Meditating behind bars: How yoga in prisons could cut overcrowding
Yoga can teach prisoners the self-control and self-discipline that they never learned as youths.
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A few years ago, Fox founded the Prison Yoga Project, which provides trainings for yoga teachers who want to begin working in prisons. He wrote a book for prisoners on how to practice yoga on their own, and to date has received requests for around 5,000 copies, which he sends out for free. He is now guiding trainings all over the US for yoga practitioners who want to teach inmates. And eventually, he wants to start a scholarship fund to help former inmates do teacher training, so they can make a career out of the practice.
“Yoga has the potential to heal the world. It’s had a tremendous impact on my life, helping me deal with anger issues, and typical male violent tendencies that I inherited from growing up in Chicago in the '60s. I carried that with me as I grew older, and it was impacting me and the way I operate in the world,” he said. Perhaps if Fox had not been a white male, but an African-American or Latino male, who represent around70 percent of the prison population in the US, he may not have been so lucky and could have ended up in jail himself.
While the emotional benefits of teaching yoga in prisons may be unique, the arts are another way that more privileged members of society have been showing inmates that they can transcend their personal struggles. In Wisconsin, the Writers in Prisons Project has been doing this. Also, playwright Eve Ensler worked with incarcerated women, many of whom were convicted murderers, to produce a theatrical performance that was made into a film. One woman in Maryland has been providing a creative outlet for prisoners through a knitting program.
But yoga, unlike these other activities, is explicitly geared to provide lessons in self-control and emotional maturity. And what’s also new about the Prison Yoga Project is that it brings something increasingly seen as reserved for the elite into the lives of the underprivileged and the outcast.
What Fox has seen is that yoga does not discriminate: Anyone who adheres to the practice can develop mindfulness, patience, diligence, and self-motivation. Finding those skills in life can be hard enough; if people can acquire them in prison, then, Fox hopes that rampant recidivism and overcrowded prisons may one day become a thing of the past.
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