ascent Inside - one year later

an update on ascent's subscriptions-to-prisoners program

Illustration by Daniel Malak - Great Meadow Correctional Facility

Last year, ascent started ascent Inside  - a program of donating subscriptions to prison libraries. Getting onto prison library shelves has proved more challenging than expected. Prison boards monitor every article that enters their PO Box. While most prison librarians are eager to accept the donated subscriptions, many confide that despite the magazine being initially accepted by their governing censorship board, the donated copies are often stopped at the mail room and never enter the libraries, nor are read by prisoners. The censorship board decides on a per-copy basis if the magazine will be allowed in their libraries in accordance with their contraband rules. While there is no regulated list of contraband items, whether the magazine is allowed to enter the facility is based on the discretion of the individual opening the mail. Inaccessibility has remained the main issue - ascent couldn’t get inside.

As defeating as this initially felt, ascent persisted, and doors began to open. The magazines that do make it through the barriers have a positive effect on the prisoners, and their letters of gratitude remain a constant source of encouragement to the ascent staff:

“I’m in a great facility that has a wonderful library. I work in the library for $5 per month and am so happy to be able to turn people on to great works, including works on Yoga, meditation and Buddhism. We have our own shelf dedicated to the above. I take your donated issues and protect them with tape. Then guys read and return for others. We’ve now got a great yoga and Qi Gong teacher, Rick, who loves reading ascent and utilizes many techniques learned from your works. Thus many inmates have gained knowledge and flexibility in their lives because of your great works. Please keep up your efforts to find unique perspective few others have ever gotten close to approaching.” --KT (Taft, CA)

ascent is presently in 17 prison libraries within Canada and the US, and continues to provide dozens of individual, complimentary subscriptions to prisoners whose facilities will not accept a donated subscription, or where the prisoner is in solitary confinement or maximum security.

“Your complimentary subscription is almost beyond description on my part (plus inmates). I share ascent before passing it on through the alternative library which services death row and various facilities monitoring the bewildered and problematic, shall we say, patients? Thank you.”
--TM (Raiford, FL).

Often without funds or access to paid work, inmates rely on donations and sample copies to access literature and information. As most prisoners can not receive books from individual citizens, ascent has collaborated with the Books to Prisoners program and now donates books and magazines to a variety of prisons across North America. The Books to Prisoners program is run by local volunteers and brings donated or requested literature to prison libraries and individual prisoners. This is one way ascent is expanding its community. Here’s how the project affected one prisoner:

“I love your magazine. As you know, I have been in prison for the past several years. But in the past year of receiving your magazine I have learned so much about spiritual life. Thank you again.” --JL (Grand Rapids, MI).

The correspondence from individual prisoners has been tremendous, and reminds us of the reason we persist in our efforts to bring ascent inside. Our wish is to increase dialogue; our goal is to be a source of inspiration for readers, yoga practitioners and anyone seeking to live an engaged and ethical life in modern times regardless of who or where they are. This is just one way that we are living our yoga.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life