Our volunteers and staff love teaching behind bars. We hear all the time from our volunteers the unique and rewarding experience it is. But what about for our Teachers Behind Bars? This is what Dwayne, one of our amazing teachers had to say:
I am standing in my room making sure I have everything I need to teach my Sunday afternoon yoga class. This is my advanced class, so I am trying to offer my students a session the isn’t just focused on asanas. I finally decided that I have everything I need, mainly my yoga journal, which has my yoga plan in it.
Today I’ve decided to offer a practice that centers on our third chakra. I have my breath cues ready; I know where they should be focusing, and I am going to add a mantra to our practice today. It should be exciting.
I have to walk from where I live in another building, it is only 900 feet away, not that far. It’s brisk out with a stiff wind and I hustle along, eager to get to my class. I walk into the building and have my ID scanned. Then I have to get my yoga cart out, which holds on it 30 yoga blocks, 20 yoga mats, a couple of straps, and a box of towels. All of it donated. In fact, the mat I practice on had in bold black ink, the name Bala. I don’t know who she is, but I am mindful to thank her for giving me the mat I practice on. All the mats have similar names inked on them identifying the person who donated to us.
I roll the cart down the hall to my classroom where some of my students are already waiting out in the hall for the door to be opened. Outside of the classroom, I’m just one of them and we joke with each other. The running joke is “Hey Dwayne, what kind of torture have you come up with today,”? I laugh and remind them that our class is based on the principle of ahimsa, to do no harm.
We enter the room, and guys grab their mats, towels, and blocks and move to their customary spots. It seems like when they enter the room a switch is flipped and they all drop into ” the yoga zone.”
I sit easy on my mat and wait for my class to settle in and I launch into it. The next two hours blur by. I love doing this, I love teaching yoga. I love my students who come to class with an open mind eager to learn, I love to see when the light comes on and a person “gets it”. This is so rewarding, and it is what keeps me engaged and loving yoga.
Who knew that I would be a yoga teacher? It crazy to think of it. I have been teaching now for three years and its hard to think of life without it.
I am now finishing up my 28th year in prison, I volunteered to participate in the first-ever yoga teacher training program. Yoga Behind Bars came into the prison to teach us inmates yoga! Wow, what were they thinking? However, I am eternally grateful for them as they have fundamentally changed my life. I truly believe that the skills I have learned on my mat, Breath, and mind-body control have helped me come to a better place in my life.
Yoga Behind Bars has changed many lives through their continued support of us. I asked some of my fellow yoga practitioners what I should write. Brett, who is in his 60’s said, “For some of us this is the only peace we ever get.” Matt said, “This class is the only program where we can work on rebuilding ourselves, yoga helps us work on our minds, our bodies, and our spirits.” and Jason said “When we’re in yoga class we cease to be the labels that are on us. We are no longer prisoners, criminals, degenerates, or any other label. We become people who also happen to be practicing yoga. For just a little while prison doesn’t exist.”
My name is Dwayne and I am in prison. But I am no longer a prisoner. Yoga has changed my life and I owe a debt of gratitude to Yoga Behind Bars director Jess Frank and her awesome cadre of volunteers for taking a chance on me. If you donate to them or get involved, know that you are having a real impact on people like me.