Just a quick FYI: Rikers Island is NOT a yoga resort. In case you had your doubts.
The story is an interesting one. Son of a hedge fund founder reportedly receives regular allowance of $400-600 weekly. When said allowance is downsized to $100, the 30-year-old Princeton grad allegedly flies into a rage and murders his 70-year-old father with a gunshot to the head. When son is faced with charges and sent to prison he asks, where’s the yoga class?
“He kept asking for yoga,” a jail staffer said of Thomas Gilbert Jr. via the Daily News. “He thought he was in some resort.”
The media has been calling alleged murderer Thomas Gilbert Jr. a rich spoiled brat who spent “a lot of time in the Hamptons, surfing and practicing yoga,” and his yoga request at Rikers Island, one of the toughest jails there is, doesn’t necessarily help us to think of him otherwise (that’s besides the whole allowance thing).
“He really thought he was at this upscale rehab,” another jail staffer said. “It was probably never going through his head that he’s probably never going home.”
Gilbert also repeatedly asked medical staff to call his private doctor to fill a muscle-building steroid prescription, the source said.
Oy. We can imagine a picture of this privileged person stepping into Rikers wondering what time yoga class is and if it’s too late to grab a smoothie at the juice bar.
And yet, is it so weird to ask for yoga in jail? Nope, not exactly. Prison yoga and meditation programs have become increasingly popular and for good reason. They’ve been shown to help in rehabilitating inmates, providing them with the tools to improve stress, impulsivity and mental wellbeing. Not all inmates will be released back into the world, but even for the ones who aren’t, yoga and meditation have been beneficial in keeping the peace (within and without).
“We’re not saying that yoga will replace standard treatment of mental health conditions in prison,” said Oxford University’s Dr. Amy Bilderbeck afetr conducting a prison yoga study in 2013. “But what we do see are indications that this relatively cheap, simple option might have multiple benefits for prisoners’ wellbeing and possibly aid in managing the burden of mental health problems in prisons.”
As for Gilbert, a source told the Daily News, “It almost looked like he was happy being in jail. It was the first time in his life he didn’t have pressure.” Gilbert’s lawyer says he has “a long history of significant mental illness.” Unfortunately, it seems all the yoga in the Hamptons couldn’t prevent him from allegedly killing his father (and no, we don’t expect yoga to be the thing to prevent all crime). But maybe sending him to yoga class in jail is not such a bad idea. We happen to know they DO have yoga classes there, and we’re pretty sure they’re a lot different from your average posh beach vinyasa.
The basic questions one has to ask:
1. Do you want prisons to punish or rehabilitate?
2. When their sentences are completed, do you want prisoners who have been punished or rehabilitated released?
We usually want prison to do a little of both. The key is striking the balance. And prison has other purposes such as protecting the community a victims from the offender and deterring others. Whether it achieves some or any of those goals is another issue.
Great questions. In that context, having yoga in jail sounds like a good idea. Although it would be better if jails decided to start these programs on their own, not because some guy is demanding it!
Thank you Ramdas, right on the nail I believe…
1. We understand rehabilitation, but what is the object of punishing? Deterring or vengeance? Of course it’s a way of discouraging crime, but there is also an element of getting even… especially when there is a death penalty.
2. I agree and I think it’s a question everybody should ask themselves. In other words are we getting vengeance through the State, or are we forgiving and healing?
Forgiveness… I’m not quite there yet…
It makes sense. Yoga is generally done by the more affluent and women who are attractive enough to have their yoga paid for. It isn’t surprising he would make such a request. I think it will help him as he will probably experience some mula bandha mayhem during his prison sentence.
This is an interview with a woman that teaches yoga in a woman’s prison. Very real.
Josefin and the yoga in prison project
Ha! What has happened to our hedge fund babies? Oh, wait, I think this has probably always been the case, but now we hear about it more through social media.
Although, with all of the programs that are offered in prison, this may not be a bad practice for some of our jailbird population. Just like you wrote about in your post “Study: Prison Yoga Improves Mood, Stress and Behavior Which Benefits Everyone.” Kudos!
Sister Elaine MacInnes and Bo Lauzon and GN Goenka have a lot of experience in this area. There is a lot research around about using yoga and meditation to reduce recidivism.
Yoga and meditation is not a resort activity – it’s a survival tool for modern living, and especially so for those ( of us or someone we care about) who are so messed up that they find themselves in jail.
Anyone who poo-pooh’s the idea should talk to a yoga teacher who is actually doing this work and learn how society wins as a result!
I admire these teachers (who are volunteering their time) who could be doing a million other things with their time.
IT would be wonderful if YogaDork could do a teacher profile of someone in this area to widen the scope of people’s understanding of why we do the practice! 🙂