I found freedom inside the prison
Buenos Aires | Argentina
Yoga in prison… how come?
Isabel: We started 2,5 years ago. The rugby teacher of the prison asked us if we wanted to try yoga there. When the door of the prison opened… something inside started to open as well. Seven locks, lots of security and you get into the place where prisoners sleep. You stay with them, with no police. A very strong experience. Since then we come regularly, every Thursday. The first day when we asked them if they wanted to do yoga, they didn’t even know what yoga is, but whatever you offer them, they say yes. They are warriors already. They want to change something.
Vicky: I think at the beginning yoga didn’t interest them at all. They call us “gente de la calle”, people of the street. People who are coming to visit them. Whoever comes is welcomed. Yoga was just a sort of stretching for them. But meeting by meeting something started to change inside them and we could feel it. When you enter the prison and you start to feel free… you know that something is happening.
Why did you decide to do it?
Vicky: When you start to see what yoga does to your life, when you experience it yourself, you want to share it with others. I never thought to go to prison, I thought I can help my husband, my family, my students. But then the idea of the prison came. There was not much thinking, something inside said: yes. Yoga is a way to set free from everything, from what you are attached to, from what scares you. It has to do with prison, go to a place where they are physically imprisoned, but maybe it’s also about an inner cage. Yoga - call it as it suits you ... a philosophy, a way of living - it really does change things… They become calmer, they start to smile, look into your eyes. They start to have routine, discipline. They started to prepare themselves, physically, prepare the place, wash everything. That’s the first important change. They used to live doing nothing, just waiting in prison to go out to commit another crime. With yoga they started to look inside. They started to trust us, especially when they realized we are volunteers, we come only because of them. They started to think they are worth something.
What is the difference between today and when you started?
Isabel: There are 12 different areas in prison, divided depending on their interests, for example a sector for those who study or for those who pray. They have a routine based on that. Then they are also divided into middle security prisoners and high security ones. And of course men and women. They all have to be separated, otherwise they fight with each other. The ones who killed don't accept those who raped. We started in the rugby area, number 8. We worked with them for one year, they were happy. Suddenly we said: now we're going to zone 7. They said: you cannot go there, you are ours. We answered: no, you have to start to be gentle with others. You have to start to learn that as well. If not, you did not get what yoga is about. Yoga is service. We divided the teachers and started in zone 7. We even asked prisoners from zone 8 to help us to lead the classes. Suddenly, 8 and 7 started to look differently at each other. They had something in common.
Do you also work with women?
Vicky: It’s very difficult to teach women. Women are not motivated to do anything when they are in prison. For a long time none of them wanted to join our classes. We tried several times. Now we have 8-10 people and this brought a good change. Once they start, women are much more committed than men. I think one of the challenges is that women are more emotional, so they don’t want to connect to their feelings. The last ten minutes of a class we rest, relax. Most of them cry, even though they don’t want to. They don’t want to recall why they are there and connect with what is happening to them.
People would say: Why do you do this service for prisoners? Do it for people who are free! How do you answer that?
Isabel: I answer, why not? It’s the way to connect with my vulnerability, with my shadows. Where others see darkness, I see light, I see a boy who wants to change. Our society is spiritually poor in many ways. We all need to change. The change is in you, if you don’t change, nobody will.
Vicky: When you do something, it’s always criticized. People ask why we do it. “Let them die in prison, they made so much trouble.”- they say. We answer that everybody has to do something different. I go to the prison, you can go to poor places, hospitals... I’m glad I can go to the prison, do something for them. When they go out, they will be better neighbours to us and hopefully they won’t commit crimes again.
And you, how did you change with this experience?
Isabel: For me… My heart changed. I breathe differently. I see humanity there. I’m much more sensitive. I became myself, living my life. Nobody will tell me what to do. I want to leave something behind.
Vicky: Working on this project… I feel freer than ever. I found freedom inside a prison. Every day is different, every Thursday is different. I’m so relaxed after the classes. It’s something which goes beyond, I try to not rationalise it. Moksha, the name of our project, means freedom, interior liberation.
Isabel: There was a friend of mine whose son started to take drugs. She called me for help. I asked the guys in prison to make a video to tell him to not follow that way. When they started to speak… they cried, they knew all that pain. The son said he would not do it. They changed his life. And they can change the lives of other people, once they are out. I tell them: maybe you killed one person, but now you can save one. You have to redo what you’ve done.
Having all those experiences, what would you advise to other people?
Isabel: Do something. Wake up.
Vicky: Open your eyes. And listen to yourself. Follow your heart, not what other people say. Listen to it, even if you don’t understand, follow what you have inside. It’s never late to start, to change your life. I had a job, kids and I changed my life.
Isabel: I always tell the guys: “You will spend here, in prison, some years. How will you use them? Will you build tools which help once you are out?” Being out is much more difficult than being inside. They need to be very strong. They have to be warriors.
More about Moksha: mokshayogaenlacarcel.com.ar