Larry and Shanie's Inspiring Journey
From Shandara Gill, Yoga For All Movement Founder and President:
In 2014, I worked as a social worker for an organization supporting individuals in their successful reentry to their community from incarceration. I wanted to offer yoga as a service so these individuals would know their self-worth, find a way to combat the negative effects of institutionalization and believe in their own capacity to change. It was at this time I met Larry, a man with a long-standing history of incarceration.
Larry is a father of 10, a poet, and was a recent student at Hartnell College. The son of parents who struggled with addiction and mental health disorders, Larry always strived to make sense of his environment and wasn’t privy to what many of us would consider a normal childhood. He found solace in the written word and became a published poet when he was attending Hartnell. Eventually though, Larry’s past caught up with him and he found himself back in our county jail system serving a prison sentence for his addiction. When Larry and I met, he had heard about yoga and meditation and knew he wanted to try something different. It wasn’t about the yoga poses for Larry. It was about the recognition that having time to breathe and to be quiet would allow him to find some peace from the creeping self-doubt. It allowed Larry the opportunity to slowly dismantle the criminalization of himself he identified with for so long. I know we can all relate to feeling worthless at times—how many of us have hit the waves with our surfboard, gone to the gym or phoned a friend because we felt desperate to feel relief? For Larry, the yoga mat became a place where he could take a vacation from self-doubt and hopelessness for the next two years.
Since being released, Larry has reunited with his family, continues to write poetry and practices yoga every day. Larry volunteers with YFAM and comes with us to speak about his experience practicing yoga when it felt like he had nothing else left to lose. Whether you relate to Larry or not, I know we can all relate to feeling hopeless. We can also relate to the desire to create change in our lives. Larry still struggles, but it’s been his conviction to changing his life and freeing himself from doubt and hopelessness that’s kept him from recidivating. Furthermore, it was Larry’s bravery in sharing his story that allowed us to recruit new volunteers and expand our outreach to serve more students than ever before. We know it takes all of us working together to create transformational change.