Iย don’t know about you, but my brain came equipped with a paranoid, self-conscious backseat driver who is constantly bumping his gums about every catastrophic and humiliating potentiality that is mathematically possible in a given situation.

This is probably part of the reason why I continued getting high long after the party was over — silencing the inner noise, separating self from brain chatter. Although sometimes this backfired and the dope was like giving the voice in my head a bullhorn.

But this isn’t another of my anti-drug rants. I don’t even consider myself anti-drug. I just can’t use them. For me, drugs come with the curious side effect of landing in the back of police cars. In fact, I’m currently 11 years into a 30-year sentence for actions resulting from my voracious, insatiable appetite for mind-altering substances. But again, this is not about the drugs. This is about the voice.

If you’re thinking “Malcolm is a psycho, he’s got a voice in his head,” that would be the same voice I’m referring to. We’ve all got it. This highly opinionated, ultra-sensitive, threat-assessing, judgment-casting inner narrator who edits the inflow of the world through the senses with various degrees of inflection. Mine happened to be squawking this morning. I’ll explain…

I’ve been wanting to try yoga for a while, ever since I read Bo Lozoff’sย We’re All Doing Time.ย I’ve been incarcerated for most of my life and I grew up hanging from the pull-up and dip bars on rec yards across the state of Florida. These sorts of exercises are a given, as routine as chow and count. There’s a reason why your crackhead nephew gets arrested skinny enough to hide behind a pine tree, and gets out with pecs like Lou Ferrigno. We get buff in here. It’s part of the prison experience.

Yoga has a different draw: flexibility, supple internal organs, reduced stress, increased energy, focus, concentration, peace of mind. At 42 years old, these things seem more important to me now than having massive biceps. So this morning I woke up, brushed my teeth, slammed a bottle of water, and settled into the Corpse pose in the space beside my bunk.

Almost immediately, the voice piped up: “You look weird, man.” I ignored it and climbed to my feet to attempt the sun salutation. The voice was silent for a moment, but by the time I reached downward dog, it was back with a nervous vengeance: “Dude, what the hell? People are staring. They’re gonna think you’re soft or gay or crazy.” The voice was right. Yoga postures aren’t exactly the most prison-friendly exercises. The last thing I wanted was some rapist checking me out while I attempted the plow.

I couldn’t help it. I opened an eye and surveyed the dorm. The guy across the aisle was zoned out on psych meds, another had toothpaste slathered over his face, the old man behind me was in a heated debate with an invisible opponent. No one was paying any attention to what I was doing.

I had to laugh at myself. Why was I sweating appearances when I live in a crazy house? Probably because my paranoid backseat driver convinced me yet again that my reputation, manhood, and very existence depended on it. Here’s hoping your voice is more laid-back than mine.

[This post originally appeared on http://www.malcolmivey.com in June 2016.]