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Emotional Pain

I made it a point to visit each of the men privately at some point during the program. On one visit, a man told me that he had decided to drop out of the program. He said he didn’t like hearing other people’s stories. As he was speaking, he fidgeted and could barely hold back the tears. We were in an interview room with the door closed so I invited him to take a deep breath and take his time and tell me why it was so hard for him. He shared that his father and his uncle had both died since he was in prison and that he didn’t get to go to the funerals. He went on to share some of the other huge losses in his life, none of which had been mourned. As he spoke he became more and more relaxed and by the end of our conversation he had decided to continue with the program. He didn’t say so, but it was clear to me that it had been too hard for him to hold it together in a room where other people were sharing openly, when he himself was not ready to be open in that way. It was still too threatening to transgress that part of the jail culture.

Mindful awareness can open a floodgate of unresolved pain and grief. Early on I make sure the men know how to access all of the resources in the jail: the trauma counsellor, chaplains, native elder, drug and alcohol counsellors, psychologist. And I also encourage them to dip into their pain one thimble-full at a time. The yoga practice is so helpful for preparing the men to begin to work with emotional pain because we practice over and over staying with physical discomforts in an open relaxed way.

Other facilitators might not have the time or access to visit their participants but I have found these visits to be invaluable to the rapport-building and the willingness to go deeper for the men in the program.

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