About six months ago, Austin solo Jim Freeman (pictured) finished a personal-injury case and told himself, “I’m done.”
He stopped practicing law full time and devoted himself to a new life goal: to launch a yoga program for inmates in every prison in Texas.
“The people I want to help are the ones who have been thrown away, the ones that are in there forever,” said Freeman, founder of Conviction Yoga in Austin. “It’s a desire to improve life inside that pushes my button.”
Eventually, he wants to organize Conviction Yoga as a nonprofit and conduct fundraising that will support prison yoga teachers across Texas. For now, three days per week he drives around the state to towns with “clusters” of prisons. He can visit three prisons in one 16-hour day.
Freeman, a practicing Buddhist, teaches the inmates yoga as a meditation technique to focus their minds on the sensations in their bodies. He often leads his students through repetitions of Sun Salutation, a yoga move which starts with a person extending his arms to the side and overhead before bowing to touch his toes. But many inmates must alter the move to practice in their cells.
“I always ask them, ‘What does your cell look like?’ Some of them have big cells; some of them have very small cells,” explained Freeman. “The front of your yoga mat is bars, and the back of your yoga mat is where the sink and toilet is.”
Freeman said he thinks inmates suppress their emotional sides because of trauma from growing up in troubled homes, leading a life of crime and living among prison violence. He said that yoga allows inmates to release their traumas and reconnect with their feelings.
“What yoga has done for me is open me up and not only show me I can feel again but that I want to feel again,” said Freeman. “That’s really what I want to help them cultivate: the ability to have compassion.”