May 3, 2016 marked the beginning of our Yoga Teacher Training at SCI Graterford. This was a monumental occurrence for me personally, as I set out upon the path of yoga service with this dream five long years ago. This facility holds some of the best and brightest souls I've ever met, many of whom have played a special and significant role in my personal evolution.
I can remember the first time I drove up to the facility.... It was in the dark of a cold winter's night, which was fitting. The complex's dreary, draconian exterior a tangible reminder of our need to heal our nation's darkest wounds. The process to enter was typical in its tediousness.
The day of our first YTT class is no different as we are escorted back by a somber guard. We realize when we start that it's at least quarter past our appointed time. Considering all of the red tape that our contact and administration had to go through to get us through these purposely impenetrable doors, the delay seems almost inconsequential.
When we arrive in our classroom we have about half of the students we were expecting, but the presence of the men we do have is not lost on us. We begin our introductions, all of us seeking to articulate our purpose and interest in yoga fully and as best we can with words which don't always suffice.
As we make our way around the circle I recognize this space, this comforting feeling of community with wise and self aware beings. All are hungry to do the work in order to liberate their minds and selves. When confronted with people who are so full of this sense of seeking, the only right thing to do is to share openly, freely, to learn how to spread light like wildfire.
The men share themselves and their stories. Some are nearing release, some are in the middle of decades long sentences, and some will remain for life. The goal of yoga remains the same no matter who/where we are physically. It unveils its presence in every breath that we can remember, seeking to unite and liberate.
Like any other YTT students, these men are hungry to partake of the gift that is yoga. They are eager to utilize it in order to give back to those who have supported them, to those who have struggled like them, to those in their communities. This sense of service is the red thread that runs through the group.
There is too much that I cannot articulate about this group and about this training, and I dare not reduce any individual or interaction to descriptions that could never suffice. Their voices are so deserving to be heard... if only those outside the walls should choose to listen. As we progress through this process, their words, art, and stories will be shared at their request. It is with deep privilege and gratitude that I am able to observe this garden of beings firsthand, to watch as the seeds flower and grow within and around us.
For myself, I am in awe. I'm now further committed to rejecting all efforts to restrain and confine such love. I will not let such beauty fall upon closed ears or into idle hands. For me, hosting a Yoga Teacher Training behind the walls of Graterford has served as a landmark, a sign of the tide turning. If I could dream so big, I would envision myself working closely alongside of other like minded individuals to expand this training to prisons nationwide.
It is not enough to provide services, the justice that we seek is more equitable, more just. We hold no answer for any other. For each person is his or her our own Guru. This is why Transformation Yoga Project's prison yoga department operates our programs in the fashion of the age old adage, "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime."
It is because of the men I've met in Graterford that I continue to do the "work" that I do. It is their names, their faces, their stories that I carry with me through the most challenging and the most inspiring parts of my job. It is all for them, it is all for me, it is for all of us. To quote Lilla Watson, "If you are coming to help me then you are wasting your time, but if you are coming because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together."
As a nation, choosing to forget these men and others like them.... To allow the system to swallow such large chunks of their time, to keep them away from the communities that they could so deeply serve is the greatest harm that we as a nation can do. Are we really willing to risk a future without such brilliant minds free to strengthen our communities and our world? Do we really want to keep choosing fear over love?
Sadly, the majority of our society seems to be complacent about mass incarceration, whereas yoga seeks to unite every bit of ourselves with our world. In a space that seeks to objectify, police, regulate, silence, and dehumanize so many people, yoga reveals that which can never be taken away from us.
DONATE TODAY TO SPONSOR THESE COURAGEOUS INDIVIDUALS WHO HAVE CHOSEN A PATH OF HEALING AND NONVIOLENCE, AND ARE MOVING AWAY FROM A LIFE OF TRAUMA AND PAIN. $50 WILL PURCHASE ONE STUDENT'S 200-YTT TRAINING MANUAL. $100 WILL FUND ALL OF ONE STUDENT'S SUPPLIES. $500 WILL PROVIDE A FULL SCHOLARSHIP FOR THE TRAINING.