Robbie Norris 
Member since May 26, 2011



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Re: “Richmond City Jail Abruptly Ends Its Much-Praised Yoga Program

For the record, I emphasize that I don't know anything substantive about Kingdom Life Ministries or their connection to the jail/justice center, other than that the KLM Program was the subject of Scarbrough's dissertation -- nor do I wish to impugn them. I would applaud anyone who is trying to help the inmates. I know very little about Scarbrough's Internal Program Department other than what is on her Justice Center webpage, and the fact that the yoga program was under her auspices since the opening of the Justice Center last year, even while it was emphasized to me that it was not one of the "pillars." I believe all religions are honored at the Justice Center -- I know this is chaplain Father Pruitt's policy, and when the yoga was under him, he would occasionally speak to the students about yoga more eloquently than I could.

As well, many of the students over the years gave me poignant and powerful statements. I will be posting more of them on my blog at Please check it out, especially once this comment thread closes. In 2013 an inmate gave me a statement that lucidly portrays a wide range of benefits experienced:

"I would like to express my gratitude and support for the Richmond City jail yoga program. I have been an enthusiastic participant during my incarceration and would like to share with your readers how powerful a tool Ashtanga Yoga has been for me during this time.

I first attended Robbie’s class in April 2013 while serving 10 days. In just a few sessions, I learned enough to carry on a short practice on my own, which I did for a brief time after my release. I believe I may not have returned to jail if I had persevered with the practice.

I was incarcerated again in late July for another short sentence. Again, I attended Robbie’s classes and experienced the same peace I’d felt before. During that sentence, I was notified that my probation was up for revocation and I would be in jail indefinitely, pending the court outcome. I don’t know how I would have coped with the fear and confusion without the anchor of Robbie’s classes and my own developing practice. I ended up receiving a five-month sentence.

I slowly began assimilating more of the Primary Series and worked up to practicing 15-20 minutes every morning and 45 minutes on the weekends. Almost immediately, I noticed an increase in my strength and flexibility that over time has been quite dramatic. I had been very active before my incarceration and yoga gave me a great way to improve my fitness level in a way that could easily be performed on a crowded, noisy jail tier. I have also been free of the respiratory infections that frequently plague inmates as a result of breathing in recirculated air full of mildew and mold.

More important than the physical benefits are the many ways in which practicing Ashtanga Yoga has benefitted me mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Practicing at the same time every day built self-discipline that I will carry with me into the free world. Pushing myself physically has increased my self esteem. Focusing on the rhythm of my breathing has helped me focus in other areas. My attention span is much longer. I am not as easily pulled into the drama and chaos of jail life. My emotions are more balanced, and when I feel angry, I can manage it more easily and without adverse consequences. I can see the confusion, pain, hurt, fear and rage in myself and others and how those feelings manifest and explode. I can center myself in stressful situations instead of losing my cool or getting anxious.

I eagerly await my release on December 13 so I can continue practicing with Robbie and his students at the Richmond City Yoga studio. Thank you, Robbie, for providing Richmond City Jail inmates with the opportunity to learn and grow during their jail time. I cannot speak highly enough about the positive changes that practicing the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga has brought to my life. I am forever grateful for the time, energy, attention and love you show us in an environment where we receive precious little positivity."

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Posted by Robbie Norris on 12/03/2015 at 4:26 PM

Re: “Richmond City Jail Abruptly Ends Its Much-Praised Yoga Program

Whatever I have done is what I have always done openly for seven and a half years, and I have no fear of discussing any allegation. They know very well I'm no security threat. I gave the yoga book not just to any employee, but to one of the most highly placed employees in the Justice Center: he didn't think it was a problem, was glad to help, and when I sincerely apologized to him after being scolded by Sarah Scarbrough, he said, "Don't worry about it. It was nothing." As to escorts, every inch -- so far as I know -- of the $130 million dollar building is audio and video recorded; with hundreds of locked doors, and I have no key. How could I mill about? Since the program was taken a year ago from the genuinely supportive and intelligent oversight of the chaplain, and put under Scarbrough, there has been persistent pressure for no reason I could discern without resorting to speculation of low motives. I have taught over 1000 classes without a single incident requiring staff assistance. I taught 200 under Scarbrough, but she never stepped foot into one of them. I left for a month in India (with about six months' notice) with confirmed written plans in place to add two more classes outside the Program, for general population. Haven't heard a word from Scarbrough since just before I left, but I'm glad to hear she's sorry. I have a year's worth of emails that anyone is welcome to see. I would be happy to address any specific allegation, but have been denied the opportunity. As to the flyers, everyone knew I handed them out to all students, on every visit, ever since I opened my studio two years ago-- offering them a free month of yoga upon release. I also handed them out to tons of staff-- whoever was interested -- on every visit. I got three recently released inmates jobs during the last year-- is that unauthorized? Maybe someone somewhere in the Commonwealth's bureaucracy who truly does care about rehabilitation should say: Wait a minute. This guy has hordes of unsolicited heartfelt inmate testimonials. People write to him him from state and federal prison thanking him for conveying a specific gold-standard yoga practice that they are now teaching to fellow inmates. Maybe we might tap into this guy's passion and energy rather than try to snuff it.

117 likes, 1 dislike
Posted by Robbie Norris on 12/01/2015 at 10:24 PM

Re: “Sweat and Surrender

Many thanks to Melissa Scott Sinclair and Scott Elmquist for their professionalism and their talented execution of this story. I also want to thank Laura Hughes, who taught the women of the city jail for a few months in 2009, Jennifer Miller, who subsequently taught the women for a whole year, half that time driving each week from 70 miles away, and Lynn Headley, who has been teaching the women for the last several months. My hope is that circulation of this article will encourage a few of the many yoga practitioners who have thought about teaching in jails/prisons, to go and do it -- just experiment. Inmates are fun to teach (there is plenty of personality in the room), and no special knowledge is needed, only patient persistence and the desire to share one's own transformative practice with the people who need it most. This yoga practice is incredibly helpful to me, and it is intrinsically rewarding to me every time I teach at the jail, to be able to impart such a beneficial practice for the future well-being of those inmates who take it up in earnest, as well as just to make 20 people who live in a "crab pot" feel immensely better in the moment. The practice is like taking an internal bath, deep scrub, physically and emotionally.

3 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Robbie Norris on 05/29/2011 at 7:26 PM

Re: “Sweat and Surrender

Dorothea, you're such a sweetheart and I know you must be loving motherhood! I learned from you, too-- just as much, I'm sure. Hope we can get that group together for a reunion practice sometime soon! Robbie

1 like, 0 dislikes
Posted by Robbie Norris on 05/26/2011 at 1:27 PM

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