in the same place as you all. namaste~
    about an hour ago · Like

    Kimberly Daniels The question is… We are all part of the divine; do you want to contribute to the problem, and turn your head or help change the world in which we live in? Yoga makes people better…bottom line. Would you rather continued suffering or help change the present circumstances?
    55 minutes ago · Like

    Jessica Jasper Isn't prison supposed to REHABILITATE people????
    43 minutes ago · Like

    Lynn Somerstein Yes, I think prisoners can benefit from yoga; doesn't everyone? If we're all connected, as I think we are, then benefiting one ultimately benefits the many.
    42 minutes ago · Like

    Galey Kielian Who is to decide if someone "deserves" yoga? Is it easier to say someone in $98 yoga pants & a Manduka mat deserves yoga? When we care for the people in our society who are the hardest to love, then we truly move ahead in our own enlightenment. Prisoners meditating or doing yoga are the heart of the practice.
    26 minutes ago · Like

    Teri Smith Who needs more centering than these people. I say they need yoga most of all!
    25 minutes ago · Like

    Sharon Goldey When prisoners are released, do we want them to emerge harder, angrier, more addicted, and more stunted than when they began their sentence? Or do we hope that they will have gotten in touch with the pain and true power to change. What will benefit them (and us) more? Who better deserves yoga & vipassana meditation?

    Shane Schinke- Shyam The answer is beyond judgment and beyond mind. Everybody should be given the opportunity for change, for Oneself and the sake of Humanity. Who am I to decide who deserves what? It's helping me to become a better person……..
    about an hour ago · Like

    Pamela Lotus Bommarito of course…everyone should have the opportunity to experience the healing affects of yoga. "Deserve" on the other hand is too judgmental of a word to equate with yoga. It's like do you deserve love, like the previous comment stated.
    35 minutes ago · Like

  10. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

  11. Scott Robinson YesuDas says:

    This is beautiful, beautiful stuff, both the article and those extraordinary pictures.

    The thins I am troubled by is that hostile FB commenter. I can't imagine what he expects us to do about the incarcerated; is every prison supposed to be the Bastille or something? What is the purpose of prison? What does he think *should* be done, for the victims and for the prisoners? So much contempt; it's really disturbing, and sad.

    • Anneke Lucas Anneke says:

      Many people are caught in the victim mentality. We all are at times. But it has become an epidemic. Ultimately, this victim-identification is what keeps one from taking responsibility for one's actions, and that is the very justification that is necessary to commit a transgression, either in deed or thought. Thank you for your comment.

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      Thank you for that heartfelt comment. The comments on FB reflect the victim mentality that is so common everywhere, and is, I think, at the root of all violence. But of course we all identify with the victim at times, and cast judgment or blame on others. Learning not to, takes practice.

  12. nice article. i think that the question should be more something like, "does the world deserve the change that yoga could create in prisoners?" because that is something that would shift the whole balance. whats good for "them" is good for "us", right? and then we're all the same, but maybe thats too scary…

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      Lori, I agree, and would go even farther: if mindfulness practices can be successfully applied by those in such difficult circumstances as exist in most prisons, we stand to learn something from the. I've spoken to some prisoners for the upcoming article, and am more in awe about their courage than I have ever been from the words of a yoga teacher.

  13. I love all of the sincere and passionate responses. I would like to make a point here, and it is really the only point that has stayed with me throughout the time I have spent working in the prison system as a guest artist. I have a regular yoga practice and one thing I know to be true is that yoga opens me. Through asana, I have become more aware of my own actions and how my footsteps in this world leave prints. I have faced everything on my mat. I had no choice. I think that yoga just does that. The greatest chance for change is when a human being sees the consequences of their own actions. We can torture, punish, sentence, and tell a human being a thousand times that they are guilty – treat them like they are worthless. That never changed me as a kid or as an adult. What changed me was when I felt the sobering guilt within and faced the pain that I caused others. That made me change. Yoga has a way of bringing us into our heart. You want to punish a human being? Lead them to their own conscious. These men who have taken the courageous step to come to this thing called yoga which is not necessarily the most masculine recreational activity in the prison system, have something inside of them that longs to crumble. (on another note: the instructor teaches an incredibly strong class so that anyone who takes it realizes yoga can be extremely challenging. In addition, there is major focus on quite advanced breathing techniques.)

  14. Thank you so much Bob. I feel honored to be part of the Journal. If anyone wants to see the three portfolios that were created so far, they can find them on my Facebook page. I do not think one needs to friend me to do so – the images are public. The portfolio titles are Gravitas, Libertas, and Dignitas.

  15. Great article! My older brother has been in prison for 6 years and has 6 or 7 to go. He is becoming a bitter man and I think he–and so many others who are incarcerated–would benefit greatly from yoga (not to mention healthy food). No matter the crime. Give them the tools to feel better, love themselves and be connected with others. I wrote about my brother on EJ: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/05/the-first-

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      Lynn, thank you for writing about your brother Your post is very moving. If you think your brother could benefit from yoga, maybe you could speak to the warden. I can send you a study that was done showing the strongly reduced rates of re-incarceration of inmates who had had four or more yoga classes while in prison. If you are far away, maybe you can contact the local yoga center, if there is one, or get on the Prison Dharma Network — they have members everywhere. Good luck and let me know if you'd like more information.

  16. Suzanne Jones Sue says:

    thank you for this. I have spent the last two years researching and developing Trauma Informed Mind Body program for women. I'll be piloting the program in a woman's prison here in Massachusetts and presenting the program model and preliminary data at the American Society of Criminology conference in Washington, DC. We should talk soon. I feel a wide scale paradigm shift happening. Policy makers and justice department officials will at this conference and it is our time to express why these healing modalities need to be taken seriously <3

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      Sue, I would love to talk! You can send me an email at annekelucas@yahoo.com.

    • Juliet says:

      I would also like more information on your project. I am applying to volunteer at Sojourn, a center for battered women and their children, where I hope to teach yoga to women. The requirement to volunteer is 40 hours of domestic violence counselor training. I am looking forward to sharing the tools I have learned over the years that have helped me immesurably.

  17. thank you for this article. very moving.

  18. AMO says:

    I like the idea of turning the question around. Does our society deserve the impact of prisoners who've been given yoga? Emphatically YES! But only if we are the kind of society to recognize that as the true question. Part of the perception challenge here is that in Western society we have come to think of yoga as a luxurious, expensive, relaxing, calming way of taking care of yourself, which it can be, rather than as a way of working through the unification of your dark and light spirits, which it should be…

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      Absolutely agree with you. In the west yoga is not only often thought of as only the physical aspect, but in the past decade also as a spa service. The manner in which yoga is taught in prison is essential, I think that is why Swapan Munshi, the teacher at DVI, teaches mindfulness techniques (UCLA) and has been in training with James Fox, founder of the Prison Yoga Project, who has a very well-rounded approach to yoga and its philosophy.

  19. conleth says:

    Great article, well done.

    Check out dhamma.org . I've done a lot of stuff over the years & I think it's the greatest gift available to all.

    B Well

    Conleth

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      Conleth, Thank you. This article is the first of a series. Later on there will be one about Fleet Maull and the Prison Dharma Network, a network primarily of vipassana teachers but also of yoga going into the prisons. Have you seen the film 'The Dhamma Brohters?' It is a powerfully moving film.

  20. neil galland says:

    I always thought prison was supposed to be a sentence for rehabilitation. What a great day it will be when the cliche joke will be about tough guy ex-cons who found Yoga in prison, instead of (or in addition to ) to G-d.

    • 13thfloorelevators says:

      Prison time is both rehabilitative and punitive, not just in theory, since both functions are explicitly discussed in the federal sentencing guidelines. The latter function will likely never disappear altogether.

  21. Yes they do. I would also add kids they are starting that slippery road to be part of the prison population need it more. In Glasgow Scotland, there are schools teaching yoga to kids…Glasgow has lots of problems with kids and crime.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8572385.stm

  22. SwalleyLama says:

    civilized society owes itself yoga for prisoners. hurt comes from hurt comes from hurt and on and on like that. but what if we were faithful to the term correctional system? what if we offered the means to help those with noisy minds in pain find quiet and peace? what if we were enlightened enough to see that healing the hurters means that we have a better chance at stopping more hurt from happening? omm… yeah!

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      Beautiful. When it comes to hurt, and noisy minds, we all have something with which to relate to anyone in prison. I think being faithful to the term correctional system is the goal. Thank you.

  23. Gaura Das says:

    Of course they do !

    Thank you Aneke for the invitation to post something . I began taking up the yoga lifestyle seriously in 1975. As a young boy I had seen my sister doing the asanas , and began to read various books on yoga. This introduced me to the meditation aspect of yoga as well, and the philsophy of yoga which explained why bad things happen to good people , and why good things happen to "bad" people, ad how this is connected to the need for reincarnation, until one becomes totally purified.

    After reading several random Bhagavad Gitas, I received the Bhagavad Gita As It Is by AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He Swami had lived with John Lennon for three months explaining the essence of the yoga system to John, Yoko,and George Harrison. Being a huge Beatles fan from the moment they appeared live on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, I had o meet this Swami, and I did, leaving my home in Chicago to greet him at O Hare Airport.. This was my first experience meeting a Saint and his loving presence had a deep impact on me.

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      Gaura Das, thank you for sharing! I thought I was the greatest Beatles fan. That your love for the band led you to Bjaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada only speaks for you!

  24. Gaura Das says:

    Swami Prabhupada taught that there were different systems of yoga for each of the four different yugas or ages, and that in Kali Yuga, this current age symptomized by quarrel and hypocrisy, the recommended yoga was to do kirtan, specifically the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra : Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna krsna Hare Hare HAre Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.. I had heard this mantra in at least three Beatle songs, awell as the broadway musical "Hair" and I was very intrigued to experience a permanent state of altered consciousness.

    WIthin just a couple of weeks of daily, seriously chanting the mantra everyday on my japa beads and in kirtan, I soon gave up "criminal" behaviour such as smoking, drinking and became a vegetarian for the past 36 years.

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      I love how you attribute your deepening interest in yoga to pop culture. Honest and refreshing!

  25. Gaura Das says:

    My response to your question of whether prisones should be taught yoga is an unequivocal "Yes", but don't just teach them how to stretch their physical bodies, give them the real purpose of yoga, which is to develop pure love of God, pure love of Krishna, the source of everything, or else you will be short-changng them, cheating them, as most yoga studios due to their poor fund of knowledge .

    The yoga system is based on the Vedas, the original wisdom books going back over 5000 years, given by Lord Krishna, the Supereme Personality of Godhead. Krishn explains that as He is the cause of all causes , completely independent of His creation, so we, the individual soul, being a tiy part of Him, have a minute degree of independence. That independence is exercised by our free will to either render reciprocal loving service to Him, known as Bhakti yoga, in which chanting His name is the main expresiion of this love, or to live in the darkness of Maya.

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      Yes, the teacher makes all the difference, for all of us, not just prisoners! Mindfulness is not necessarily taught by holding a challenging asana! I'm glad you have found your path as a Bhakti Yogi. Your devotion shines from the page!

  26. Gaura Das says:

    To live in Maya , or "that which is not", illusion, means to falsely identify he self, the soul, with your material body. To be in Maya means to think that because my body was born in a certain country, then "I am an American, Canadian, black , white, Hindu , Christian, Jew, Muslim, fat , sinny , Gay, Hetero, etc…." These are all material designations for this body. God is not a Hindu, a term made up for them due to the sectarin views of Muslims who lived North of the SIndhu RIver, neither do peoplewear t-shirts in God's Kingdom that says "I'm a Christian, Jew, Muslim" . We are all eternal loving servants of the one Supreme Lord, or Father, which makes us all bothers and sisters. What we do to another "family" member, we do to ourselves.

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      Yes, we are all under the spell of Maya, attached to our identities to a certain degree, but it is nice to be reminded as often as possible that this world is not what it seems!

  27. Gaura Das says:

    When the soul chooses to misuse it's independence , and take a mis-directed detour into this material world, then we enter into the prison house of "Durga" Durga is the goddess of this material wold. SHe is a pure servant of Krishna. Durga literall means in sanskrit dur – difficult to ga – go. In others words, it';s very difficult to get out of this material world, the reformatory of Durga. One symptom that characterises the prisoners of Durga is that they think that everything in relation to their body exists for their enjoyment, or their exploitation, and they use religion to justify their lust , greed, envy and anger to bomb one another and steal the resources of another nation.

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      Yes, we are all imprisoned by our bodies, by our material desires. And it is indeed very difficult to get out of this material world. All one has to do to know that is try! Following your spiritual path is constant struggle, climbing the mountain while most others are pleasantly descending.

  28. Gaura Das says:

    The prisoners of Durga take what is God's and rape Mother Earth ,utilizing her resources for their selfish , illegal schemes, breaking the laws of material nature, and experience punishment in the form ofkarmic reactions. Bad karma manifests as legal problems, poverty, a disfigured body and a lack of intelligence , and good karma is the opposite ofthese four. One can utilize their good karma to create a hell or heaven for themselves and others here on Earth, or they can use their good karma to liberate themselves from the cycle of repeated birth and death and return home, back home, to Godhead.

  29. Gaura Das says:

    So from the perspective of Bhagavad Gita, the eternal conversation between Krishna and His studnet Arjuna, we are ALL prisoners here in this material world, except for the few who walk among us, utilizing everything which is God's for His service, under the guidance of His representative, the bona-fide spiritual master. It does us no good to judge whether anothr prisoner should have the privilege to take up to genuine yoga. To achieve self-realization throughyoga is veryone's goal in life, whether they are aware of this or not. We are all criminals of one sort or another, in the procss of rehabilitation, so it does us no good to point the finger to another , even if their crime may be more heinous than ours. We are meant to be here for one another and to encourage one another to each take the next step in our journey along the path of bhakti yoga by chanting congregationally and individually the Hare Krishna mantra :

    Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krisna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

    If these prisoners had been taught to chant Hare Krishna earlier in life, perhaps hey would not find themselves behind bars today

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      Couldn't have said it better myself! Thank you, Gaura Das, for your thoughts on this subject. If you don't mind I will forward my future posts to you as well. I love bringing the yoga philosophy into the discussions!

  30. Very interesting topic. Considering that most prisoners eventually get out of prison and try to get back into "normal life" I would say its important that a path like yoga should be open to prisoners. Yoga provides not only physical health but makes an attempt at emotional and spiritual health. Hopefully thats the sort of health that prevents them from committing the next crime.

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      Exactly. Are you the husband of Claudia Altucher who posted an account from Mysore? If you are, I am a big fan of your writing!

  31. Nadine McNeil Nadine says:

    Anneke, this is an AWESOME piece! Thank you for having the courage to take on controversy. For me, this is the ULTIMATE punch line: Judgment at a distance translates to fear up close. 'Nuff said. Bless Up, UniversalEmpress

  32. Karen Alderete says:

    Anneke –

    Thank you for this article. It seems to me that embracing the whole, not just what is easy to look at, is what strengthens our community and takes us into our hearts. We are all connected – and everything lives in us – light and dark, as it lives in the world. Peace.

  33. Juliet says:

    I first heard about Vipasana and the Southern California Vipasana Center in 1997. A co-worker, the same on who introduced me to Brian Kest's Power Yoga, didn't tell me anything about either, but suggested that I might consider doing them. At that time in my life I had serious depression issues stemming from early childhood abuses that continued throughout high school as well as adult partner abuse situations and drug and alcohol problems.

    It has taken years and assistance from many angels in the form of healers and body workers to come to where I am now, sober and happy to be free of the insecurities I allowed to control me. I can only thank my God that the many times I have been pulled over drunk or high in a vehicle that was not registered, uninsured and even with a suspended license that the officers had mercy on me because I look like an upstanding citizen. I can't imagine having to experience incarceration due to my dis-eases of the mind and body.

    Back to Vipasana, I had heard from a friend who attends the 10 day miditation annually that it was originally used for prisoner rehabilitation before it hit the US Prison System and that they are shown a documentary at the Center at some point during the 10 days. I have yet to make the pilgrimage to the Center, and I don't really have a desire to as of yet, but I am so happy that prisons are utilizing its potential to heal and inform with their inmates. It is proof humanity is alive and that compassion is possible.

    Here is a case study article if you're interested: http://www.prison.dhamma.org/AJart99.pdf

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      Juliet, your story moves me beyond words. Thank you for sharing. And yes, the point: "I can't imagine having to experience incarceration due to my dis-eases of the mind and body." So many of the incarcerated do suffer mental health problems, besides the drug and alcohol problems that so many of us have or have had in common.

      One of the articles in this series is focusing on the Prison Dharma Network, a worldwide organization bringing Vipassana meditation and yoga to prisons. The founder, Fleet Maull, was incarcerated for 14 years, and his story is a great inspiration for all of us.

      Thank you again; it takes courage to speak openly about personal pain, and you have plenty of it!

  34. Anneke_Lucas says:

    Yes. We are all connected. Whatever means we can employ to be reminded of this are worthy. In my next post, I am letting the prisoners speak. I interviewed several inmates with life sentences at San Quentin (and Robert Sturman took amazing picturesof them) and I can't say I've met more courageous or humble men. They taught me yoga! Thank you, Karen, for your comment!

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      This post was meant as a reply to Karen's comment, but Juliet must have posted just before me, and that is why this makes no sense.

  35. shaktidiva says:

    Thank you so much for this article. In 1999 I produced a film called Animal Factory written by Eddie Bunker. At that time we were given unprecedented access to San Quentin and took a tour guided by a trustee who had been in SQ for over 30 years for murdering someone in a bar fight. Two of the people involved in the film had spent over 40 years combined in SQ. As I moved through the facility past the cells and spoke with the prisoners, I couldn't help but think about how much they could benefit from yoga- even though many would never see the outside world again. And what I understood the most is that yes they most definitely deserved it. I was had a teacher tell me that on of the biggest sins we can make is to stand in the way of someone else's enlightment.

    • Joe Sparks says:

      We need to publicly expose, challenge, and organize against the open use of violence against males, beginning in childhood and continuing during adult life. Expose the connection between childhood abuse and adult patterns of violence. Police brutality, harassment, suppression of political dissent, and torture, particularly of men from oppressed groups, need to be targeted and exposed. Organize to bring political pressure to eliminate these behaviors.

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      Animal Factory is a great movie, and I think realistically portrays life in prison. I interviewed a prisoner for the next article on prison yoga who, like the Edward Furlong character, had been sentenced for a minor drug charge — possession of crack cocaine in his case, about $100 worth on the street. Under California's three strikes law, he got 25-life, with no possibility for parole for 25 years. When someone like him overcomes bitterness and anger (he already knew how to stay out of trouble in prison before he began yoga classes) I think we can all learn what yoga is really about. Thank you for posting!

  36. Sarah says:

    wow. yes. prisoners, and all people, regardless of how they are self- or externally-identified, deserve dignity, and the opportunity to learn and improve themselves.

  37. Anneke_Lucas says:

    Absolutely.

  38. [...] might have recently read the thought-provoking article on Elephant Journal Do Prisoners Deserve Yoga? , featuring striking pictures of inmates practising yoga in jail by [...]

  39. Beautiful post. Beautiful pictures. Everyone is somebody's child. Everyone needs to be loved. If yoga is offering yourself love then there is nothing bad that can come of that for these prisoners. They already have hate. If we believe that violence is an extension of frustration or confusion about who we are or how to get what we want then yoga is a great choice for us, both those prisoners incarcerated and we prisoners of our beliefs.

  40. Anneke_Lucas says:

    There is indeed nothing bad that can come out of it for these prisoners, as for all of us. A common mistake is when yoga is taught as a purely physical practice. So I would add that in the prison system, the teachers are key. I think the San Quentin yoga teacher and founder of the organization Prison Yoga Project James Fox, who I've interviewed for another article in this series, is extremely balanced and wise, and I'd highly recommend a teacher training with him to anyone who is interested in this. The link to the site is <a href="http://www.prisonyoga.com” target=”_blank”>www.prisonyoga.com

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful thoughts.

  41. [...] their whitewashed perfection, half man-built, half nature-made, then spits them out with a timidly criminal question of “Why me?” Second, one that looks across the water and at the rising numbers of [...]

  42. Monique says:

    Love this:)

  43. Anneke_Lucas says:

    Thank you, Monique.

  44. Roblynn says:

    Beautiful article, brought tears. My son has been incarcerated since age 17 and he has been practicing yoga as well as meditation since being arrested. He has written three books and at the age of 20 is teaching the GED prep classes.
    Do prisoners "deserve" yoga? They are people aren't they?

    • Anneke_Lucas says:

      Hi Roblynn, Yes, of course they are people. Your son sounds like he has used his time like a true yogi, transforming himself with the tools available, and providing service to others. You must be proud of him, however painful the fact that he has been incarcerated for 3 years now (in New York, I wonder? NY is the only state to sentence 17 year olds as adults).
      The question "Do Prisoners Deserve Yoga?" is not one that I ask myself, but it is a question I've heard and read often, and I wanted to raise the issue of prejudice against prisoners in the article. I've spoken to some very courageous men who, like your son, have been able to use the yoga and meditation classes to their greatest personal advantage.

  45. [...] Serving where it matters most. This is the second article in a series. The view the first, click here. [...]

  46. [...] Keeping things simple by living in areas that have been developed is the most beneficial to occupants. Staying away from jails, hospitals, cemeteries, high traffic areas, and other places that may upset the nervous system are ideal for ensuring great health and wellness. After all, who wants to live next to a cemetery, a hospital, or a jail? [...]

  47. [...] objectionable; b) supports the growing movement to bring yoga to those who need it most, including adult prisoners and children and youth in detention [...]

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