Yoga in Prison – a NYT Slideshow

By BitcoDavid

The New York Times did a photo-essay on the burgeoning trend of teaching yoga to inmates, as an attempt at corralling the recidivism problem.

Even though states’ spending on corrections has quadrupled during the past two decades, to $52 billion, the rate of recidivism has remained stubbornly high, with roughly four in 10 adult American offenders returning to prison within three years of their release, according to a report from Pew Charitable Trusts.

http://www.thehindu.comPage no longer available. Link is citation purposes only.
Page no longer available. Link is for citation purposes only.

This program was started 12 years ago in California, when a man named James Fox founded the Prison Yoga Project. Since then, 20 institutions throughout the U.S. have adopted similar programs.

At least 20 prisons now offer yoga through the Prison Yoga Project, a program that began in California 12 years ago when its founder, James Fox, began teaching yoga to at-risk youth. Mr. Fox holds trainings for yoga teachers and said he has sent more than 7,000 copies of his manual to inmates to practice yoga on their own.

The above images are not part of the original NYT article, as their artwork was inaccessible. However, you can go here to see the original slide show.

You can also find more coverage at:

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

Just Visiting

The grounds are beautiful at the facilities I visit at the State Prison, Department Of Correction. I walk past careful beds of flowers, not a weed in sight. There are no trees or shrubs, though, nothing to interfere with the line of sight. We, the visiting group, go through the main door and into a small reception area with armed officers, two women, one man. Others come and go. They check my name and take my driver’s license, which they say they will return when we leave. They pat us down. No homemade treats are allowed. The other members of the party are checked out and we are sent through a door that clangs behind us. There is another steel door ahead of us, not yet open, so we stand between the doors, crowded into the space, maybe ten feet square, holding what we have brought. This is the moment when the unique experience of prison is made plain to me. The officers are unsmiling and show no emotion – their faces are blank and there is none of the anxiety-easing small talk of normal interchange. As visitors, we are potential sources of trouble. The door ahead of us is opened and clangs shut behind us. Ahead is a corridor whose walls have lists of rules and announcements: There will be a class beginning in Bible study on Thursday in room etc. GED classes will begin again next week. The prison newsletter is open for submissions.

We walk to a room led by a guard who opens the doors for us. The prisoners, in green scrubs are already there. The halls have a smell of disinfectant. This room is slightly better.

We are here to conduct Jewish services in the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the two stellar holidays of the Jewish year. We are bringing sealed supermarket items for a holiday meal. There can be nothing special, nothing handmade. We sit with the prisoners, one and one at the table, chatting for a few minutes. The prayer service begins. We take turns reading.

The room is square and large enough for the 12 of us to sit comfortably on the not very comfortable chairs. It is lit with florescent tubes and faint light from barred windows so dirty that the light comes through them filtered and muzzy.

In the middle of the service, two guards come in. Immediately, the prisoners stand and go to one end of the room, facing the center. A list is read. Each man responds to the number with his own number. The prisoners show no expressions of annoyance or impatience that this rare time with us has been interrupted. The speed with which they respond lets us know that no expressions of irritation or words of impatience are tolerated, even though the guards knew we were here and could have put off the count until we left.

The count completed, the guards leave and we go back to our service and then give out the paper plates and plastic spoons, which will later be collected. We unwrap the less than appetizing food and begin to eat. We have been chatting all the while. Have they been able to light candles for Sabbath prayers? No. What have they watched or read that they have liked lately? Sometimes we laugh together. Newspapers and entertainment programs are scanned here, and edited to weed out acts of violence. We answer questions if we can. Partisan political news is expunged. What is or is not allowed the prisoners changes from day to day and no complaints about this are tolerated. Little planning can be counted on, few plans made. This keeps the escape rate low, but it also infantilizes the inmates.

There is, at all times, a low-key but constant tension in the prison. No one is at ease. Our meal over, we embrace the prisoners and knock on the door – we have been locked in – and the guard opens it an escorts us back the way we have come and to the office. We get our driver’s licenses back and anything that was taken from us as being potentially dangerous or forbidden. Three hours have passed. It feels like all day.

As I think of what a deaf prisoner might experience, especially if no other Deaf are in the facility, I realize how easily misinterpretations can occur. Deaf people use lots of physical actions, signs and expressions. Even when they are not using Sign for speaking, they tend to gesture, to give and reflect facial and body movements, their only ways of understanding emotion and motivation. No one lip-reads that well. The deadpan prison expression in guards and inmates gives them no clues as to what is being requested or implied. There is every kind of room for misinterpretation and misunderstanding. The physicality – gestures, facial expressiveness and simple inability to hear are all, contrary to prison culture. Deaf people depend on cues not given in the prison subculture. No wonder their behavior write-ups and bad reports are double those of ordinary inmates. No wonder their sentences are ramped up due to bad behavior.






Third Letter From California Deaf Inmate

Here is the third letter from this CA Deaf inmate. You, the reader, read of hopelessness and tragedy in the beginning. But, I told him the truth of a possibly brighter future, and he responded. In each letter, he gets better emotionally – as you will see.

I edited it a little to insure his safety, and to give it consistency.


Dear Ms. Pat Bliss,

    I received a beautiful card from some of your friends, you will never fully understand how much and important your letters and cards mean to me.
    In prison, staff and officers and Doctors never do as the law say, they do as they wish. Inmates in prison are considered nothing and Deaf inmates are treated and considered less-than-nothing. In prison, something must happen to me before officers and Doctors will help me or protect me. I told a Doctor of my living situation and he say the only thing they can do is place me in ad-seg – the hole.

[I told him that being black or Deaf will not prevent success in landing a job upon paroling but being unskilled will – this is his response.]

I do know plumbing, janitory work, installing carpet. I know when I parole I’ll self employ, create my own jobs. I want a plumbing company with Deaf workers.

[He held different jobs before arrested at 31.]

    It’s my first time incarcerated and my last. I parole **, 2014. I want to see that day so I’ll suffer in silence. Before I didn’t know God, throughout my life I’ve attempted suicide 4 times. Being rejected at birth, growing up deaf and never fitted in anywhere, I now know if I’m gonna make it, I need God. I’ve never been able to trust or depend on another human being. I’m not looking for riches or material things, all I want is someone to love and who will love me. So after 25 years in prison, your prayers and letters give my joy, you give me the will to keep going. Having conversation [by letter] with you and knowing you care a little about me as a person, helps me see some things differently about people around me. Please write soon, your forever friend. ***

A Radio for the Deaf

[It’s a rare pleasure to get some good news from a Deaf prisoner, and this letter is one example. As I write Felix Garcia’s story, I thought I would like to share this letter from him, with you – our readers.

Pat Bliss]

Image Courtesy Pat Bliss


Ms. Patricia Bliss

Hello Mom! :) Yesterday they called me to the property room and gave me my special radio and a letter from you. It was the day before yesterday that I called you on the phone. Wow Mom. The radio works great with this new hearing aid. Right now I have several Christian stations in preset. I have 88.9, 94.5, 91.5 and 89.7. And they’re great. I sing in Sign language. I can’t understand all the words but Mom this is great. I love it so much. It’s the hearing aids that made the difference. I can see now with a very strong set of hearing aids I can do almost anything. I let all the other Deaf try out the system using my new hearing aid and they were shocked on how strong this new hearing aid is. The radio does not work on any of their hearing aids except for one guy which shocked me also. I still have my old hearing aid and it works with that one but nothing like this new one. It still does not work with the T.V. and that’s because there is something wrong with the T.V. or the box but I get Christian stations and Christian songs. Yeah!!!!! :)

This morning I did a Bible study at 5 in the morning on 88.9 called Weapon of Praise, Psalm 9:1-3 and 2 chronicles 20:1-22. It was great. The Lord has truly blessed me this day. What other Christian music can I get? Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy, :)

Oh, I like this song that’s on now. It’s called “When I’m Alone with You.” {Calling me away when I’m alone with you – your glory shines, when I’m running again – all I have is you – you break this heart of stone}.

Image courtesy Pat Bliss

God, Mom. It feels so good to hear Christian music again. I love God so much. It’s my way of singing to Him. I cry out in songs with Signing. He loves us Mom, God is good. He really watches out for us. I just want to be around Him so much. Music, music, music. :) I’m so happy. This morning I prayed – for Jesus to wrap me up in this music and hide me. I slept so good last night.

He will make all things new, as we wait, as we watch, come because he is calling you. Just now I looked at the guy and said wake up. God loves you, and tomorrow is not promised, don’t miss out on the truth. Don’t let it pass you by. You may not get another chance. From the beginning of time, God has reigned and there is no other. Don’t be fooled by a false God. You owe it to yourself. Jesus is the only way. Be a rising star on the winning team. Look around you at this horrible place. Now look out that window at God’s creation, a lizard, a butterfly, the trees and the sky. God is good – all the time.

Happy Mother’s Day


I love you :)

Your Son

[Letter transcribed by BitcoDavid]

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