I remember myself for the first time crossing the gates of prison in order to offer this project to the director of the institution. Experiencing non-welcoming and angry environment at the very gate. Being shown around and introduced to poor facilities of the prison. Prisoners seemed to be behaving lovely, creating the mega-smile for the walking guards. As their connection with the guards ensure them more possibilities to get out quicker.
The bureaucracy I had to go through in order to get the workshops running, was one of my huge learning points. Being sent from one office to another to another, back to the first one to another and then to another, was pretty much amazing patience test. Meanwhile teaching me the functioning and dis-functioning of official institutions. But with much of effort, finally I re-entered prison with plenty of yoga mats, ambient music sounds and pure excitement to start the journey of working with prisoners and journey of much of self-discoveries.
I have three groups to work with: young prisoners under 19 (living isolated from the rest of prisoners) ; lowest degree prisoners(living in isolated cells) and 'working' prisoners- the ones who are free to roam around and communicate with each other.
The first workshop with Under 19 group goes fantastic. Although being pretty critical when I introduced them to the fact that exercise sessions would be based on yoga science, as they have had experience with previous teachers bringing too much Eastern philosophies and gods into the classroom. Having explained the diverse nature of yoga and its basis in pure physiology of human body, they get eager to give it a try. Impatient with them selves while going into yogic poses and crazily laughing while assisting each other in going deeper in positions in partner yoga sequences. In upcoming workshops they will be asking me sooner to slip into Shavasana (the corpse pose) and experience deep guided relaxation. I suspect that this might be them the grand possibility to free their minds from prison walls and get away in the freedom where their hearts open and joy is filling their every breath. I was very pleased to hear how much knowledge already they have got on how to take care of their health and wellbeing, emotional pressured and related physical pains. For now it is a true joy to work with them, see them escaping in their meditative states, see them all dressed up and ready to fall in weirdest asanas, sometimes resist and avoid some sequences. It truly has touched my heart to connect with them on a very human level
The second group was one of that I was scared the most of. Living isolated lives, without too much opportunities to move and receive human touch, initially they behaved very loudly and pot-valiant. But followed the workshop with a slight curiosity and humor. Then again- flew to their freedom lands during Shavasana, and were sorry for their initial loudness. I cannot say how much I am learning from these prison ladies, humility, simplicity, courage., efforts, their ways of expressing themselves. They never stop surprising me. I do convince myself again and again that all people need is attention, human touch, connection, understanding and if these rehabilitation institutions might be able to create prisons offering human beings to meet these needs, there would be no ex-prisoners endlessly returning back behind the bars after another crime in the outside World. I do have also mother and daughter in this group- indeed it is their only opportunity to be together-to attend these workshops, as they are put in separate prison cells. I enjoy looking how they are teasing each other, connecting through various partner yoga postures.
The third group is the one I enjoy working so much due to its multiplying effect. They are so much eager to go and try the exercises with the rest of the prisoners and their roommates. And they are the ones who are opening the most and sharing their talents and beauty. There is roma lady having very patient and beautiful character, not being able to write or read, I celebrate her willingness to do various workshop tasks, even thou I need to modify them in order to include alternative forms of expression. There is a ex-business lady and committed Christian who is so eager to learn and take form every class as much as possible. A young woman, my age who already has 5 children and has enormous painting talent. An ex-drug addict. Lovely lesbian couple. And so it goes.
Prison is full of women who can and dreams to re-build their lives and transform the habits. Its often the question, if we are able to let go their past and accept them as an equal citizens, neighbors, co-workers, friends? If we are able to see the human in her greatest form and with her mistakes as a continuous learning in life? I think if we were able to see the human in his/her greatest form and his/her mistakes as a continuous learning in life in anybody, there would be no need for isolated prison cells, punishment institutions etc. As people would feel connected to the community and to themselves.
If I entered the prison in the first days pretty hopeless, I do come out every time with the great belief that the change is here, the seeds are spread and some of them will water them till beautiful flowers will come. There will be cold winter winds blowing and summer heat coming, but there will be a place deep in their hearts that will know of a true joy and peace that is possible in their own lives and that can be spread in the lives of others.
"In April we cannot see sunflowers in France, so we say the sunflowers do not exist. But the local farmers have already planted thousands of seeds and when they look at the bare hills they may be able to see the sunflowers already. The sunflowers are there. They lack only the conditions of sun, heat, rain, and July. Just because we cannot see them does not mean they do not exist." Thich Nhat Hanh
Stretch your body&transform your mind!
This Project is funded by Louis August Jonas Foundation, creating a holistic training experience for 50 young women from Ilguciems women prison and Maras Crisis center. Young women are learning simple peacemaking practices including yoga, non-violent communication, mindful awareness, conscientious social action and good-doing.