The Prison Yoga Project is a small non-profit, Bay Area organization established in 2009 by James Fox for the purpose of expanding the practice of yoga and mindfulness practices to prisons worldwide.
The U.S. criminal justice system is fundamentally about punishment. It’s retributive justice. Do the crime, do the time. Prisoners aren’t made to come face to face with their crimes, to take responsibility for damage they’ve done to their victims or themselves. On average it costs $29,000 a year to imprison an adult, $45,000 in New York, more in California. Yet prisoners are released with little rehabilitative improvement, social or life skills. It’s no wonder 67% of them re-offend in California (60% US average). We have to ask ourselves, after release, what kind of person do we want coming back into our communities? At the grocery store. In a restaurant. At the park? This is why programs such as The Prison Yoga Project are fundamentally crucial to the rehabilitation and succesful reintegration of prisoners.
Based on ten years of experience teaching yoga and meditation to incarcerated youth and adults, the last nine of which have been at San Quentin State Prison, James wrote and self-published a yoga book for prisoners in December, 2009. In 2010, 4,500 books were sent to prisoners throughout the country free-of-charge. James also conducts special trainings for yoga instructors interested in teaching in prisons and rehabilitation facilities.
At present James teaches three weekly classes at San Quentin for different groups of men. Approximately 50 men are regularly involved in the program. The second half of this year James will begin training two experienced prisoner students to peer lead a fourth class. He has also identified two men whom has he has taught for several years and will be paroling from prison in 2013, that we would like to be able sponsor for a 200 hour RYT training after their release.
Testimonials / Quotes from Current and Former Prisoners:
''Yoga and its emphasis on the power of a single breath has promoted for me a respect for life and a profound realization of the destructive force of violence.'' - S.L.
''I have a strengthened identity with self and a sense of something universal. It has given me the ability to affect my own well being and peace without dependency upon someone else or chemical substance.'' - T.W.
''I used drugs and alcohol for many years basically to kill the pain of my life. Yoga has helped clear my mind, deal with the pain, move into the present and just love myself and who I am.'' - J.B.
''I truly believe I have found a process (in yoga) to deal with my personal struggles without medicating. I have found a path to calming myself when faced with adversity, and quieting my mind to see the world from a different perspective.'' - P.U.
''It was mainly because of the inner peace and trust that I have developed and nurtured through my Yoga practice that I was able to respond to a potential violent situation with calm.'' - B.B.
''In my opinion the teacher has thrown a pontoon to a bunch of swimmers who believe they are not going to make it because we can't see the shore. Yoga is remarkable.'' - M.S.
''What I received from the yoga classes is an avenue to live a life that is, well, so much more alive. I've learned that I can live in the present with an awareness I never felt possible and lead a life that is healthy, grounded and true.'' - T.L.
''I am grateful to the powers that be for having put a teacher such as yourself in my life. I have reconciled myself to a life of sobriety and plan to seriously pursue my spiritual practices, especially Yoga.'' - R.C.