Inspired by the dedicated actions of Ann Torruellas, a member of the Tempe Dahn Yoga Center, who has shared Bird of the Soul with the inmates of Arizona State Woman’s Prison, Perryville, Dahn Yoga Foundation is gathering 500 copies of Bird of the Soul by the end of 2014 to help people in Arizona prisons have hope for a healthier and more meaningful life.
This is Ann’s story of how the book has already helped the women she works with, as well as their family, the guards, and the guards’ families.
I have been conducting an outreach to the Arizona State Woman’s Prison, Perryville, since February of this year. I go every Thursday and teach up to 4 classes and 2 trainings. I go only once a week currently because it is a 50 mile drive each way. This might sound like a lot, but it is the highlight of my week. It also has become a day that flies by, spurred on by the miracles I am so grateful to witness.
The unit I teach at is the maximum security unit, Lumley. This unit was picked by the warden, because of the tough environment. These inmates are the forgotten ones, the ones others have given up on, the throwaways. Thursday is visitor’s day and no one is there but me. What I see is different. I see mothers, grandmothers, daughters, nieces, and aunts who have lost their way. Human beings who have lost touch with their souls and divinity.
The inmates had always enjoyed my classes, but once the Bird of the Soul book was introduced, there was a shift—a shift so dynamic you could feel it and see it. At the first training, I read the book to the whole class, and there was not a dry eye in the room. They were so touched that they started to share their feelings. You must understand that in a prison environment you cannot be considered weak. The sharing started the releasing of guilt, shame, hopelessness, and worthlessness. They discovered the power of this, and now understand it as a strength.
The next week, I could see a brightness on their faces that had never been there before. I could sense the energy of the whole unit had changed. I then was able to tell them that each of them would receive their own Bird of the Soul book. I was asked by one of the inmates if I could send one to a family member, who needed healing. So now I take the addresses so I can send their family books.
So on this week 2 of training, we paired off and read the book to each other using the name of the person we were reading to. I started to cry as I read to one of the ladies, but did not know why. As I finished I saw she was crying as well. She told me that no one had ever read a story to her. She told me that both her parents were drug addicts. She never knew what hope or what self-worth was until now.
One of the other classes turned into a discussion about life, how they were feeling. One of the ladies stated she knew why she was there, in prison—she needed to heal. She was then going to be able to bring this healing back to the reservation when she was released.
The inmates then started to share with the Correctional Officers. I also gave them books. They too have shared stories of miracles in their families. I have seen a change in them as well: brighter and happier. They have started a book club with the inmates using The Call of Sedona by Ilchi Lee as their first book.
I could go on and on with one story after another of the changes, which I can only describe as miracles. One of my classes is one-on-one because the student is a death row inmate. She is brought to me in chains. I did the Bird of the Soul meditation with her, and she was crying. She told me she is reconciled to the fact she will never leave prison, but wants to heal enough to start sending positive healing energy out to the world.
This last one is the most profound transformation I am privileged to have witnessed. This inmate was stone-faced and cold. She would come in and direct a few other inmates to where they could sit and who could not sit in her section. But by the third week of Bird of the Soul training, I could see was brighter and a bit happier when she arrived. This week I did the first meditation on the CD. I was observing the class and caught her transform. Her face went from the most hardened to soft and bright. She just started to glow and smile from ear to ear.
I found out she has been sharing the message of Bird of the Soul to others. I also learned about her past. She is the only female inmate in Arizona that is labeled a threat due to her gang affiliation.
She came to me this week and we had a discussion about being happy and wanting others to be happy, and living as a benefit to all. She told me that is what she is now doing. I now see her as a leader of a positive “gang” in the prison yard. All I can tell you is her smile is so wide, and she just glows.
The dynamics have also changed between the prisoners and their families. They tell me stories of how their conversations are now positive and constructive. They discuss how they are healing and how their families have hope, all because they share the miracle of Bird of the Soul.
The inmates are all so grateful for the books, but there are so many more inmates to reach. I found a way to get books to 4 other units and the response has been overwhelming. I feel this book is a miraculous transformational gift and needs to be shared with all.
My vision, which I know is truly our (Dahn Yoga Foundation’s) vision, is to heal these woman. As these woman heal, their families heal, and society is healed. We will ignite this healing, we will witness the change, and we will be the change. I ask for your help with donations of books.