Twice a month I drop my kids off at school and travel from New Jersey to Rikers Island. Anyone familiar with New York City traffic can imagine that the drive is sometimes terrible. Once I get to island there are still many steps before I reach the women I am there to see. There are days I have to remind myself again and again why I take the journey despite all the time and challenges. I blast Gospel music in my minivan and I chant Loka Samasta under my breath as I wait for the bus on the island that will take me to the women’s jail. It is not always easy to put into words why I am there. Even now as I write this I worry that I can’t. But this I can say for certain: my yoga practice, my Quaker faith and my almost ten years of mothering has taught me the same lesson many times over. Love is really the only way—big, unapologetic, unconditional love. Radical Love.
This past weekend a student at our Liberation Prison Yoga Teacher Training asked a question that is likely on many people’s minds. Why such a soft and loving approach to teaching people in prisons? Criminals. A lively debate ensued and I sat wondering again how to articulate what is that I am doing when I visit Rikers. I teach prenatal yoga, meditation and mindfulness. I provide all the information I can about pregnancy, childbirth and new motherhood to women who have often been denied access to the support that would allow them to have a healing experience rather than another traumatic one. I support women who choose to breastfeed their babies in the jail nursery. But after years of serving incarcerated women I know I am doing more. I am witnessing them as mothers, survivors, daughters, and sisters–beautiful creative women. I am seeing their divine light even when they do not remember it is there and I am mirroring it back. I am holding space for their joy at feeling their babies kick and their sadness at not knowing if they will be allowed the chance to parent their child. I am listening to birth stories of babies that wait for them at home and those that they may never see again. I am showing up and loving them—radically and unconditionally.