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December 8, 2011

Why I Love Prison: It’s My Turn to Talk. ~ Robert Sturman Photography

Up until this moment, I have simply let the work speak for itself and the projections of others paint the meanings behind it.

That is often the case with Art. The following are a few of my thoughts I have collected in my experience as a visiting Artist navigating the growing yoga programs in various United States Penitentiaries.

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I never asked what they did – it was not my business. My business was to be in there making Art with them, pointing towards possibility.  A deep human connection is needed to capture the very essence of emotion and courageous vulnerability of the prisoners. And when I am making Art, there is no hesitation, no question, no fear, no confusion.
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I found it inspiring. I enjoyed being in the presence of tremendous physical, emotional, and mental strength — human beings who no longer complained — who accepted their situation and handled their business no matter what. All good qualities to possess. These are men who have made the conscious choice to live inside of themselves. Most prisoners do not make that choice, and most people who are “free” do not make that choice either.
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I loved the warden. We spoke for some time during my first visit and the most profound thing that could have been said, she said. “I have noticed that the guys who are doing the yoga are making much better choices.”

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One of the things that left a deep impression on me is the kindness and appreciation I experienced from the prisoners.  Something about that kindness broke my heart. Something about a human being with so little dignity left, who was willing to be photographed and sign model release forms —  not even questioning  my integrity or what I was going to do with pictures of them doing yoga in the penitentiary. Yes, something about that broke my heart.

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And to those of us who think prisoners do not deserve yoga. Here I speak to you:

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 conscience. These men who have taken the courageous step to come to this thing called yoga, which is not necessarily viewed as the most masculine recreational activity in the prison system, have something inside of them that longs to crumble.

My Camera is a Voice for that Man.

A mistake many of us make when we think of a prisoner, especially one who is serving a life sentence, is that they have all been convicted of a crime of violence.  Many people are unaware of the 3 strike law.  Some of the men serving life sentences had already served their time and then, for example, got arrested for other nonviolent crimes (perhaps possession of drugs) – 3 strikes and your out of society for LIFE. They are just sitting in there trying not to rot away, and looking forward to the hour and a half yoga class they are permitted to attend once a week.

My Camera is a Voice for that Man.
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You can follow Sturman’s artwork within the prison system  on Facebook.

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Check out  The ‘Cell Block D Sukhasana’ Tee for Men and Women    

100% of the Proceeds Benefit this Project

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Elephant Articles by Robert Sturman

 Learn more about the Prison Yoga Project and their trainings.

Check out the Anneke Lucas article/interview with the Yogis of San Quentin. It’s beautiful.

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