Were you aware of any changes
in them once the retreat was over?
One inmate cried when he realized that the person who
indulged in drugs, sold drugs, got into violent situations
and generally didn't care about anything was not the devil.
He saw that this was only an aspect of himself, and it
was a very sweet revelation.
Another had great difficulty accepting any goodness in
himself. He wanted to believe he had some spark of good
but didn't really believe it. I asked him to just open
to the evil thoughts, consider them, and let them run
their course; somehow, that process freed him up so that
at the end of the retreat he was playful like a child.
Have you seen the effects
of meditation work in their daily lives?
I'm really not around them on a daily basis; however I've
gotten very good feedback from the administrators in the
Santa Rosa and the Grants facilities. The mental health
department in Grants has said that meditation classes
have really helped these guys become more peaceful and
accepting and generally happier. And Father Bryan at Santa
Rosa, who sees these men daily, tells me he finds this
a marvelous way of going deep, of really "healing the
What about the men themselves?
Have they said anything about how this is helping them?
I receive three or four letters a month from them telling
me how they use the meditation techniques to feel their
anger rise, to watch it, and to feel it in their bodies.
They are learning not to be overwhelmed by it and to remain
aware that it's only a passing state of mind. They also
tell me how the meditation manual has helped them.
Tell me about the meditation
It's a little booklet called Doing Your Time with Peace
of Mind. It gives the basic elements of the meditation
practice that we teach in the prisons. And though the
meditation is based on Buddhist teachings, we exclude
any reference to the Buddha or the Pali language. Bo Lozoff
recently visited the Dalai Lama in India, who had written
a foreword to Lozoff's meditation book for prisoners,
We're All Doing Time, many years ago. The Dalai Lama repeatedly
asked Bo during the visit, "Now you're not calling it
Buddhism, are you? Make sure you don't call it Buddhism."
So that's kind of been my authority for teaching the way
I do, teaching the heart of the Dharma without getting
lost in the particularities of the philosophy.
Do you distribute or sell
this book in some way?
It's available free-of-charge to all prisoners and all
those who conduct prison meditation groups, and it's been
well accepted. We advertised it in a national prison magazine,
and I also posted it to the Prison Dharma Network online.
We've distributed over 4,000 books around the world, and
about 3,000 prisoners have written asking for a copy.
The requests just keep coming in. We also just published
a Spanish translation. I was surprised to learn that it's
also being used successfully to teach meditation to teenagers
in juvenile halls.
Most prisoners appreciate the fact that different types
of meditation are described in the book. There are two
concentration/insight practices, two kindness practices,
Father Keating's "Centering Prayer," and walking meditation.
What do you mean by kindness
These are meditations where you repeat phrases to yourself
silently, giving yourself permission to make mistakes-to
be a learner in this life and forgive the pain you've
caused yourself and others, letting your intention not
to repeat your mistakes give you the right to forgiveness.
What do you see as the greatest
difficulties for the inmates who are trying to carry on
a meditation practice in a prison environment?
Peer pressure is probably the toughest. We talked with
the guys at Santa Rosa who came to the two-day retreat
about going back to their pods and being with the other
prisoners. The windows of the chapel were open during
the retreat, so everyone knew that these people were in
there sitting in meditation and doing funny-looking, slow
walking meditation. So they were going to have to deal
with that. We talked about how to respond to the jokes,
and we supported their right to not explain anything.
If somebody had a sincere question about what they were
doing, they could answer it sincerely. If someone was
poking fun, they could ignore it, just as they would anything
they didn't want to get involved with. But it's not easy.
It's different from going to a prison in India, where
meditation's a part of daily life.
How do the guards feel about
the meditation classes?
Whenever I'm in to teach meditation, they'll say "I could
sure use some stress reduction." So, I don't know if they
believe that meditation is really going to help the inmates,
but the program's been okayed by their superiors and they
have to let me in to do it. We've been invited by several
prisons to provide meditation classes for prison workers
and administrators as a means of helping them cope with
their stressful jobs. I think it's important for prison
staff to have an understanding of meditation so they can
support the inmates'practice and perhaps receive the benefits
of meditation themselves. That's further down the line,