I know I usually start when we check-in but I feel like I need to toss a little plug in for the drive down to Seward. We weren’t able to get down there for a few weeks because of questionable road conditions and my lack of a 4-wheel drive vehicle, so we decided to leave early on Sunday morning and make the drive down regardless of the state of the highway (well… not regardless regardless, but barring anything besides an active blizzard or tsunami).
Besides the section from Anchorage to Girdwood being a little dicey and a whole lot windy, the roads were more or less sanded and my humble Toyota Camry (coupled with David’s winter driving skills) got us there safe and sound. As many of us Alaskans know, the two-ish hour drive south to Seward is breathtakingly beautiful but it had been quite some time since I’ve made it at the same time first light was happening. First light is that quietly magical time before sunrise when the first bit of light hits the sky and you have the amazing opportunity to witness the sky getting lighter and lighter until the eventual sunrise, which in this case was about an hour later. I don’t need to tell you about the beauty of an Alaskan sunrise in winter, but there’s an added bonus when you throw a dash of first light and a pinch of bombing down the highway to max into the mix.
Once we arrive, we make our way through the long, narrow corridor to the main visitor entrance (which for some reason is always extra freezing and usually smells strongly like men’s cologne). I press the little black button on the intercom and a voice chirps back almost immediately.
“Can I help you?”, the voice asks. “Hello”, I respond cheerfully, “we’re here to teach yoga!”
The voice on the other end tells me it might be a while before someone can check us in, but we should head on into the lobby and wait. When we finally check in and get our radio and badges, we head through the heavy clank-clank-clank doors down the stairs and through the gym. We see some of the guys right away sitting on the bleachers outside of the entrance to the Educational hall waiting. They greet us with smiles and hello-how-are-you’s and we all head into the chapel that Big Black has already transformed from a regular old multi-purpose room to a sacred yoga studio space.
Today we start with the portion of class that is always the most profound to me: checking in regarding how all of our practices are going. There’s a somber energy I start picking up on when the guys start to express their anxieties regarding the infamous out of state transfer. If you’ve followed the DOC drama in Alaska, then you’ve probably heard rumors about some of our prison population being transferred to out of state facilities. But when you are the actual prisoner in this system and your fate is constantly up in the air, you’ve got to navigate your way through the rumors you hear, deciphering what is true and what is simply thrown out there for shock value.
One of our students shares that he’s been harnessing the strength of his practice to get him through a particularly challenging phase. Not that you’d know anything about this whatsoever… but his job is finally getting to him. He holds one of the higher paying positions inside working as a peer mentor to those on his mod (which also happens to be the mental health mod). One of the perks of this job is that he has a “solo” (a cell with no cellmate, or “celly” as they’re called inside) which for some would be a reason in itself to keep this job indefinitely. He shares his experience providing direction for his peers to get on the right track including being available for counsel and advice, which classes to take and which groups to join. He describes what it’s like to get invested and be a positive role model, guiding his fellow prisoners in order for them to shorten their sentences and be released into society as productive individuals. And then he describes the frustration and dissatisfaction that ensues when he witnesses the revolving door phenomena: prisoners being released and coming right back in due to various reasons.
And that’s when Jdubbs chimes in.
“It’s not your job to make the plants grow. You plant the seed and give them water… but it’s up to them to grow.”
This sums up so much in such a simple, yet profound way. I start thinking about all the times I have been disappointed or disillusioned by outcomes that were beyond my control. What are we actually disappointed in when something doesn’t go according to plan? Is it the realization that we have no actual control, or the frustration with ourselves for getting so invested and attached to a specific outcome? These truths swirl through my mind as we come to the end of check-ins and begin practice. I release these thoughts as best as I can and begin to find my breath.
Before I know it, it’s time to clean our mats and put the room back in working order. We all shuffle around, putting blocks away and organizing books, papers and mats. We say our goodbyes, walk through the gym and wait for the heavy clank-clank-clank doors to unlatch and let us out into the free world. The roads are starting to freeze as we make our way north back to Anchorage, where we will go about our lives as normal, keeping these profound experiences and truths tucked away in our back pockets.