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Veronica Shaffer

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Being the Stanger: On Writing Character
A Journey of Imprisonment and Freedom
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Book Recounts Yoga Class in Women's Prison
by Veronica Shaffer   
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Last edited: Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Posted: Wednesday, August 15, 2007

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Article from Fairhaven Neighborhood News

text and photos by Beth David
Ronnie Shaffer admits to feeling trapped or “in prison” at times in her life, although she was never incarcerated. Actually, she admits to a bit more than that in her book, “I Hear Your Cry,Women in Prison.” The non-fiction book recounts her experiences teaching yoga to women in prison for five years. At the beginning, she had to call it “Fit and Wellness” because the “powers that be” frowned on the words “yoga” and “meditation.”
But her inner voice told her to keep going — and go she did. Until she finally taught women in class after class a little bit about getting in touch with their bodies, centering themselves, and relaxing, even on a hard tile floor, in a cold, cold prison.
In a writing style that’s conversational and matter-of-fact, Ms. Shaffer bares her naiveté even as s he writes about her misgivings every step of the way. Her observations about life in a women’s prison are innocent, bereft of cynicism, and lead the reader to the lessons learned one step at a time, just as Ms. Shaffer learned them herself. There is humor, including a searing stream of consciousness visit inside the head of a cranky prison worker. There are also tender moments, sadness, and anger at the lies and betrayal. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to choose which pieces define the events of his or her life.
“The first thing I learned was that they at times became my teacher,” said Ms. Shaffer, 68. “And allowing myself to really view my own life in younger years, and to look at it and then free myself and not hold on to those emotional, traumatic memories.” She said she wrote the book “because I just had a sense or feeling that I needed to have the public become more familiar in a different way with those who are in prison; other than hearing they wrote bad checks or they beat each other.”
She said her program gave many of them a sense of accomplishment they never had before.“The majority of them did not know the meaning of commitment,” she said. “And in doing a six-week program they had graduation and received a certificate. Some of them had a new sense of pride and a new sense of accomplishment.”
Writing the book brought its own challenges and rewards. “I also learned that when you write non fiction it’s not always easy to be honest about who you are and looking honestly about your own events in your life,” she said. “You have to look at that with a deep sense of honesty and moving through your fears.” Interwoven into the story of the prison classes, is a wealth of information about Ms. Shaffer’s ex-husband, her family dynamics, and an ex-boyfriend.
She uses a sparse, non-flowery style to describe people and events, but nevertheless paints vivid pictures of her subjects and their antics with lots of detail. She describes the women, the attitude of the guards, the visitors, and the institution.
" The common area was adorned with drawings from the inmates’ children. Some were pages ripped from a coloring book; others were scrawled on plain sheets of paper for “Mommy.” Many displayed vivid colors — bright reds and blues. Some had the child’s name underneath; others read, “I love you.” "
Ms. Shaffer is a certified yoga instructor. She now teaches creative writing to men in prison. Her book is available at Barnes and Noble bookstores, online at,,; and directly from the author at www. veronica

Thursday, May 10, 2007 Fairhaven Neighborhood News

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