Folsom T'ai Chi Chih Testimonials at the annual Banquet/Retreat and Circles of Light event, 4/25/17.
|Posted on June 25, 2017 at 1:15 PM||comments (14)|
Folsom Prison Class Testimonials: Retreat/Banquet and Circles of Light event, 2017
Every year for my T'ai Chi Chih class at Folsom Prison, I help coordinate a banquet and all day retreat, which concludes with a synchonized, GLOBAL, community practice. Guests who come in to join us on this special day include former teachers of this class, Judy Tretheway and Tara Stiles, and the International Guide of T'ai Chi Chih, Sandy McAlister. Also there is my assistant, Mari Miller, who has been coming in with me for 1 1/2 years. During the global practice, there is a group who meets on a hill above the prison, and they are joined by people all over the world, surrounding the prison with CIRCLES OF LIGHT and healing. We begin the day seated in a large circle (there are 27 students), where the students share with their guests what the practice of T'ai Chi Chih means to them. Below are their words:
George R.: My practice allows me to make choices, not react. It is such a big part of my life. I see how we each have a story that will benefit others. I feel like I can be a part of life. T’ai Chi Chih helps me to get away from the madness of life, to a place where I can feel who I really am. [GR is our class recruiter – and he does a great job!]
Thornton W.: When I was checking out the flyer for this class that was posted on the bulletin board in my building, the other guys were saying, “Aw, that’s just a bull-*#^! class.,” but I went ahead and signed up anyway. The slow movements shift me to a good place, where I feel peace. There is a huge burden lifted off me. I have met a lot of good friends in here, and have learned how to relate to people from diverse backgrounds.
Raymond M.: This practice has given me an experience I’ve never had in my life – a peace of mind that gets me through my day. This is such a stressful place, but this class helps me to get through it.
Lonyae T.: I’ve spent 19 years in different prisons, taking different classes. I came to Folsom, and felt frustrated because I didn’t feel led, called to do anything at Folsom State Prison. Then GR told me to try out this class. I want to do yoga, but on the streets, once I get out. I just had a negative attitude about Folsom. But he kept nagging me, so I figured I’d just do one class. Well this class has been a saving grace for me. It is like I’ve found why I’m at Folsom, what I’m here for. I feel the chi flowing – it’s amazing. I’ve tried to explain it to my family. I send copies of our handouts to them. They aren’t sure what to think of it, but I hope to give them a taste of it.
Brian R.: I’m kinda quiet. [The men smile, and few laugh quietly and nod encouragingly.) But I really enjoy this class and the people in it. Yes you may use my comment. I enjoy the class and the beautiful energy all around me while I’m there. I gives me peace of mind and brings calm and serenity to my life. It helps me deal with being in prison and being away from my family. It’s hard to describe in words but I do my best. I am fairly new to the class and still have a lot to learn, but I’m looking forward to it and to carry what I’ve learned to my family and community back home. Thank you for this wonderful teaching and practice.
Steve R.: I’ve been here 3 years and the time has gone by quickly. I have found a calmness and peace here in this class. Something is different about me. A burden is lifted and physical stress is better. On Thursdays I get 2 hours of quiet. When I concentrate on the movements it slows down my mind and gives me an inner peace that I’m grateful for. I’m more aware of, in touch with my body. I’m very thankful to you ladies for what we have here.
Lawrence H.: I feel tears of joy and gratitude today. This practice is hard to put into words – the words are so difficult to find. The change taking place in me is not happening in words. If feel like there is no longer an offensive or defensive part of me. I put myself in harmony with the energy of the universe and with other people without conflict. When I do the moves, it does something on a subliminal level, like magic. Life gets better and better the more I practice. I do TCC on the yard, on the tier, anywhere I can. I’m too big to do it in my cell though. In class, when we hit that right momentum, the universe stops – what’s in my head, the universe is taking care of me. Being in harmony with the energy, everything always works out. This energy has the power to transform the world. We are moving with people all over the world today, harmonizing the whole planet and all of existence. Judy is an angel. Julie brings in some of heaven and Mari brings in some of earth. What a gift.
Tabu S.: I’ve been doing some kind of meditation all of my life. It’s good to be with people who are like-minded, centered and peaceful. This class is life transforming. Coming here and filling up on the energy is beautiful. Even when I can’t make it to class, I can feel the energy coming from this Chapel.
Rick M.: I’ve been doing this class for a few years, and it helps me to keep growing. Life just gets better and better. I get serenity, a sense of groundedness and stability. I learn to grasp the Now, to be content in the moment. This class is very enjoyable for me.
Aben A.: I’ve been in class 3 months but I’ve been reading up on Taoism. I feel the Chi and it’s amazing. My fingertips begin to sweat! It’s this icy/hot feeling. I showed Mari because I was so excited about it. I love the diversity of this class. It takes me beyond cultural boundaries and connects me on a spiritual level with you guys.
David H.: In this class I feel an internal cleansing, like a shower. I feel grounded and refreshed. I do it every day in my cell. I grew up doing movements like these with my Grandma and my Mom, but I didn’t know what it was – this class has given a face to it – to what I grew up with in a small village in Fiji. My village was loving and hospitable but other villages were violent and would attack us. I’ve come to Folsom from level 4 [highest level in prison system] and I have over 100 stab wounds on my body. I’m sensitive to people’s energy – and this class is healing the wounds I have on the inside, that no MRI is going to show. Like having a broken heart, like when my wife passed away, no one can see it, but it can heal. This class centers and balances me and contributes to my 24 years of sobriety from heroin. It heals the pain from my childhood, and the pain from my addiction – I haven’t felt this peaceful in a long time. I wake up and choose to be peaceful. The flow of these gentle movements are the opposite of prison, of how my dad was always, “Get in there and fight!” But now I have softness and continuity, and this is not weak, it is strong. I can’t see myself NOT doing it every day. It’s my medicine. It’s how I get high now.
Robert C.: I work for the Sports Department, and one of my jobs is being a referee, which is really stressful. There are guys yelling at me all the time. This class is my sanctuary, where I get a sense of peace, calmness and harmony. It helps me to find peace in myself. Julie came in here on her spiritual journey and shares that with us. I feel a sense of being grounded, feeling the earth and sky, harmonizing, like music. I meditate and find my center. Here I can think clearly, without all the chaos. On Thursdays I can check-out mentally from all of it, and feel my body healing too. I process, take my time, and now I feel the energy in my hands. It’s been a slow process, but now I believe in myself. When I practice, I am free.
Richard P.: This is very new for me, but I definitely feel like something is here. Something is happening with me. I notice that out there (on the yard) I’m getting angry faster. I feel more emotional. But in here, in this class, something happens. This is something I’ve been looking for, for a long time. It’s a way to feel happy. It’s what’s been missing in my life. Something I need no matter how my day goes. I’m really thankful for this class.
Gilbert S.: Today is our one day a year when you all come in, when we all get together and visit with guests, eat good food. I have to admit that part of me is here for the food! It is SO great to eat some good food. I’ve been taking other classes recently, but have been missing the T’ai Chi Chih energy. Even after all these years, over 10 years, this energy is still a mystery to me – how it moves around and through – it’s amazing. I have so many thoughts on my mind all the time, but this meditation, doing 45 minutes of the movements, when I leave here I leave transformed. I’m not the same Gilbert. I feel a lot of peace – I feel it in my gut. I come in with an empty cup and get filled up. There is this complete transformation that’s hard to put into words. You just have to experience it. Julie I will answer your question by saying that I am here for 2 things. First of all, this is the one day of the year when I have the pleasure of having all five of you’re here. Secondly for the food . Who doesn’t love to eat good food, and you always bring something good for us. I have been taking some classes for a new GED and for this reason I come late to class on Thursday, but I must say that we have something magical with this tcc class because of the ay the energy moves from one leg to the other, to the kidneys, I mean all over our body, even after all these years I can’t fully explain what I’m feeling in my body. I come here to the chapel, lately late, with many thoughts with a very busy mind, but when I leave this chapel I am transformed. I am not the same Gilbert that walked in 2 hours ago. The peace that I feel is undeniable and unexplainable, I do believe that we have something special here but in order for you to feel this transformation first, you need to learn all of the moves. This will come after a few years of practice. Second you must practice in order to feel the transformation that I feel. When you do the above you will be able to go at your own speed then you can feel this trans every time that you practice. Practice is important to become sensitive to the energy. In my opinion practice is the only way to experience this powerful energy. Thank you to the people now and those before them that have made this class possible.
Tyrone J.: We sit here together, [his voice breaks and tears are in his eyes] and we ARE a CIRCLE OF LIGHT! This morning during this share, and in class, I’ve received SO much from everyone here. It fills up my tank and brings joy to a hollow world. I give thanks to you teachers, and this circle of guys. Thank you.
Jonathon R.: You ladies are like a little string that connects us to out there. I believe things happen for a reason. Sure no one wants to be in prison, but being in this class – I feel things happen on time. When I saw this practice on the prison t.v., I knew it was a sign. I started coming, and I experience it as a chance to share a moment of life with others. When I’m doing the practice, I’m not like a sponge, but it creates a filter. A filter for the bad thoughts that are all around this place. Wisdom is a moment to cherish and notice. We keep the practice simple and easy, and everything gets better. I needed to get broken down so that I could get better. This practice is like healing a broken bone. Once healed, it’s stronger than it was before. We develop an inner muscle here that balances you – not too strong, not too weak. When I see these guys from class out on the yard, there is this connection we share. We just nod, and we know. Today we are connected, all over the world at the same time. My dad was a Kung Fu addict – the Asian way of living. I’m learning to listen beyond the prison chaos, to the Universal energy that connects and completes us. Prisons in Mexico are much worse, we could all have it much worse. We are the filter for this energy, we have healing power to share with others. We just need to stay connected. This is what I want to do on the streets. To share this.
Harvey J.: I’ve been doing this practice for 10 years, and it’s been THE most life changing class of anything else I’ve ever done. It’s better than all the other courses in prison put together. In four weeks I’ll find out if I’m leaving this place. When I’m on the outside, I want to pay for the cost of this banquet. [Unbeknownst to us, the banquet was our last practice with Harvey. He left the next Thursday morning before class, and he will be missed.]
Sam S.: Franky Carrillo is the one who got me into this class. He was my cellie before he left here for good. I’ve been before the Board 10 times and been denied parole. Before I didn’t really care, but this last time I was really upset. This practice helps me to release my anger, to let go of it. It took my Dad 20 years to recognize the changes in me. I’m grateful for this class and you all.
Steven F.: I’ve been in this class for 4 years. I came in after the Law Library closed, and started doing these movements. Now I have a center point in my life, and it’s T’ai Chi Chih. On the tier I will mirror Lawrence doing the movements from across the cell block. Other guys will yell, “Hey, what are you doing? You look funny!” But I don’t care. The pain in my body is gone and I feel good. I used to be filled with anger and hate, I was very aggressive. But now I’m able to quiet down, pray, do my movements, and I don’t have those feelings any more. I come EVERY week – I never miss a class. It’s my life. When Julie started testing us for the certificates, and when I got all three, I felt like this paper says, “I AM T’ai Chi Chih.” Not just here in class. On the inside. When I ‘m here I feel connected with the Universe. I feel this community with the guys here. We see each other on the yard, and even though we move in different circles, we know who we are. No words are needed. When I get out I want to be a teacher, to pass this along to others; to share this calm. Once you have it, it stays with you. Like your spirit senses you are a part of something.
Mike G.: I’m the clerk for this Chapel, and it’s a very thankless job. I do all of the paper work for programs in here, for all of the banquets, etc., and I catch all the flack when something goes wrong. Right now is event season in the Chapel, and so I don’t get to be in class as much as I’d like. But you guys, you ALWAYS show your appreciation for what I do for the class. [Mike sets up all the chairs, lays out the handouts, sets up the music and library before class starts, and then goes back to his office, because he doesn’t have time to practice]. One of the things I love about this class is the comradery and brotherhood that exists here. Any moment I can get in class gets my brain quiet. I can just be, with no demands. A few moments here, makes my entire week.
Herman R.: Prison is a very adverse environment, with a lot of stress. I can get pretty angry – rage – but here I can get myself grounded and balanced. I find that center. There is so much that goes on in my mind, and this class really helps me out.
Timothy D.: GR invited me to this class, so I decided to check it out, maybe just come once. Maybe just see a demo. I came into prison when I was 17. I was tried as an adult and given 2 life sentences. I did martial arts very early on in life, began when I was 7. I had some famous teachers, but the focus was always on aggression. There was no focus on balance, polarity, softness or peace. The purpose of engagement was always to be on the offensive or defensive. This ingrained aggression through martial arts got me in serious trouble, starting in elementary school. My elementary school sued my mother because I had seriously injured another student. I believe it’s so important in martial arts to have balance with something like T’ai Chi Chih. As I began to focus on different movements in here – I had a quick appreciation for how peaceful I felt. I felt the effects very quickly. I took all the handouts and books to my cell and studied. I shared with my Mom about it. This practice has added a new, constructive dimension to me. I’ve been trying very hard to reform myself for a long time, and the balance, polarity, softness – these are all things I’ve needed in my life. I recently went before the Parole Board (I’ve been in prison 31 years) and they looked at the letter [chrono] Julie wrote, and they focused on this class. They asked me about my certificate, and asked me about the Six Healing Sounds. I demonstrated them, and I told them about my class, and Justin Stone, and the history of it. I demonstrated the movements and the principles, and shared about how my lifelong practice had been violent and aggressive but now my life is about peacefulness. I said that now I can take this with me. The Board was impressed. They saw how it’s had a genuine effect on me, and the Board found me suitable for parole. Our instructor, you can really feel the peace that Julie has – that it’s not just talk – you can feel it. I also like about this class, how we can be with people from diverse backgrounds. You ladies who started this class, you started something very profound. That we are here with different religious backgrounds, etc., joining together and doing this in harmony; it’s something this place really needs.
Lyman S.: Even though I’ve been doing this practice a little while now, I am a baby still. I’ve always been drawn to these types of practices. Here in class, this is Life. It’s healing, and it’s light. It allows us to live apart from the chaos, to stay focused and grounded. It allows one to ground himself and meditate and become one with the Universe. I’m so glad to be here. I feel like we are all teachers and students. This class feels like being part of a family. We practice together, and grow together through T’ai Chi Chih. It’s just beautiful. Let’s do this!
Joe G.: I’ve been in this class for about 3 years or more. I grew up in the unsettled 60’s, in the Vietnam era, a time of mass incarceration. I’m not that idealistic – that what changes me will change the world or even the people within a 30 foot radius of me. The world is the world, but doing this class makes it all more understandable, more bearable. I’m a 3-striker: 25 to life for victimless crimes; done 24 years of 66. All that I’ve lost in the process, friends, the death of my twin brother – it’s hard. In the 70’s I saw people doing Tai Chi in the park, in SF and New York, and I always wanted to be a part of that but never had the time. I’m here, and this practice is different, but the sincerity of the people doing it and those who’ve brought it to us – those are the main reasons I’ve stayed. I helps to keep the monsters at bay. I’m a seriously cranky guy. More than anything else, it’s the humanity of the people here – and I’m learning to get that back for myself. I need to keep the genie in the bottle. I’ll be alright when I get out of here. Until then, this helps so much. Thanks to you all: you ladies, and you guys.
Sandy: What comes to my mind, above all else, as I sit here once again with all of you, is transformation. This week has been one of transformation for me; of change. A few days ago I attended the funeral of my first T’ai Chi Chih teacher: my teacher of 23 years. She had requested that her memorial begin with 10 minutes of T’ai Chi Chih, and so I had the privilege of leading that practice. She has transformed, from this body, this vehicle, to her next adventure. And now I’m here with you, another day of being part of and witnessing transformation. And on Saturday it is World T’ai Chi and Qigong Day, which is a global day of practice, meditation, prayer and healing. It certainly is a powerful week for me.
Tara: T’ai Chi Chih has been an essential part of my life for decades. I love the simplicity of it. I do Rocking Motion everywhere and anywhere. I find that doing T’ai Chi Chih is intrinsically pleasurable. There is a sweetness about it, a blend of accessing the body – being IN my body – as a vehicle for my spirit, in such a good and easy way. T’ai Chi Chih gives me a portal to the invisible realm, to the web we are all part of. I get glimpses of this massive Chi we all live in and work with. Even though I’ve been doing it for a long time, I know I’m really just a baby in this process. I want you to know that above all else, today I am here to be of service to you guys in any way I can. I thank you all for showing up. [Tara started the class here in the prison in 1998, and today she spent a lot of time working on the Taffy’s with a few guys.]
Julie: I’m so grateful for this experience, for each of you, for the people you are. Sandy mentioned transformation – well, I’m certainly not the person I was when I came in here 8 years ago. In fact, every Thursday when I leave here, I’m not the person who came into the Chapel that day. I started on this path with a T’ai Chi Ch’uan practice – had practiced 7 years before discovering T’ai Chi Chih. But when I heard the voice of Divine Wisdom/Intuition that brought me here, I’d been sober two years. I know I share the path of sobriety with many of you here. When we stop numbing ourselves to our feelings, when we can get still long enough to listen, there is so much wisdom waiting for us. I felt SO many waves of chi flowing through this circle as you guys were sharing just now. I’m so grateful for the sense of safety YOU have all created in this community – so that you can share who you really are, so I can be who I really am. I am so grateful to be on this healing journey, with all of its struggles and joys, with all of you. Thank you for bringing your authentic selves to this class. That’s what makes it so magical!
Judy: It’s so rewarding to me to be a part of this class. Some people are not here anymore, but there are a few familiar faces here. I taught this class with love and passion for many years. Julie has added some other things that I didn’t have the time for, and it’s good to see that. It’s beautiful to see how everyone continues to benefit from this class, and it was an honor to carry it for so long. It will always be a huge part of me, and I’ll be connected to it – to you all – in spirit and love, wherever I go.
|Posted on April 5, 2015 at 3:20 PM||comments (1)|
APRIL 5, 2015
The CIRCLES OF LIGHT Event, held inside and all around Folsom State Prison last Tuesday, was without a doubt one of the best days of my life. It confirmed for me the saying, "When we heal ourselves, we heal the world." And I might add, "When we heal the world, we heal ourselves." I think the latter is what everyone who participated on Tuesday, got to experience. We came together to heal the prison, to support the T'ai Chi Chih class inside, to help Franky heal from his wrongful imprisonment, and yet each of us received so much more than we gave.
As the preparation and planning for the event unfolded, I had a chance to see clearly that energy flows, it gets blocked, it becomes weak or strong, and that discovering the reason for the blockage isn't always necessary, and the blockage isn't always bad. Sometimes it is there to show us how to help the energy flow in another way, and sometimes the NEW way will be better than the path it was on!
Example #1: Franky had to jump through hoop after hoop, supplying documents from his attorney and the court, in order to be allowed to come back inside Folsom, and so he couldn't purchase his airline ticket until the last minute, making it very stressful and expensive. And yet, he didn't give up, and his determination was mirrored by that of the Community. More and more people kept showing up and sending in money, so that we could help Franky pay for his ticket. The Universal flow was supporting him, through us, to grow further in this part of his journey, and we got to experience this with him.
Example #2: The men were not issued their "duckets" allowing them to be released from their cells to attend the Retreat and Banquet on the morning of the event. But because of that, they got to experience the care, consideration, effort and determination it took to make sure every one of them made it there. They were each valued, individually, as members of the class and our community, and it touched them deeply.
Example #3: I forgot to apply for Sandy McAlister's guest pass (!) until it was too late for the prison to issue one. But I got to connect in a meaningful way with Staff in the prison, and they went the extra mile to make sure it was processed in time for the event. I got to experience a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for some of the people who work inside.
Example#4: Franky Carrillo has every right to feel deep resentment towards the system that robbed him of 20 years of freedom, but he chooses another path. He has reached out to the Judge, the D.A., and the prosecutors who participated in his incarceration. He has befriended them, as well as the former head of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Because this, he gets to live a life of peace and serenity. He gets to model this path to those still on the inside. It also puts him in a position to advocate and lobby for change, thereby benefitting his inmate friends, and changing the system.
My T'ai Chi Chih and Qigong Instructor, Judy Tretheway (who taught the class at Folsom Prison and New Folsom for 13 years) wrote:
"The teaching of Hun Yuan Ling Tong boils down to this for me: Keep the energy (chi) flowing; and the corollary:
Don't let the energy get stuck....It's simple, it's applicable, and it answers my questions in the moment. Flow means
change is happening; potential is alive in the air; fresh energy is flushing the system and the old patterns are releasing."
On Tuesday, March 31st, we all joined in CIRCLES OF LIGHT, to support growth and change, releasing old patterns. I also saw clearly (tending to be a loner of sorts) that we create strength and abundance - greater flow - by reaching out to others, by connecting to the whole, by ASKING for help. That by consciously connecting to the greater flow (like we do every time we practice), the energy becomes INFINITE! Infinite in it's power to support, to heal, to love, to transform.
The Folsom class sent out a desire, a prayer:
"Please supply us with nourishing food; please join us in our practice," AND YOU DID, AND IT WAS BEAUTIFUL.
|Posted on April 5, 2015 at 3:15 PM||comments (0)|
Exonerated Inmate Returns to Folsom Prison to Fulfill a Dream
Franky Carrillo, who served 20 years for a crime he didn’t commit, returns to Folsom State Prison to visit his former T’ai Chi Chih classmates at their 3rd Annual Banquet and Retreat, and share in their practice.
Sacramento,California (PR MediaRelease) March 30, 2015
T’ai Chi Chih is a T’ai Chi/Qigong hybrid that was created by American T’ai Chi Chuan master Justin Stone in 1974. It quickly became popular and is now taught by thousands of instructors, worldwide. Julie Heryet has been teaching a weekly T’ai Chi Chih class as a volunteer inside Folsom Prison since November of 2009. It was there that she met Franky Carrillo, one of the inmate-students in her class. In 1991, at the age of 16, Franky Carrillo was arrested in Los Angeles for a drive-by shooting; a crime that he did not commit. On March 14, 2011, with the help of attorney Ellen Eggers, the Northern California Innocence Project and Pro Bono attorneys from Morrison and Foerster, Franky’s conviction was overturned. After serving 20 years in prison – all of his adult life – Franky was finally released. During his time at Folsom State Prison, Franky participated in the weekly T’ai Chi Chih class that was held in the prison chapel. During class he often dreamed of being able to do his T’ai Chi Chih practice on the outside, as a free man. There was a tree on a hill across the American River that he could see from the prison yard, and he pictured himself beneath that tree on the hill. (See photo)
On Tuesday, March 31st, Franky Carrillo is returning to Folsom Prison to visit his former classmates, and attend their 3rd Annual T’ai Chi Chih Retreat and Banquet. After sharing a meal in the prison, Franky will leave the grounds and head for that tree on the hill across the river, and his dream will become a reality. He will be joined by a group of T’ai Chi Chih teachers, students and friends on the outside, and at 2:00, they will form a circle and begin their practice. At the exact same time, Julie Heryet’s class of 22 inmates, will form a circle and begin their T’ai Chi Chih practice on the inside. This event is being called: CIRCLES OF LIGHT. The International T’ai Chi Chih community is so inspired by Franky’s story, and by the dedication of the men in the class at Folsom Prison, that at 2:00 Pacific DST, there will be groups joining in this practice from various cities all over California, as well as in Atlanta, GA, St. Paul, MN, Albuquerque, NM, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and even London, England! The Annual T’ai Chi Chih Banquet inside of the prison is fully funded by private donations from teachers, students and friends of the T’ai Chi Chih community.
Teaching the T’ai Chi Chih class at Folsom Prison is, according to instructor Julie Heryet, “An incredible experience. Qigong and Tai Chi have been proven to decrease stress and help with chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and other stress-related illnesses. The prison environment is the ultimate testing ground for the effectiveness of this practice. The men in my class are dedicated to healing and finding peace. Also, meditation programs have been proven to significantly reduce recidivism rates. So everybody wins when we have programs like this one.” Of Franky Carrillo, Heryet says, “The amazing thing about Franky, is his grace. Even after all the time he lost, he chooses to live a life of forgiveness, rather than carry the heavy burden of bitterness and anger.” Franky received a full scholarship to Loyola Marymount, where he is currently a student.
- See more at: http://prmediarelease.com/?p=92220#sthash.NlQIQQHF.dpuf
|Posted on April 5, 2015 at 3:15 PM||comments (0)|
fROM THE EMAIL I SENT OUT, THE DAY AFTER THE EVENT:
Hello You Very Dear Circles of Light Participants!
Thank you SO much for your support of Tuesday's event. I've posted some of the photos that Dave took on Facebook, but in case you don't look there, I'm sending some along through email.
I'm so glad those of you who were able to come to Folsom, got to meet Franky, and he is VERY glad that he got to meet you.
This is how it went on the inside: There was a feeling of excitement in the air. The guys were so looking forward to seeing our guests: Sandy McAlister, Franky Carrillo, Judy Tretheway and Minh Mark. We began, as always, sitting in a circle of chairs, and each of the men introduced themselves and shared how T'ai Chi Chih has changed their lives. That alone would be enough. They talk of learning to connect within, to a higher, softer self they didn't know existed. They speak of finding peace in their chaotic, dangerous and stressful world. The spoke of comraderie, of how whether white, black or brown, they always smile and wave on the yard, because they are brothers through the form. Most of all they expressed gratitude, for Justin Stone, for Sandy and all of their guests, for their teacher, and for the practice. Some will even say they are grateful to be in Folsom, so they could discover T'ai Chi Chih and what it has shown them about themselves; about how to live.
Watching them eat will always be one of the greatest joys I will ever experience. But more than that, it is sitting down together and sharing a meal, the temporary normalcy of it, and for a while, they are not in prison any more. After our meal Franky Carrillo got up on stage and spoke of his life after 20 years of wrongful incarceration. He said that, having come in at 16 and being released at 37, there were some who wondered if he could ever adapt, could make a life for himself. He demonstrated to the men that not only is it possible - he is living a life beyond his wildest dreams. He is in love, he has a beautiful son, and he is attending a prestigious university. He has been in newspapers, magazines, and on radio and t.v. Rather than relax and live a quiet life, he is using his fame and working hard to change the system. He said that once released, he had a choice. He could hold onto the anger and bitterness he felt towards those who had hurt him, or he could reach out in forgiveness. He chose the latter. He has had dinner with the D.A., the Prosecutors, and even the Judge who passed his sentence. He befriended the very head of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. And by doing this, he is able to work for change. Soon he is even traveling to the White House to speak. But what Franky said is the most important thing he does now, is to introduce himself as a former inmate. He said, "I am your face out there. I am working to destroy the stereotype of how a former inmate looks, of who he is." He expressed gratitude for the T'ai Chi Chih class he was able to attend while he was in Folsom, and said it helped him immensely after his release. There was hardly a dry eye in the place. Then he and Judy Tretheway left to join the group of 14, waiting on the outside.
Before the class in the Chapel gathered into our Circle, Sandy, the International Guide of T'ai Chi Chih, read aloud the article that she wrote after last year's banquet. Eyes-welling-up-with-tears-of-emotion seemed to be an ongoing theme Tuesday, be it Franky, Judy, Minh, myself, or one of the inmates, and Sandy was no exception. She spoke of how the word "prisoner" just did not describe the men who sat before her. She also expressed her gratitude for Justin, and for them. She finished her reading at 3 minutes to 2:00 and we eagerly formed two circles, myself, Sandy, Minh and the more experienced students in the center circle, surrounded by the remaining students. I listed all of the people who were joining us in this special practice: Franky's Circle of Light on the Hill, looking right down on us, as well as the Circles in Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Diego, Albuquerque, Atlanta, St. Paul, Portland, Edmonton, Canada, and London England (a partial list). There was such a feeling of calm excitement in the air, as Sammy and Mr. Miller counted down the seconds. Then quietly, Sandy said, "Rocking Motion," and we began. It was one of the most beautiful practices I've ever experienced. I don't think I've ever seen this class so synchronized, so present, so connected. We were all being carried along by the love being expressed in movement, all over the world. We were as one. It was truly magical.
I look forward to hearing about your experiences as well. I would love it if you would do a "REPLY ALL," so we can all share in your thoughts and feelings. Again,I am so grateful to you all, for your enthusiasm, participation and monetary support. Thanks to Franky for using part of his Spring Break to join us, thereby creating the second Circle of Light; thanks to Sandy, Judy and Minh; thanks to my husband Dave for all of his support and help, and to my brother Tom, for sending the press release for free.
Much Loving Qi - Julie
P.S. Here is a link to an article that came out yesterday, from a Tai Chi group in San Luis Obispo, who joined in our practice. I am not sure who they are, or how they heard about it? Wow! http://www.ksby.com/story/28693883/tai-chi-class-shows-support-for-former-inmate
|Posted on July 21, 2014 at 3:55 PM||comments (0)|
Monday, July 21, 2014
When I was teaching T'ai Chi Chih (a qigong form) class at the Folsom men's prison last Thursday (7/17/14), one of the inmates asked me why he had to put his feet in a "v" position when standing in "resting pose". I told him I should probably know the answer to that, but really wasn't sure why, except that it probably had to do with opening the channels so that the Qi (chi) could flow more freely. I emphasized that if standing in a "v" was painful for some reason, or if he was more comfortable with his feet in a parallel position, he could certainly stand that way.
He explained that as a man in prison, in order to protect himself he would usually stand with a foot turned in, not out. It took me a second to realize that he meant, "to not get kicked in his privates." I said that was a really good point, and I was very glad he'd brought it up. It led to a discussion of all the risks the men have taken in the prison class: risking looking silly or foolish when learning the movements for the first time; risking asking questions that they think might be "dumb" (but which never are); risking sharing about how the practice has helped or changed them; risking sharing the frustration they feel about their powerlessness to help family on the outside; risking doing the movements on the yard, risking sharing about sick or dying friends or family on the outside; risking showing support, respect and love for their fellow classmates, and risking the trust I've witnessed among classmates.
I thought of all the ways the practice has taught me to take risks. Listening to my "inner voice" and following the path that led me to the prison; becoming a teacher in spite of being quite shy and anxious in front of groups; travelling distances alone to attend retreats and trainings where I didn't know anyone, expanding my practice to include other teachings (overcoming fear of disapproval); reaching out to other teachers in the Community and asking for help and support; speaking in front of 70 people in L.A. about the prison class... Risking being more of ME, and not playing small anymore.
I thought also of some readings in my Book of Awakening by the poet, Mark Nepo, where he offers the following analogies to risking vulnerability:
1. Learning to swim: The harder and faster we flounder in our efforts to stay afloat, contracting and tensing our muscles, the faster we sink. It is only when we can let go, spread out, relax and trust the depth of the water to hold us up, that we float.
2. Birds, learning to fly: They must step off the branch and spread their wings, trusting in the air beneath them to hold them up. If they keep their wings folded inward, (contracting, tightening, closing off), then they will only fall and never fly.
Expansion vs. contraction. Both are part of the dance. How will I take a risk, and expand today? Opening ones feet into a "v" may seem like no big deal to some. But to others, it is a huge risk, like floating or flying.
|Posted on July 18, 2014 at 3:20 PM||comments (0)|
Weds. March 13, 2013
My Dearest Sister Antonia,
Thank you so much for giving so much of yourself at the prison yesterday. After conducting two, week-long retreats and then the weekend seminar, it was adding a lot to your plate to request one more day of you. I could see you were very tired after we got out of the prison yesterday, and I just want to let you know again how very much you are appreciated. Sharing your knowledge of the form and encouraging their own exploration of it, was such a gift to the Folsom class.
I hope that your trip home was uneventful, and that you got some sleep on the plane!
Much Love and Gratitude,
Weds. March 13, 2013
My Dearest Julie,
My deepest gratitude to you for you! I am amazed at how many Folsom
doors open up to you... like the Chapel Door - for the all day Retreat/Banquet, the Kitchen Door - with so much support, willingness from the staff... but most especially the hearts of the men who make up your Folsom Class. Your energy just makes that happen with 'no effort' - well, okay, you did put a lot of effort into planning, purchasing, and preparing the food which seemed to have come together with your husband's wonderful support and help.
A deep bow of gratitude to you for all you are and are about. I'm just delighted to hear about your work with the youth and in introducing them to TCC.
From a long time admirer, with gratitude
Wonderful to sit with you and Judy to de-brief and enjoy the frozen yogurt. Yes, I
was tired, but it only hit me after I knew my work was accomplished. Please greet the men
for me when you meet with them next week.
I slept a bit on the plane, and after arriving home. Will go to bed after closing these lines... still on Pacific Time.
|Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM||comments (1)|
First Annual Banquet and Retreat at Folsom State Prison, 2013
Article for the Vital Force, by Julie Heryet
In the spring of 2011 I took over Judy Tretheway’s T’ai Chi Chih class inside Folsom State Prison in Northern California. Folsom is a maximum security men’s facility where Judy had been teaching a weekly, 2 & ½ hour class since 1998. Over the years, it became a tradition that while Sister Antonia was in California conducting retreats and workshops, she would stay with Judy in Sacramento and come in to visit the prison class. The class is held in the old Greystone Chapel, which was built in 1903, while the prison itself opened in 1880. (See photo)
This year I decided to plan our very first all-day retreat and banquet, centered around Sister Antonia’s visit. The men always look forward to seeing her, and are so appreciative that she takes the time to be with them. She helps to create a connection between their class and the larger T’ai Chi Chih Community.
Judy, Sister Antonia and I arrived at 8:00 a.m. and stayed with the class until 3:00 that afternoon. We always begin the class seated in a circle for our ‘check-in’ period. The men share how the form is working in their lives, we review goals, and I answer questions. This year Sister Antonia walked around the circle, stopping in front of each student to ask their name and shake their hand. There were 12 inmates attending, several of whom had not met her before, though many had read some of her articles in the Vital Force. This part of the class is always a very special time, especially when you consider that in an environment where different races, gang members, and religions rarely mix, we are quite the melting pot of diversity. Two of the men shared during check-in that this class had become like family – a demonstration of the great degree of trust and connection that has developed among them.
The highlight of the day was the banquet. The men’s plates were piled high with fresh fruit, bread spread with hummus, pesto, cheese, tomato and cucumber slices, and bowls of soup. We finished with berry and apple pie, dribbled with melted ice cream. As we all sat down together to share our meal, several of the men said again that this was their family – that this was something they would do with their family – how special it was to get to share this day with Sister Antonia, Judy and I. After our meal, I passed out paper and pencils and we all wrote some pyramid poetry – also something I’d never done with this class. Here are a few of the inmate's poems:
Said we Spirit
Could never Journey is
Really make it Never Ending
But I say So never
Almost Stop it!
All those and Yang
Needing Love and Yet they attract
Family Vital force
For the rest of my life, I will never forget the looks on the faces of these men as we sat together, sharing a meal, sharing our practice, sharing moments in our lives. Having the opportunity to teach T’ai Chi Chih at Folsom Prison has been one of the great privileges of my life, and I highly recommend it to any teacher who might be so inclined. I am so grateful to Judy Tretheway for keeping this class going for so many years, and to Sister Antonia for being willing to bring her light to those who so desperately need it.
Poems from Judy and myself:
These moments Came to give
Greystone Chapel Us T’ai Chi Chih
Together What a gift
Synced as He left
Thank you Justin. Thank you for your vision and light.
|Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM||comments (0)|
Email from Minh after coming into Folsom with me, April 18, 2014
Julie, you are the Dearest and Precious One,
Thank you so much for sharing your precious group of students with me. You are right. They certainly left an imprint on my heart. Thank you for sending me the beautiful pictures of the Circle of Love. What a moving story. Blessings in all you do, in the documentary film project, Frank and his new family, and I hope you pursuit the teaching position at Placerville college. My thoughts and prayers are with your sister and you for bringing comfort to her, especially during this time.
Here is a little writing from my journal the night after being in the group with you.
"It was a very enriching, moving and a great learning experience. I felt that I was among my peers, my fellow spiritual seekers, like-minded students, those who want to learn to cultivate greater awareness and openness in body, heart and mind in a day long retreat some where, not inside prison. These are individuals who are in confinement, having had their freedom taken away from them by their own doing or by being in the wrong place at the wrong time; and they choose to search for inner peace, for freedom from deep within.
A quote to share with you:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.
mevlana jelaluddin rumi - 13th century
I came to teach them acupressure, yin/yang theory, and they taught me diligent practice, patience, caring, openness to learn and willingness to change from behind bars. They certainly left their imprint on my heart and I walked away with more humility.
Thank you for taking the time of your busy schedule to be with me. I will be there to practice with you tomorrow. Hope everyone will come out to practice with you.
Much love and gratitude.
|Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM||comments (0)|
During our check-in at the beginning of my prison class the other day, as is my usual practice when we have newcomers, I asked some of the veteran students to share their feelings about T’ai Chi Chih. I wish that we could have videotaped their statements for the entire world to see and hear.
“This class, it is the most important day of the week for me.”
“It has completely changed my life.”
“It has helped me to relax and learn to let things go, to not react to stuff.”
“It has helped me find and connect to my center.”
“It has changed the way I look at everything.”
“I don’t take things so personally anymore.”
“I feel connected, it’s easier to talk to people.”
“I can focus on things better, and get things done.”
“I feel healthier than ever before.”
“I am happier and less angry.”
“If it weren’t for this class, I know I’d be in the hole.”
They go into greater detail and are much more eloquent, but you get the idea.
Thank you Justin, Tara Stiles, Judy Tretheway, Pam, Sandy and all of my teachers, for giving me what has been one of the most important experiences of MY life – bearing witness to the transformation and healing is see at Folsom State Prison.
|Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM||comments (0)|
As Tai Chi Chih students, we all have certain teachers for whom we feel a special connection; likewise as Tai Chi Chih teachers, we have certain students with whom we develop a unique bond. When I met Frank Bouldin, we were both students. He then became my teacher, and later, I became his. Frank is a tall, lanky, gentle man, with large, laughing brown eyes and deep golden brown skin. When I joined his class, he’d been practicing for a while and our teacher was gently nudging him towards taking a greater role in helping to lead the class. He was shy and lacked confidence, but I got to witness his path as the Chi (Love Energy) carried him along, and he gradually unfolded his beautiful wings and began to fly. By the time I was getting ready for my teacher accreditation course, Frank was often leading our class. Our teacher then assigned Frank to help me to prepare for my teacher training. With a great deal of humility, gentleness and seriousness, he would take me aside after class and reluctantly point out some areas I might improve upon. He was extremely supportive and encouraging as I too, began to experiment with leading some of the movements in class. Both of us being shy, I think he really empathized with my nervousness in front of the group. He was so proud of me when I returned from training with my accreditation, and was eager to learn what I’d been taught. After our teacher went on sabbatical, he willingly turned the class over to me so I could practice teaching, and we co-taught for several months, becoming each other’s students and teachers.
As with most of my other T’ai Chi Chih students, I don’t ask or know anything about Frank’s past, unless it will have some bearing on how he executes his moves (a previous physical injury, for example). It is his presence that most interests me.
Then one day I came to class and it was announced that Frank was gone. You see, Frank was an inmate at Folsom State Prison, where I first came in as a volunteer, learned T’ai Chi Chih from Judy Tretheway, and now teach. Though more than qualified, he could not attend a teacher training, and had no control of his fate when they suddenly decided to transfer him to San Quentin. Though I’d often expressed my appreciation to him, I still felt I hadn’t fully thanked Frank for all of his help and support. Neither Judy nor I ever got to say goodbye. We get peace from the knowledge that we will always be connected to him through T’ai Chi Chih, and sincerely hope that someday a class will exist at San Quentin so that he can continue on his path as a teacher, and get to experience the wonderful Love Energy generated by a group.
Postscript: Frank has been released and is now living in Southern California, where he someday hopes to become an accredited T'ai Chi Chih Instructor.