PRISON YOGA: Early Thoughts on the Future of my project

The Importance of a Humanist Perspective

Chengdu, Sichuan province, China (2010)

Whilst this project aims to build connections between personal narratives of those involved in the criminal justice system and the wider socio-political context within which they are shared, I am aware of my own position as a researcher to be one that is far removed from those serving sentences in prison.

However, what I do experience, is the ways in which criminality, and the representations of prisoners’ lives meet the public eye. At this early stage I feel it is important to identify the theoretical and moral foundations which will inform how I explore the experience of incarceration which I feel to be especially relevant for developing research questions that intend to probe the moral debates around the punishment – rehabilitation dichotomy.

The content in this post is a selection of works that I have found to represent prisoners in a way that appreciates their agency, self-worth and right to a quality of life irrespective of their criminal background which has allowed me to consider the approach I wish to take when carrying out my research when reflecting on the aims behind this project.

For example, Martha-Cecilia Dietrich’s short film Take Me to a Place Outside conveys a phenomenological sense of imprisonment and deliberately ignores the characters specific crimes to avoid moral judgement from the viewer (2009).

Martha-Cecilia Dietrich – Take Me to a Place Outside


This has encouraged me to think carefully about the level of sensitivity my research will demand, and the extent to which individuals who have previously been incarcerated may still be subject to labelling and social stigma. For example, as Moran’s ethnography suggests, the experience of prison can be ‘inscribed’ onto the physical body and affect the mind-state of individuals long after release (Moran, 2012).

The drive toward prison reform that focusses on recovery and therapy is becoming increasingly more visible in the media. A leading example being Grendon Prison (established in the 1960’s) it became the first prison in Europe to operate solely as a ‘therapeutic community’ and was recognised as the most successful system for reducing recidivism rates upon opening (Genders and Player, 1995).

Architectural projects that work on ‘healing spaces’ seems to bring moral debates further into the public eye, reflected in Michael Madsen’s short film exploring the therapeutic space of Halden prison in Southern Norway as part of the Cathedrals of Culture series (2014).

Michael Madsen

Rehabilitation programmes which offer yoga and meditation to prisoners inherently have therapeutic and humanistic values attached whereby the physical and psychological well-being of inmates remains a central focus of their efforts (Waldrum,1998). Bakonyi Panni addresses the value of yoga and makes connections between the value of its practice both inside and outside prison walls.

Bakonyi Panni – Jail Yoga

I feel increasingly confident that this approach to prison studies has moral, political and social priority. Firstly, it is a way to appreciate humanistic values, whilst also, has been recognised to reduce criminal behaviour and return a level of agency to the individual  (Rucker, 2005 and Prison Reform Trust , 2016)

As the time gets closer toward the official start to my research project, my main concern has been how to map out the stages of development that will support my research questions and provide some stability when things inevitably go off course which has led me to consider the influence that methodological choices may have on my project.

Given my research is anthropologically grounded, I wish to keep the theoretical boundaries of my project loosely defined, as it is my hope to follow the particular issues that are raised and addressed by my informants during my fieldwork; rather than those that I personally  recognise to be of relevance at his early stage. My understanding of prison reform and the debates around criminality are informed largely by academic discourse which may lack the narratives I hope to gather from lived human experiences.

As Ferrell and Hamm suggest, the ‘humanity of crime and deviance’ (1998) which remains hidden form the public eye, and the voices of those who experience incarceration are too often misrepresented or silenced before they reach public discourse.



Ferrell, J. and Hamm, M. (1998), ‘Confessions of Danger and Humanity’ in Ferrell, J. and Hamm, M. (eds.),

Harner, H., Hanlon, A.L. and Garfinkel, M., 2010. Effect of Iyengar yoga on mental health of incarcerated women: A feasibility study. Nursing research, 59(6), pp.389-399.

Hofstede, G, 2001. Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviours, institutions and organizations across nations. Sage

Moran, D., (2012). Prisoner reintegration and the stigma of prison time inscribed on the body. Punishment & Society, 14(5), pp.564-583.

Prison Reform Trust , 2016. Bromley Briefings. London: Ministry of Justice

Rucker, L., 2005. Yoga and restorative justice in prison: An experience of “response‐ability to harms”. Contemporary Justice Review, 8(1), pp.107-120.

Telles, S. and Naveen, K.V., 1997. Yoga for rehabilitation: an overview. Indian journal of medical sciences, 51(4), p.123.









Reflections Of The Laidlaw Scholar From Afar

Soaking up the Italian sunshine has no cons.
Studying abroad in Italy has just few cons.
Yet becoming a Laidlaw scholar while sunbathing abroad has more cons than I thought.

One of these is probably being the first one to write the blog entry when I have nothing uplifting to share, just a pinch of fear and a dollop of stress and, it feels like, hectoliters of isolation. How can this be if I haven’t even started my research?!

Although at university the social media and emails are so frequently used for communication, I realized how ensuring it is when one has this comfort of meeting the supervisor or the university staff in person in case of any doubts or queries, rather than relying on virtual contact only. Surprisingly, emails often make the communication much more difficult, definitely less personal and way more time-consuming. Especially when your supervisor suggests meeting face to face to discuss the application and the only thing you can offer instead is a Skype date (and then the entire new chapter of poor internet connection comes into play…).

Reading all those invitations to guest lectures that I was obviously going to miss, receiving updates about the training weekend that I was not going to attend (no mentioning missing the ceilidh) paradoxically made me feel left out, as if I had not been part of the group.           I never thought that the need for belonging can play such an important part in conducting the research, but having read for a tenth time that “now I am part of the community of Laidlaw scholars” while being at least 1,616.2 miles away from this community, made me realize how fundamental it is to know you are not alone in your work, at any stage of the research.

I’m not sharing this to vent my negative energy or whine (what a nasty start to this year’s blog!) but I would rather like to demonstrate that the research is not only reading, writing, making experiments, but it also has an important social dimension, which often is neglected or absent at all when discussing academic work. For this reason, I’am immensely grateful for the second part of the Laidlaw Scholarship, the Leadership Training, which makes this social dimension more evident as it brings together such diverse individuals with different mindsets, ideals and ambitions as Laidlaw scholars and lets them talk openly about weaknesses and their fears, which I believe is the only constructive way to tackle the problems (and, trust me, way more fun when done in teams rather than individually on Skype…).

Because feeling isolated after 8 lonely hours spent in the archives or a laboratory is totally normal, and we needn’t always pretend that the research is all roses and the work is going great as usual. Feeling lost and scared at the beginning of your journey, especially if it’s your first independent project on such a scale as it is for me, is natural too, and I hope that this post will make you realize that you are not the only one going through hard time.
I wish each and everyone good luck, loads of patience and a good friend/supervisor/mentor/parent who will support you throughout your project. I hope I still will be given a chance to meet you all, you guys already rock!

sunset in Venice

Sunset in Venice