Yesterday, the Governor of California mandated that residents “shelter in place.” So like many of you, my freedom of movement has been dramatically restricted. And when out in public for essentials, I am to maintain “social distancing.” Given my almost 18 years of working in prisons, the irony of the moment is not lost on me.
I’ve been contemplating the distinction between the “social distancing” and “sheltering in place” that the current circumstances have forced me into, and the social isolation and profound restrictions incarcerated people experience. My days are feeling longer; there’s a lot more empty space that is usually occupied by the busy-ness of my life. I find myself occasionally wondering, perhaps even worrying, how long will these restrictions go on? How will this impact my travel and training plans? How will this affect my financial well-being?
The Corona Virus presents us with the reality of operating in the unknown, with a lack of safety, predictability, and control. This uncertainty can throw fuel on the fire of chronic stress, and for many people, stimulate their symptoms of unresolved trauma.
I realize that what I am experiencing is just a taste, just a snippet, of what the people who are imprisoned deal with continuously on a daily and hourly basis. Feeling caged, the lack of basic physical movement, same/same day-in-and-day-out, isolation and loneliness, limited or no social interaction, monotony and absence of mental stimulation, and a profound lack of safety, predictability, and control.
By contrast, although my freedom of movement is limited, I’m in the comfort of my home. I can go outside for a walk, and get to the store for essential goods. I can read a book, use my computer, watch television, call friends. Perhaps, more importantly, I can use this time to dive deeply into my practice(s), withdraw from the constant stimulation of the outside world, my daily life, and use this time for a self-directed retreat.
I do not want to minimize that the impact of the Corona Virus may severely impact many of us. As a Sangha, a community of like-minded persons interested in each other’s highest good, we can draw on the strength and resilience of each other and engage in our practices to support us through these times. And perhaps we can find greater empathy for those we serve, not only people who are incarcerated but also others greatly restricted in movement by their circumstances.
Please take good care of yourselves and others.
Founder of Prison Yoga Project
Like all people and organizations in the “service” industry, we are and will be experiencing a “cash flow” problem as we have suspended programs and postponed training. Meanwhile, our mission to bring yoga to the millions of prisoners across the US and around the world persists.
The best way you can support Prison Yoga Project to continue our mission is to donate or to purchase a PDF copy of James’ book or a download of one of our practice videos.
You can also subscribe to our newsletter to receive a free download of James leading a Centering Practice.