After years wanting and 17 months waiting, I finally got the email that the prison is opening back up for yoga. I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to call it a correctional facility but that suggests there is correcting going on. I’m not here to preach about the system although I may stray into that territory. The fact that right now as I’m typing this Microsoft Word made this suggestion for correctional facility: "clarity, Direct language is clearer and won’t confuse a reader, Prison or Jail." Who am I to argue with my laptop?
Because it had been so long I had to go back in for a refresher training. I was a little nervous but nothing like the first time. During the pandemic I took a training with Prison Yoga Project, and it really shifted the way I thought about the system, the incarcerated and what role I could play. I went in feeling more educated but in some ways less confident. Having a greater knowledge of the system from the beginning, to incarceration, to parole really changed how I viewed my own ability, my experiences and what I could offer. When I say the beginning I’m not talking about the time of arrest. I’m talking about the history of this country, the racism, the deliberate exclusion of groups of people to basic rights and resources. The how’s and the why’s of unaddressed trauma passed down through generations. The system is rigged and if you get caught in it you are setup to fail. These are the things growing up a middle-class white woman I have little personal experience with, and this is where I have learned and have a deeper understanding.
When you change the way you look at something, you feel it in much different ways. Two people sitting at the same table facing each other will describe a room very differently so isn’t it then true that where we see things, how we learn something is only a small fraction of a bigger truth. I’ve approached this class with a completely different view than I would have 17 months earlier. As gross as it feels I have to admit that I would have come to the class with a feeling of superiority. I didn’t know that at the time, and I certainly wouldn’t have believed it but knowing how I feel now, how the whole situation physically mentally and emotionally feels different I know that’s the ugly truth. We can have wonderful intentions of helping others but helping is coming from a place above, using your strength to help someone weaker. I didn’t get that before. I’ve now come with an offer to serve. To serve with my weaknesses, my limitations, my joys, and my sorrows, with all the beautiful and dark places in me. To reach across not down and hold as tight to you as you to me. We don’t know what we don’t know and until we see, hear, and experience something differently we didn’t realize there was something we didn’t know, ya know? When you’re young and you have a crush on someone, maybe you think that’s love, that’s all you know but when you finally do feel love you realize the difference. That’s the difference between helping and service. Helping feels good for a time but it’s draining. Service is a calm gratitude that sustains itself and feeds all of us.
The amazing thing is that all these observations and realizations, all this new insight into myself are before I even taught the damn class! I'm thankful for those seventeen months. Now I step into the prison with the humility and honesty they deserve.