More similar than different

By Leela

I recently taught a class of 27 sentenced female offenders. As always, you’re never really sure what you’re going to ‘get’. I have an idea of the sequences I want to teach, but almost 100% of the time this plan is subject to change due to the unpredictability of life, especially that within prison!

The women were focused, engaged and curious, which made for magic. We laughed a lot whilst trying to balance even though we were wobbly – everyone just tried. The energy was so good, I was aware of how much their presence was refuelling my own low energy levels.

I ended the class telling the story of the Chinese farmer, who experiences loss and gain throughout his life. Whilst his neighbours exclaim, gosh, what a tragedy your horse ran away, or my my, how lucky you are your son wasn’t called up for the army as he is ill, his response is always the same: ‘good experience, bad experience, we’ll see…” After the class I started talking to one of the offenders. I was acutely aware that whilst she engaged with me, she didn’t make eye contact with me once. My mind wondered, does she do this because she doesn’t feel safe, do I make her nervous, does she carry shame? I’ll never know the answer and it isn’t important. But I could relate to her behaviour, to the perceived hiding, or the fear, or the shame, or the protecting oneself. She told me the story had helped her because she was incarcerated for shop lifting, trying to sustain a long-term heroin addiction. Being in prison is helping her stay clean, but she admitted that if she could walk out right now she’d head straight back to her dealer for the next hit. She’s an only child and knows that she has let her parents down. She also feels embarrassment and shame that some of the people she knew on the outside are now her prison warders.

We carry so much on our shoulders, and are SO judgmental and unforgiving of self. I don’t know what she thought of our chat, but I walked away reminded of how similar we all are, how connected to each other we are, not necessarily in life experience but in our feelings, our hopes, our fears, our judgments. I hope I see her again in the coming weeks to try help her connect with herself and her own unique higher power, which essentially is what yoga and mindfulness continues to help me with.