Yogis Behind Bars
v.30 | Seeking mat donations for incarcerated kiddoes.
Hiya Yogafolk —
I have worked in the juvenile justice system for much of my adult life, bringing trauma-informed yoga, meditation, crafting, and writing to incarcerated teenagers. I’m humbled to currently practice beside a group of detained male-identified folks that are consistently eager to explore their bodies, minds and spirits for an hour each week.
I’d love to bring this special group of yogis fresh mats (there are only a few communal mats on the unit), and ideally some very light foam blocks as well. Do you have any (unused, clean) extras lying around your studio or home? I can pick up supplies if you’re local or adjacent to San Francisco. Or perhaps you’re not local, but you’re able to donate some dollars to the gents’ supplies? You can do so via PayPal or Venmo with the note “Mats & Blocks.”
I truly believe that we live in a broken system — the United States locks up more children than any other country in the world! And I wholeheartedly trust that justice begins with each one of us. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr: None are free til all are free. As a liberatory practice, yoga cracks open that possibility. Below, a few resources to get a glimpse of prison life, reform, and alternatives.
If you’ve asked me for a podcast rec, you’ve heard me preach the gospel of Ear Hustle. It’s an incredible pod about the daily realities of life inside prison — shared and produced by those living it. There are also potent stories from the outside, as told by folks post-incarceration.
Robert Sturman photographs yogis behind bars, and the impact yoga has on incarcerated folks’ lives. He has focused in particular in documenting the work of The Prison Yoga Project. Sturman says: “We live in a world where the photograph is a tremendous influential communicator of ideas. The Prison Yoga Project was such a deep, profound body of work I knew that if I did this, if I told their stories through photography then the program would grow through social media. Photographs are power, they’re ideas. When you present an idea at first it can be abstract and sometimes shocking. It can be confusing to people but when they see photographs, they get it because if you see it enough the idea can be heard.” | via Yoga Digest
It’s one thing to educate ourselves about the realities of life, and practice inside prison. It’s another to question the system entirely — a large, and necessary task in this one citizen’s opinion.
Vera is comprised of activists, advocates and researchers who work to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems. They develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone in the system is treated with dignity.
The website is vast, so if you’re looking for a good place to start, check out Vera’s publication exploring prison practices in Germany and the Netherlands, and in what ways the United States might benefit from similar approaches. The Guardian also shares a less dense read on the subject. Relatedly, there is a possible change in tides at San Quentin, thanks to inspiration from Norway’s approach to incarceration that focuses on preparing people to return to society.
Headings and illustrations for Yogafolk are by Leah Tumerman and Chelsey Dyer.