|Posted on July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM|
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.