Second Chances

yoga in prisonYou wake up to find yourself in a small room with gray walls.  It’s still dark outside, but the fluorescent lights are blinding.  Your back hurts.  A guard yells and you scramble off your cot.  It’s 6:00 am and time for showers.  From the second you wake up until you return to bed, you are told what to do, where to go, and how to act.  You are just a number, one of thousands, expected to keep quiet and obey.  You are constantly tense and on edge, prepared for violence that could break out at any moment.

For millions of Americans serving time in prison, this is their reality.  For some, this will be how they spend the rest of their lives.  While physical violence is a constant threat, perhaps a more damaging aspect of prison life is the symbolic violence associated with forced subordination.  Over time, the dehumanizing effect of life behind bars takes its toll on the psyche.  Thanks in part to severe overcrowding over the past few decades, institutions that were originally created as rehabilitation centers for the individual have become containment centers for the masses.  Instead of preparing individuals for reentry into society by giving them tools for reform, often prisons simply hold offenders until their time is up, leaving many to walk out in worse condition than before.  The problem is not that prisoners lack interest in rehabilitation programs, but that there is a lack of opportunity.  Prisoner #1145256 from Coffield Prison in Tennessee Colony, Texas explains his frustration:

“The best thing about prison is that it’s a much-needed time-out.  It’s an opportunity for a person to regain their sanity after losing it to drug and alcohol abuse.  It’s a good time for someone to regroup and reflect upon who they are and where they are going.  Most importantly, I feel, it’s a time to grow morally and spiritually.  But instead of offering any real guidance or counseling and dealing with each offender on an individual basis, the system, being so overwhelmed, “panics” and simply assigns a number, letting each person sink or swim.”

In spite of these conditions, many prisoners have found solace in religion, spirituality, and meditation. In 2002, James Fox founded the Insight Prison Project, which offers yoga and meditation at San Quentin State Prison in California.  Testimonials from prisoners with whom he has worked show that yoga has helped many of them rediscover a sense of purpose, overcome addiction and better understand the consequences of their actions.  It has also helped them find inner peace to help cope with day-to-day violence and negativity that surrounds them.

My personal interest in criminal justice comes from a compassion for people stuck in cycles of social inequality that reinforce patterns of poverty and crime.  I strongly believe that rehabilitation is more effective than punishment, and I think yoga can be used as a powerful transformative tool with its ability to both heal and empower. Yoga has been used for decades in therapeutic settings, and a growing number of organizations are using yoga to reach out to at-risk and underserved populations.

Since I began practicing yoga six years ago, it has been a continual source of peace and fulfillment in my life.  I have had the opportunity to work with many great instructors who have taught me to be mindful and patient both on and off of the mat.  They have also taught me that happiness is achieved through respect for myself and for all beings.  Following this philosophy, I believe prisoners deserve the same chance as everyone else to better their lives and to make amends.  In the footsteps of James Fox, my goal is to use yoga as a tool to help prisoners restore self-esteem and self-worth in their path toward rehabilitation.

I have chosen to get my 200-hour yoga certification with Doug Swenson because of his holistic approach to yoga. Sadhana Yoga Chi encompasses all aspects of physical and mental health, which are congruent with my goals. For my personal practice, I am also excited for the opportunity to study with such an experienced and dedicated yogi.  This yoga teacher training opportunity will give me the tools necessary to give back to those who need it the most.   

“Many of us in prison work hard to become better people.  This is an absolutely life-changing experience, to say the least; and given the opportunity, we can help many others avoid the same predicament or downfall.” – Prisoner #1145256


Thank you for your support.

2012 Yoga Scholarship Essay

By: Piper Wolfe

If you liked this article and want them to win a free yoga teacher training, then make sure to vote for her by leaving a comment (scroll all the way to the bottom), and sharing this article on Facebook or Twitter. Each comment, Facebook, and Twitter share counts as one vote and you can do all three!

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Join the Conversation

  1. Danielle R. says:

    I applaud your efforts, Piper. Yoga has meant so much to me the past 5 years, and it’s nice to see that you want to share that feeling with people.

  2. Kayleigh Brooks says:

    Good luck Piper!!!!

  3. Jeanne Wilson says:

    I totally support Piper in her goal to become a 200 hour certified yoga therapist! I received my 200 hour certification at Mount Madonna School four years ago and have participated in yoga classes with Piper in our hometown, Tulsa, Oklahoma. You go girl, Piper!!

  4. Sophie Stuart says:

    this is sooo great!! what an inspirational and motivating way to view yoga! i love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. kathryn says:

    hooray pipey! go get em!

  6. Piper Wolfe says:

    Thanks for voting for me!

  7. Carol says:

    Good luck Piper!

  8. Cara Wood says:

    good luck, piper! i love this essay and am fully behind what you are aiming to do!

  9. Scott says:

    Good Luck Piper!!

  10. Jessica says:

    Good luck Piper! This was a great essay.

  11. Natalie says:

    Go, Piper, go!!! Best of luck!

  12. Phyllis Clark says:

    How refreshing–a “giver” instead of a taker. Piper will make an inspirational yoga instructor.

  13. Moira says:

    Go piper!!

  14. Piper Wolfe says:

    Thank you all! Your support means so much to me!

  15. laura says:

    go for it!

  16. TeRuki says:

    Great essay, good luck!

  17. Michael Mandeville says:

    This is an amazing reminder of how connected we all are. When so many people take their exercise time for personal growth, you, Piper, see the opportunity to help others, and to serve a very necessary support to human dignity.

  18. Jordan Wolfe says:

    Way to go SisterPants! Love you.

  19. henry says:

    you rock Piper! way to go!

  20. Betty Morgan says:

    What a great essay Piper! Good luck! Love, the Morgan Family

  21. Jess says:

    This is a GREAT idea

  22. Tessa says:

    This is a great project – so important and much needed! Good luck, Piper!

  23. sepopo says:

    great initiative! i’ll take ur yoga class any time 😉

  24. Lauren Boreta says:

    Go lil sis!

  25. Ross Farris says:

    Piper, this is a really cool idea! I think it could provide great benefit to society. I send you posative energy for your journey.

  26. bobe says:

    Well said, Piper. Knowing you as I do, you will make it happen. Best of luck !

  27. John Love says:


  28. jeanne mandeville says:

    What an inspiration you are, Piper! You always have my vote!

  29. katy hicks says:

    Good luck Piper – an amazing idea!

  30. eileen bryce says:

    Love the idea of following your dream and helping others find theirs.
    Hope you grab the gold.
    Way to go.

  31. Phillippa says:

    Good luck Piper! This is an awesome cause.

  32. Laura C says:

    This is such a great idea!
    Good luck with everything!!

  33. Kilian says:

    Piper is my favorite

  34. Erin says:


  35. Taylor Yowell says:

    That was great Piper, good luck!

  36. Kayleigh Peterson says:

    This is really amazing and so insightful of you. I think you could become a great inspiration to prisons and everyday people alike. Good luck!

  37. Carmen says:

    I wish you all the best. Its a great aspiration for the world.

  38. Rich says:

    Good job piper!!!!!

  39. Rich says:

    occupy prison!

  40. Kelsey says:

    Really great essay Piper! You have my vote!!! Good luck!

  41. Shelly says:

    Hi Piper!! This is AWESOME! (vote!) Hope you’re doing well dear!

  42. Erin says:

    Really great article! It hit home with me on more levels than one. Good luck! People like you are the ones who will change the world. Thank you!

  43. Ellen says:

    Wow girl!! This sounds great!!

  44. Sam says:

    Great essay. I love your portrayal of the criminal justice system in America. I should do more yoga. Good luck!

  45. Tyler says:

    This essay enlightened me, and I’m glad that I read it! You have my vote!

  46. Rachel says:

    what a great idea! good luck!

  47. Kelsey Caine says:

    you are so fing cool! best always!

  48. Noah says:

    Awesome. Good luck!

  49. Becca says:

    Good luck Piper!!

  50. Laura says:

    Awesome job! Good luck!

  51. John Murrell says:

    Bonne chance!

  52. Lindsey says:

    YAY! Piper you will be the best yoga instructor! Thank you for getting me involved in yoga and for being such a positive influence.

  53. Steve says:

    Way cool idea, Piper. Great essay- much needed for rehabilitation!

  54. Anand says:

    great idea!

  55. Sophie Shields says:

    !!!! go pipey go!!!!

  56. Gina says:

    Your essay says a lot about who you are and your great heart. I always feel serene in your presence. You will be a great yoga instructor.

  57. Katie says:

    Very interesting perspective. Hope you get it Piper!!!

  58. Kat says:

    It sounds like you could have a really positive impact! I hope it works out!

  59. Kirby says:

    Good luck!!

  60. Aimee says:

    Miss you Pipey. Good luck

  61. Amina says:

    GOOD LUCK! Spread the love!

  62. jasmine says:

    this is a beautiful way to serve.

  63. Alex says:

    Wow that was really great!

  64. Ali says:

    Good luck Piper, I hope you get it!

  65. Clementine says:

    I love yoga!! Good luck Piper!!!

  66. merlin kilbury says:

    What a worthwhile project. ACourse in Miracles & 12 step programs have successful prison outreach programs. I hope the universe chooses to give you this assignment Namaste, Merlin

  67. Maya says:

    Piper, what a beautiful essay! Good luck, this is a great idea!

  68. Milo says:

    This is great!

  69. Jimmy says:

    This is an excellent essay. I hope you win Piper!

  70. Timothy says:

    This is great. Good luck!

  71. Jonas says:

    That’s such an interesting approach to yoga.

  72. Jacques says:

    Good luck Piper!

  73. Francisco Luis de Vergara says:

    Nice insight on yoga and the situation in the US Federal jails.

  74. Pacheco Garcia Levante Junior says:

    Nice essay! Hope US government finds a solution to the back problems prisoners suffer behind the bars.

  75. Jeanne says:

    Good luck Piper!

  76. Ghislaine says:

    Wonderful way to support one’s transformation at a time of great need.

  77. Dee Anne Short says:

    Artists have great focus a yoga instructor told me that….

  78. Margaret Hartley says:

    O, the places you are all going! Good luck.

  79. Jessica Tennant says:

    Wonderful!! Good luck!

  80. Carol Smith says:

    Piper, You continue to amaze me!
    Namaste, dear!

  81. Linda Doss says:

    You will be a blessing to those you teach. Good luck!

  82. ellen doyle says:

    Piper, You have always brought peace with your beautiful spirit, your creative art and your soothing piano playing. Keep bringing it!!!

  83. Marissa says:

    Good Luck!

  84. Anita says:

    yay piper! you go girl!

  85. Haley says:

    Good luck Piper!

  86. Jamie Alexander says:

    Good Luck!!

  87. Carla says:

    Good Luck!

  88. Madison says:

    Best of luck!!!

  89. Chloe says:

    Good Luck Pipes! much love;-)

  90. Donna Bingham says:

    Piper–It doesn’t surprise me to find you engaged in such a worthwhile and meaningful endeavor. I would love to hear about your journey as it unfolds. A fellow yogini,Ms. Bingham

  91. Melissa Price says:

    Congratulations on finding such a positive path to walk upon in life. The greatest things we can do in life are to help others and this is a wonderful cause. Best of luck!

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