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

Via elephant journal
on Dec 7, 2011
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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.


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.
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.



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.”



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.



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.



You can follow Sturman’s artwork within the prison system  on Facebook.


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

  1. Robert, Thank you for sharing how this experience effects you. Your observation that "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", is so deeply profound. In the "free" world, the illusion of what we consider to be freedom is contained in choices that appear to exist outside of ourselves. The choice of a home, a job, a partner. But the truth is that the whole of the universe exists only within our own individual experiences. There is no real "outside" of ourselves. It's a cruel irony for prisoners and what you shared of their lives and why you work with them is really, truly and deeply contemplative. Thank you for being open to that experience. I would think it takes a lot of compassion, but also a lot of courage.

  2. Nadine says:

    Love your photography and was totally inspired by your story. Thank you for sharing — VERY powerful! Blessed Love, Nadine!

  3. Kim says:

    Wow i am truly humbled at the power of self realization. I practice yoga but did not truly understand it's communal/community impact. My sister was instrumental in getting me to that point of understanding, but this article truly clarified everything i love about yoga and more.

  4. Dearbhla says:

    Robert, this is so, so touching and inspiring. The depth of your compassion and insight is amazing. Your words and images have pierced my heart. Many pranams to you!

  5. Wow. Your work is amazing, Robert. You might be interested in a different kind of prison art: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/08/cartoons-f… I wish more in prison had the opportunity to participate in yoga. Cheers!

  6. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    I love what you do and what you share.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  7. yogijulian says:

    breathtakingly succinct, direct and poignant. yes.

  8. Shyam Dodge says:

    Robert, powerful, important, and deeply moving observations. Thank you for sharing the insights behind your process.

  9. Robert says:

    Nadine, thanks so much for taking the time to read it and write. Deep gratitude.

  10. Robert says:

    Wow. That's nice to hear, Kim. Thank you for taking the time to write.

  11. Robert says:

    Likewise, Tanya. Your work has inspired me.

  12. Robert says:

    Thanks brother – much appreciated.

  13. Robert says:

    Thank you, Shyam — It's an honor to be in your company. Your present article is on my screen and I'm looking forward to it. Your Osho video is brilliant.

  14. Valerie Carruthers says:

    Namaste, Robert, your work is a gift. When Yoga enters prisons and homes for at-risk youth the outcome is that lives—destinies—may change profoundly. One lifer who participated in a meditation project at his facility wrote that everyone should have days as happy and peaceful as his. Thank you for showing us through your lens of your camera and your heart this raw and powerful face of Truth. Peace.

  15. Robert says:

    Thank you so much, Valerie. That is so true that they change. I am returning to a Northern California prison tomorrow to do some work and I just got off the phone with the teacher there. I asked him if a certain prisoner was there. I knew he had been released a few months ago – but, I asked because he was a cool guy and a great subject and sometimes they return. For a split second, I was bummed he would not be there. And then I thought about it and realized that the only way he would be there is if he was back in prison – so I was relieved. This particular inmate is in the first and last picture of this article. When we were finished working together he told me that he really loved being a 'yoga model.' That made me smile – and it made him smile more when I returned 2 months later with a copy of Yoga Journal and there was a full page image of him in Sukhasana. Anyways, thank you for reaching out. Deeply appreciated.

  16. Robert says:

    This is an all-star cast of deep thinkers below and above me here commenting on this article. Thank you guys so much. Such an honor to be in the creative flow with you.

  17. I think what you just said equals compassion 🙂 Thanks for helping them be seen. It's had an effect on me.

  18. Jim Campbell says:

    Robert – what a rich and full of grace posting. I am grateful and humbled looking at your work. For me, it has touched the very root of what the practice of yoga brings. Blessings, Jim

  19. Robert says:

    Thanks so much, Jim. I've been enjoying your work more and more recently – It's an honor to be presenting work alongside of your vision.

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

  21. […] I found Robert’s photos to be striking, and even more so, I thought it was very interesting that Robert chose to go into San Quentin – arguably one of the “ugliest” places that one could imagine – to look for beauty. What’s even more impressive? He found it. That’s what happens when you have a keen photographer’s eye like Robert does. The powerful images of mixed-media artist Robert Sturman have a vivid presence that is both other-worldly and deeply rooted in the earthly wonders he has explored so adventurously in his global travels. A spiritual journeyer as well, Sturman is an intuitive creator whose works resonate with an inner vision as much as they reach out to embrace the viewer with tactile, richly hued physicality. […]

  22. […] ~~ Previous article by Robert Sturman: Why I Love Prison: It’s My Turn to Talk […]

  23. Robert, this post gave me chills. So powerful. As a yogini, I feel the same way that you do about prison yoga projects. I feel so much compassion for the people in prisons, knowing that it was their own incompleteness and unresolved pain that brought them to that place to begin with. I believe in the power of the human consciousness to awaken for any human being, including prisoners. I hope that the yoga can continue to bring them peace on their difficult journeys.

  24. Valeska says:

    I love that there is yoga in prison! It should be a must always. I believe yoga makes us all better people, and I also believe it helps us appreciate life no matter what our circumstances. It has the power to change the world for the better one person at a time. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  25. Meg Worden says:

    Every word of this, Robert. Every word, thank you. And your photos of these make me cry every time. I tell and write many stories about serving time in prison. But the hardest for me to get out. The one that gets stuck in my throat and my keyboard every time is the one about teaching yoga while I was there. I want so badly to do it, to do the inmates who practiced with me, justice, to do justice to the experience of practicing yoga while in prison. It's an infinity sized topic.

    And I just realized I used the word justice. Twice. Grin.

    Thank you for your beautiful images. Thank you for bringing this unusual and unexpected beauty to light. This is compassion. This is yoga.

  26. stuart says:

    Amazing insights and great work

  27. Marianne says:

    Imagine if all prisons offered Yoga! And even more importantly if all "kids in danger" had access to Yoga and were saved from careers of crime etc in the first place. Very touching and inspiring work by you and all the participants of the Yoga programs!

  28. robin nnunes says:

    We are all human beings that can be effected by whats brought to our lives. Bless you for working with those who may have never got the opportunity to feel self control and peace inside. Your their light!!

  29. Keren says:

    I always enjoy reading what you're doing. You are an example of non-judgmental compassion which gives me hope that the true potential of yoga will reach the ones who need it the most. I have always felt that Yoga in prisons would be transformational for society and I deeply admire those whose role it is to be able to teach it there. Much more difficult than teaching it to affluent people on a beautiful island! Thank you for sharing yourself with the prisoners and with us. Namastè.

  30. nic says:

    is this the place, where katchie is teaching?

  31. Thank you. For bringing a human touch.

  32. Thank you. The prison and judicial systems are so broken. It is touching to see these photos, these individuals who are choosing to be alive and work on themselves even within the most difficult of places.

  33. kevin k says:

    insightful and inspiring to hear your thoughts robert. thank you

  34. […] Read Sturman’s quintessential article regarding his work within the prison system. […]

  35. tatumann says:

    Robert, your words are as beautiful and though provoking as your photographs. Thank you for sharing both.

  36. christinehys says:

    These pictures are inspiring Robert. Their bodies may be imprisoned but their minds can become free through the practice of yoga. There are so many of us who percieve ourselves as being free but are living within a prison in our minds. For everyone who has the courage to break free I admire you. I hope these men continue to get support that enables them to set therir minds free.

  37. Reyna Zuckerman says:

    I lost $2664 from these people I was told they will help me to modify my loan with my hard earned money is gone and am on dissability shame them I wish somebody find these crooks we are facing battles on my house right now because of the scammers

  38. Chasten says:

    Thank you for taking the time to write this. I noticed it really changed the mood I was in from when I started reading to when I was done. I don’t feel the 3 strike law is a very effective measure for JUSTICE which is what prison is all about. It doesn’t even give the inmates a chance to show if they have made a change. Well anyways. Keep doing what you do. I’m sure those inmates getting photographed was one of the best times they’ve had during their stays.

    With much respect


  39. Myoko Aga says:

    This is so wonderfull – Your photos and joga for people in prisons. Great that people there can practise joga and feel what it can give them. Im joga instructor and i think maby i can do that in Poland :)))) Than You for inspiration :))))