Monday, September 17, 2012

Self-Correction in the Richmond City Jail -- Keith Kaplan and Andre Garnett

Great things are happening in my small yoga world, which I will be writing about in the coming month.

My MCV medical student class is about to begin.

Individuals taking private lessons; boys at Oak Ridge Juvenile Correctional Center; and Richmond City Jail inmates are all experiencing changes exceeding their expectations.

These positive changes are a direct result of sustained daily practice of the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga postures, as taught to many superb yoga practitioners directly by Pattabhi Jois, and by these excellent teachers to me.

Last Thursday night I practiced with my guys at jail.  Occasionally I do this so they can see that I give the same effort and attention I ask them to give.  I instruct them to practice only as much as they specifically know in order; and to stop, remain silent, sit and watch when they either get tired or get to a point in the practice where they don't know what comes next.  Some inmates initially resist the notion of my being so specific, but soon enough they realize the beauty of internalizing a specific meditation practice that improves overall health and increases awareness on many levels.  With 14 guys packed into the small chapel, pews upended and mats just inches apart, it was the best self-practice session with the inmates I've ever had.  The yoga continues to be taken more seriously in the jail, as more and more students are observed practicing in their tier on days class is not held.  The tiers hold 100 or more inmates in a very confined space (triple-bunk beds).  These days, when new students arrive, they are already impressed from having seen other inmates working on their self-practice.

Below are letters from two inmates who have each been practicing for about three months.  

Keith Kaplan, age 23, handed me the following letter at the beginning of Thursday night's class.  You can see Keith's handwritten letter here.

September 14, 2012

Coming into the Richmond City Jail the last thing I thought I’d be doing is Yoga.  I figured I’d work out, you know push-ups, pull-ups, things like that.  Never Yoga.  Now here I am with Robbie as my instructor, teaching me the practice.  This has been an amazing experience and I’m stoked to have learned this newfound glory.

Living inside these walls is not easy and I’m faced with day-to-day struggles which I’m powerless over.  Deprived of my physical freedom, yoga is my mental escape.  While on this emotional roller coaster, yoga has leveled me out and balanced my mind and body.  I can’t remember the last time I looked forward to doing something that was good for me.  This has really lifted my spirits.

Yoga has opened my eyes and slowed my mind enough for me to see the bigger picture.  This has been a long strange journey for me of self-searching and self-discovery.  I’m starting to find myself more & more through the practice.  I can see myself through eyes I’ve never looked through and it’s beautiful.  I’m beginning to see life for what it is and how it works.  I used to wander aimlessly through my mind but now I’m beginning to find purpose.  It’s an experience of ecstasy.  I feel almost reborn.

I can’t thank Robbie enough for what he’s done for me.  As well as the numerous other guys that have been unfortunately fortunate enough to have met Robbie here.  Robbie you have opened my eyes to a new beauty and blessed me with a new way of life.  Thank you for caring, your time, and your patience.  You’re awesome, dude!!!

With Much Love,

Keith Kaplan

Andre Garnett, 35, gave me the following letter a few weeks ago.  Below his letter I have typed its transcript.

"I remember the day my homie Colin asked me to attend a yoga class being offered at the Richmond City Jail w/ him.  I thought to myself, “Dude you’re 30 plus years old, have not conditioned your body to do something that excessive in years, are already dealing with a lot as is.”  This was in 2009, so fast forward 3 years and here I am taking the same class @ the same jail with the same instructor as Colin asked me to attend before.  I wish I hadn’t been so closed minded to the benefits of yoga then.  B-cuz I’m sure I’d be further along in my practice than I currently am.  What I like so much about replacing a calisthenic workout with Ashtanga Yoga is not only do the movements focus on stretching and building the muscles, joints, ligaments – but the focus of core breathing with the change of each position, coupled with fixed focal points, forces an inner meditation that truly brings mind and body to one universal place of happiness or tranquility.  No matter if one has a physical ailment of the body or finds oneself in a mental state of confusion, frustration, or sadness, from day-to-day events.  Ashtanga Yoga, in correct practice, tends to address all these issues.  Being incarcerated and practicing Ashtanga Yoga gives me an outlet to relieve the stress that builds up every day.  The two classes a week with Robbie are the only things I’ve come to look forward to on a weekly basis.  My personal practice is used to perfect the asanas (postures) and free my mind on a daily basis.  This is a practice I’m now thankful of discovering and plan to incorporate into the rest of my life.  My goal in my practice is to be able to one day teach this art just as effectively as it is being taught to me.  Thank you Robbie for your dedication to this way of life and may I one day aid in spreading it to those in need.


Andre Chaka Garnett
Garnett Industries
Ice Cold"