The below letter was written by a young woman named Ruth Tracey, who has just finished serving time in the Richmond City Prison for theft. She wrote this letter the day before she was released, and recounts her transformative experience with yoga and prayer.
AYNY has been partnering with Robbie Norris, who runs the Richmond City Prison Yoga project, for the past two years. He is about to open a school in downtown Richmond that will gear itself towards providing a safe space for inmates who have been released from prison to come, practice, meditate, and re-engage with society.
Ruth Tracey will be his first assistant.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
My Yoga testimony — Ruth Tracey
I remember myself as a child between 4-6 years old always playing on the floor, putting
myself in full lotus lifting myself off the ground swinging back and forth like an old
country porch swing, attempting to walk around on my hands. Back then I had no
knowledge of yoga, its uses or benefits. I was just a kid exploring my body’s flexibility,
trying to make myself and my family laugh to escape the pressures of early childhood
trauma. As I grew older and learned how to read, I took refuge in books, immersing
myself in their stories so I wouldn’t have to face my reality, reading all day, and if it was
a good book, all night, becoming a real introvert. The days of experimenting with the
limits of my body’s flexibility were over.
By the time I was 17 I became interested in yoga again. By then I was already a
criminal, though I hadn’t been caught yet. I feel ashamed, yet oddly get a sense of
freedom admitting that I stole books — among other things my parents couldn’t or
wouldn’t buy me –books on various religions and spiritual systems, languages, yoga
and philosophy. Paradoxical, yes, very. I was excited about yoga, but my interest in it
was very superficial — focusing solely on the positions, completely underestimating the
importance of or downright ignoring the breathwork and meditation aspects of the
practice. Then it became something I only did when I was bored– hardly a healthy
practice. So it’s no surprise that I eventually stopped practicing altogether.
Through the years that followed my interest in yoga waxed and waned, but I started
doing a deeper reading on the subject. I was at a time in life where I was believing in all
these philosophies, but practicing very few — living life as a hypocrite. When I read that
one of the 8 limbs was non stealing, I stopped “practicing” again feeling guilty because I
was still addicted to stealing.
After my last run in with the law, I finally made the conscious decision to change my life
and start acting on what I said I believed, to start making things right the best I could
both for the sake of my future and for the world around me. I knew I could accomplish
great things, but not if I kept wasting my life and potential trying to cheat the energetic
Over the course of the last four months, I made it my personal mission to start taking
the steps towards becoming a healthy, whole being — and seeing it through to fruition. I
dutied myself to becoming diligent in prayer, which has helped me really believe I have
received forgiveness, helped me forgive myself and feel set free from all the guilt and
unexpressed emotions I had stored inside the recesses of my soul. When I was
transferred to Richmond City Jail and was made aware that yoga classes were being
offered, I jumped at the opportunity. This was the first time ever practicing under the
guidance of a teacher instead of just trying to teach myself from a book. Rob is an
excellent teacher. Being in his presence you feel a light, airy energy emanating from
him and it is obvious that he is deeply seated in peace. It’s inspiring, making you want
to cultivate that level of tranquility within yourself. He makes practicing yoga possible
for anyone regardless of their level of flexibility, and gives personalized attention to
advancing the practice of everyone in the class, gently pushing you to reach new
thresholds you never knew you were capable of achieving.
Yoga and meditation has improved the quality of my life in multiple ways. Most
importantly, I am learning to breathe during challenging circumstances, constructively
assess my thoughts and emotions so as to use logic in handling real world situations.
Making time and space in my life to practice daily, mustering the drive to do it even
when I’m not feeling up to it is teaching me self-discipline. As a result of dedicating
myself to daily practice I have noticed an improvement in my digestion — both of food
and the events in my life, helping me to understand and accept them better. As my
balance increases, so I am able to find my balance on the high beam of life mentally,
emotionally, and spiritually. Yoga has helped me to become more patient, knowing that
if I keep putting forth a daily effort my abilities will increase and I will be in a better state
to accept what life has to offer me. Meditation has helped me to face the root causes of
my emotional dis ease and realize that I was stealing material things trying to fill an
emotional void, that it takes effort and dedication to self to heal emotional scars —
amassing material things will never make you feel “good enough” — whether it is
acquired by legitimate means or not — if you don’t understand (and work to fix) the
reasons for your feelings of inadequacy. I have started to become more mentally
flexible, more tolerant, better able to “see” people’s energy and strengthen my own
energy field so as to repel negativity from taking root and overgrowing in my mind.
My experience has shown me that yoga is an extremely useful (I’d even go so far as to
say necessary) tool in helping people in the jail/prison systems, mental institutions,
those on the outskirts of society — everyone really — to become more whole beings,
better mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, neighbors, friends, citizens. It is especially
useful in correctional institutions since the vast majority of the residents are products of
an invisible negatively charged magnet a certain demographic calls the only life they’ve
ever known. A perpetuation of feelings of despair, hopelessness, helplessness, pain,
anger, resentment, and a whole host of negative attitudes about life passed from
generation to generation creating their realities, keeping them moving in a downward
spiral unable to evolve. Here the accessibility to yoga classes are most needed to help
people learn how to connect to that stable center within themselves and make the
necessary adjustments in viewpoints, outlook and character to completely change into
better people for themselves and those around them.
I truly believe everything happens for a reason. Though the events in my life have been
undesirable, it has ultimately been for the elevation of my soul, so I give thanks. Yoga
and meditation played a big role in my coming to that acknowledgement. If everyone
looked at life this way — especially some of the most troubled — we will have made a
huge first step towards the enhancement of our collective future. As I get ready to walk
through the doors of freedom tomorrow morning, I feel much more prepared to face the
world a new woman, take life by the horns, fulfill my (unlimited) potential, be more
grateful for life and listen to the guide I’ve had within my whole life but always ignored.
Thanks God. And thanks Rob for inspiring me to make my practice a daily ritual. The
work you do is greatly appreciated and immeasurably important. Peace