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Tai Chi at San Quentin

White Magnolia Instructors Miriam Marsolais, Peter Binkley and Julio Kaplan teach Chi Gung and Tai Chi as volunteers at San Quentin State Prison under the supervision of Fr. George Williams, SJ, Catholic Chaplain.  More advanced inmate students are beginning to assist, teaching newer students and supporting practice between classes.  Miriam integrates understanding gained through her work as a psychologist with trauma survivors in her teaching.  In this way, Chi Kung/ Tai Chi practice becomes a pathway towards reconciliation and growth inside the prison walls.

Letter from an Inmate

Dear Tai Chi Teacher,

I want to start by saying thank you.  This is two simple words I wierdly use and mean it too.  It might sound harsh and perceive me as deceiving character.  The reason is that I was feeling the whole world had done me wrong, for the misfortune and suffering I face in life.  I believe we all shape by our life experience and environment.  Few will ever understand what's like to grow up in prison starting at sixteen.  By the time I was eighteen, I found myself in one of America's most dangerous prison, Pelican Bay.  It's sink or swim for me? I must learn quick.   In order to survive this harsh environment, a choice has to be made, be a predator or be the prey?  Like an animal in the jungle I quickly adopted into this dog eat dog world.  As a youngster I learned fast, to master this jungle.  I had no time or the luxury to think of right or wrong.  I became someone else, I put on a mask.  Let go some of the most precious quality as a human being.

Among those are compassion, fear, hate, love, trust, optimism, sadness..........etc.  If you have any emotions don't show it.  I must not show any weakness, and keep my emotional feeling to myself.  It became an instinct and stay with me.  For years I hide my moral consciousness.  In this environment moral became a burden, being righteous is bad for your health.  Knowing this fact, I did what I had to do. Never think of whom I hurt or who got hurt.  As long as not me.  Survival brings out the worst in mankind.  As I learn the skills to play this game, I excel within the walls.  I gain respect and alliance.  I use my social, business and political skills to climb to the top of the food chain, made life easier for me and my friends.  Without the physical ability to dominate like a lion in the wild.  I turn myself into a hyena, an Animal I despite.

I think I was smart to done all those, not realize I had made a deal with the "devil."  Unaware of the impact this had on my personality, slowly I'm losing my innocent.  The very last thing I'm trying to preserve was slipping away before me, without my consent.  Not realizing this changes.  I had set my own trap!  The same "smart" I use to survive also my downfall.  Living in a invincible bubble, I can only see out.  Never have the ability or calmness to look inward.  I turn on survival mode and I didn't know how to turn it off.

I try soul searching in religions, desperately to find a way to regain control of my mind.  I had very little faith of a mercyful god or any higher power, my life never give me a reason to have faith.  I wish just a small reason will do the trick.  I offen admire my friend whom can turn to religions for support, while my moral value slowly erode away in this madness.  The line between good and bad become blurry.  I use this blured lined to justify my actions, without the ability to realize this.  I sunk deeper in this invincible prison I had build for myself.

Realization comes after weeks of learning Tai Chi.  I was warn about intense emotional feeling might occur as a result from Tai Chi.  Being arrogant, I think to myself, "How?  No way can Tai Chi trigger emotional response."  I'm so wrong.  After a few weeks of tai chi, emotional feeling start to surge, both good and bad emotions become so clear like never before.

I regain the ability to reflect on life with unbias perspective.  The calmness and peace I gain through Tai Chi enable me to think clearly. Like waking from a nightmare, I start to realize the Impact prison had in my life.

Me and many of my convict friends only cares about getting out of our physical confinement.  We never realize the inescapable invincible prison we Auto program in our brain.

Without the ability to delete this program we doom to return, and can never be truly free.  We confine by our own "instinct."  You can take a monkey out of the jungle but you can't take the jungle out of the monkey.

Thank you for teaching me Tai Chi, an Amazing give of serenity, I had never experience.  Through it, I can slowly delete the negative effects prison had on me.  Using tai chi as a tool to stay calm, I gain better understanding of my condition, slowly let go of years of anger and bitterness.  With my new found insight, I'm making positive changes in my lifestyle, attitude and decision making, hopefully one day I can regain what I lost in prison.  I can't imagine going through life without the clear mind and still heart tai chi bring to my world.

Like a drowning man receiving a life saver. I'm so grateful.  Thanks to you, Peter and Miriam, for spenting your valuable time to  be in prison with us.  To show my gratitude I'll try my best to be a better student and a nicer man.  I'm making improvements of the problems I fell to realize in the past.  No matter where I go in this life, I'll take this give of serenity with me.


Sincerely your student,