Prison guard blues

Youth in Prison (Incarceration Issues: Punishment, Reform, and Rehabilitation)I taught walking meditation to my two classes at the youth correctional institute on Monday night. The first class consisted of three young men. A male guard was in the room, the library, for the first part of the class, working on the computer. So I introduced the meditation, and as we began slowly walking around the room in a circle, we heard the magical sound of Windows starting.

But actually, this shows me how accustomed I have become to the prison environment. For while this new sound (of Windows starting) seemed intrusive, I didn’t even notice the enormous clanging sound of the heavy prison doors in the hallway outside the room slamming shut repeatedly throughout the class, which had seemed like a shock to my soul-body when I first started teaching there.

We made it one and a half times around the room in the five minutes, and the young men seemed to be in a calm, quiet space after the meditation. The guard left, and the rest of the class was tranquil and flowing. I explained that they could use the walking meditation when they are feeling upset. The focus on the feet, which usually are not upset (unless they happen to be sore or injured), helps the meditator to shift into a more positive state. At least, that’s the theory!

The next class was the young women. This time a female guard came to the class and participated in it too. This is a wonderful development, which, as teachers with Yoga Outreach, we are encouraged to promote. For the guards no doubt can benefit from the yoga as much as the students.

But this time, the presence of the guard presented a new challenge, which I had never encountered before. For she had done yoga before (from a video) and thought it was appropriate to offer corrections to the students during the poses, as well as to give orders to maintain discipline in the class! So during the silent walking meditation she gave orders to the students to be quiet when they were giggling. And it went downhill from there. I totally lost control of the class, and it was a complete disaster! A new learning for me.

A few days after the fact, I can feel some appreciation for the universe bringing me this opportunity to learn new skills as a teacher. I now know that if a guard joins the class, I need to take her aside and lay down the ground rules; she is there as a student only, and must leave the class control to me!We're All Doing Time: A Guide for Getting Free

The final straw was when the students and guard were lying in savasana (corpse pose), the final resting pose that is the traditional way to end a yoga class. The guard took a call on her radio headset (which she had been wearing throughout the class and which occasionally emitted noises), and started speaking into it, from her mat. (Rather than leaving the room so as not to disrupt the students who were in a quiet, resting state after being very rambunctious throughout the class.) Then she said to the students, “OK, time to go get your meds.”

At this point my strength arose, and I took back control of the class. I have a strong sense of ritual and there are certain things that MUST be observed, such as ending the class in the traditional way. I said “I am not finished. I am ending the class, and need one more minute.” I gently brought the students out of sivasana, and we closed with the traditional Namaste salutation (which means “the divine light in me greets the divine light in you”). After saying Namaste to the students and thanking them for sharing their practice with me, I turned to the guard (who left the circle and did not participate for the closing) and said Namaste to her. After they all left I put away the equipment and drove home, furious with the guard for undermining my authority in the class, and with myself for not knowing how to handle it.

I must say, I felt much more compassion and understanding for my Diamond Approach teachers, whose classes I have interrupted and disrupted many times. Now the shoe is on the other foot! And walking meditation did not help me to regain my ground. It took a strong talking-to to my superego, who was having a field day with me for not handling the situation well, before I started to calm down.

The joys of being a wild woman and putting myself in situations where the unpredictable can happen! Of course, this is where learning and growth can occur. Even though it didn’t help me right in the moment, I still recommend walking meditation, for it will help us all develop a connection with something that is deeper than our emotional state. And in spite of all the disruption in the class, it was beautiful to see how one of the young women in the class really connected with the earth energy through her feet from doing this meditation.

So keep practicing!

If you are interested in more information about the benefits of teaching yoga and meditation to people in prison, check out this link to the UK organization The Phoenix Prison Trust. Once you’re at the site, click Why we do it.

2 thoughts on “Prison guard blues”

  1. This story touches me on several levels – the struggle with practice, personal work with the superego, distractions are realty too, but mostly the magnanimity of it all.

  2. Thanks, John. Although the whole situation was uncomfortable for me, I’m glad I could do more of the struggling on the inside and let the outer behaviour be kind.

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