With recidivism rates being unfavourably high, reformation seems like an unobtainable goal for many criminals. No matter how much they promise themselves that they’ll go straight, more often than not, they end up going straight to the nearest post office armed with a shotgun, or straight to the next bag of heroin. The government tries punishing them – it doesn’t work. For the most part, nor do the various courses and educational schemes they’re forced to go on in prison. However, one thing that is achieving surprising results is yoga. Research indicates that inmates who practice yogic meditation have a reoffending rate of up to 40% lower than those who don’t.
One man who knows the reformative power of yoga all too well is British ex criminal Paul Adams, who was once classed as amongst the most uncontrollable people in the Dutch prison system. After meditating each day for 120 days, he claimed that he was not only free from the urge to commit crime, but also cured of his crack and heroin addiction. I caught up with him to find out more.
Can you say a bit about how you first got involved in crime?
I was stealing bubble gum at nine or ten, then got into stealing bikes. Then I started going to football matches, and met professional criminals, who put me onto other things. I would go abroad grafting [committing crime], and the money, women, nightclubbing and clothes became addictive. I became a hardened criminal, and never thought I’d ever change.
What types of crimes were you involved in?
I was a prolific snatcher [robber who works by snatching goods from victims], and liked to work on my own. I used to work using disguises – wigs, blue contacts and that type of thing. I bought my wigs from a black shop in Brixton [an area of South London], and first got the idea from reading books on spies in jail. I read all of the Jason Bourne books before the films came out. You could pick up little tricks from those types of books. I’d put tissue in my mouth to make my face look bigger, and wear a light pair of pants [trousers] with a dark pair of pants over it so that I could swap clothes. If I had a ‘tache when I did a snatch, I’d carry a razor with me and shave it off afterwards. I varied what wig and hat I had on.
You ended up doing four and a half years in a Dutch prison. How did that come about?
When I was around 25, I got done for snatching money from night safes. I was all over the front page of the papers, but didn’t know because I couldn’t read Dutch. They put me down as a Michael Jackson lookalike because of the disguises.
You were a bit of a thorn in the side of the Dutch prison system. Can you say a bit about that?
I hated Dutch prisons, because there were nonces [sex offenders] in with us, and the Dutch just accepted it. I wouldn’t put up with it, and kept kicking off. I got moved to 6 or 7 different prisons overall. I tried to start a riot in one of the jails. The Strangeways riots [notorious riots in HMP Strangeways, a prison in the UK] were on television, and then the week after, Paris went up, so I thought, ‘Let’s have it here.’ The Dutch’s idea of a riot was an hour’s sit down in the yard, though. As soon as we came off the yard, I was shipped out to Masstricht, where I had six weeks of twenty-three-and-a-half hour bang-up [cell confinement].
That sounds disappointing.
Yeah. After that, I got moved to a little place called Middleburg, where there were only sixteen people in the jail. I almost killed someone in there. The Dutch all loved me, and always wanted to talk to me because I was English, but then this gypsy guy came in. He had blonde hair, blue eyes, and was a big cunt and a kickboxer. He couldn’t speak English, and took exception to me. One time, I heard him say ‘Hitler’ whilst looking in my direction. He was trying to be a bit of a Nazi ,so I said to his mate, ‘Translate this for him: the first people that Hitler put in the gas chamber were fucking gypsies.’ The gypsy went crazy, and we had a bit of a tear up. A guy who I was friendly with who was also a bit of a kickboxer switched on me as well. I ended up getting put in segregation, but when I got out, I really badly fucked him up for it, and they shipped me out rapidly and put me down as being extremely dangerous. I ended up getting put in a place called Hoogeveen, which was full of people doing 25 and 30 years.
That sounds hardcore.
I put in for home leave partway through my sentence at the advice of a priest, never thinking in a million years that I’d get it. The Dutch not only eventually granted me the home leave, but took me to one side and told me that if I didn’t willingly return to Holland, I wouldn’t be extradited. I think it was their way of saying, ‘We’ve had enough of you. Fuck off and don’t come back.’
You did a long sentence in England. How did that come about?
I chopped a guy’s hand off with a machete – well, left it dangling. The guy thought he was a bit of a gangster and a big time drug dealer, but when I hit him with a rusty machete, he bubbled [informed] to the police. A lot of people want to play at being gangsters, but when you hurt them, they just go to the Old Bill [police]. I ended up getting 8 years, and it completely fucking destroyed me. It made me realise what a mug [idiot] I was. I talked to people and asked what they were in for, and they would say, ‘I’m doing 8 years for £150 [A$305] worth of heroin.’ I told people straight that I was a fucking goon [idiot] for doing 8 years for nothing.
Did you kick off in the English prisons like you did in the Dutch ones?
Yeah, they moved me around 28 times because I used to smash up. I really railed against the system. I suffered quite a bit of racism from the screws [guards], and didn’t put up with it. It was six of one and half a dozen of the other though,because I gave as good as I got. When I got out after that, I decided to go straight, but got recalled back to prison for 6 months for fuck all, which really destroyed me. When I got out, I ended up on crack and heroin just to cope with things. That led me to moving about the country and hustling and serving people up. I got to the point where I couldn’t take it any more. Age had caught up with me and I’d just had enough.
So what did you do next?
I went into rehab, where I met a Sikh guy and ended up going to a Gurdwara with him, because I’ve always been interested in theology. I saw an advert for Kundalini yoga on the wall, which I had read a book about in jail before in the ‘80s, and decided to go along. I absolutely loved it.
What does it involve?
In Kundalini yoga, they say that it takes 40 days to change a habit, 90 days to create a new habit, and 120 days until the new habit is who you are. I decided to do a form of meditation called ‘kirtan kriya’, because I’d heard it was good for curing drug addiction. I did it every day for 120 days. Around 113 days into it, I went to a yoga teacher’s house, and she told me that she was flabbergasted by what I was doing. I also realised that the 120th day landed on my birthday, which she said meant that my transformation would almost be like my rebirth. She said, ‘Paul, yoga teacher training starts in January. I really think that you should go for it. It’s a sign.’ And that’s what I did. Yoga completely changed my life. It’s taken all of the violence out of me and made me an extremely honest guy. I’m not perfect, but I don’t steal, I don’t hurt anybody, and I teach yoga to children and people with special needs.
Hardened criminal to yoga teacher is a bit of a dramatic transformation. How are you finding it?
I’m glad I’ve changed, but I’m 50 years of age and led a criminal life from fifteen or sixteen up until forty-six, so I’m struggling in ways. I’m still doing what I do and earning an honest living, though. I’ve gone from making lots of money to earning peanuts, so in a way it’s like a footballer going back to a normal life. When you’ve got to stop living the life of Riley and live normally but all you’ve every done is crime, it’s fucking hard. I’m teaching my own yoga classes, and am now holistic editor of Martial Arts Illustrated though, so my life’s on the right track.
*Paul spoke with @nickchester