Hope everyone is doing well. We just finished our second five day MBSR prison retreat this month at a women’s prison, It was in Gadsden, Florida which is about 40 or so miles west of Tallahassee. It is a CCA prison and I have to say that all things considered, we got a tremendous amount of support from the entire staff that we came in contact. This was their first five day retreat and there were a host of unknowns but they responded with a sense of urgency and good nature.
However, as good as was the support from the staff, even better was the support from the inmates. None of them have ever sat a five day retreat much less more than 30 or so minutes more than once or twice. Yes, there were the normal call-outs and etc but no matter how you cut it there was a lot of sitting and sitting in a variety of positions such as the astronaut pose, corps pose, chair sitting and of course on the mats and cushions supplied by Dharma Crafts. As varied as the positions were is as still as the inmates were. A lot of them had some serious injuries associated with a traumatic and at times dramatic life style. However, there were times when the only thing moving was the minds and undoubtedly some were going 90 miles an hour.
As in Lowell CI, we were fortunate and ran interviews in the Zen tradition that paralleled the entire retreat. Whereas the interviews were in the Zen tradition, they covered the entire gamete. For many, it was the first time since they were incarcerated that they had an opportunity to talk to someone other than staff or other inmates. it often turned into a venting process where they could get a lot of stuff off their chest.
This was the first time we had inmates that were not volunteers sitting the MBSR program and retreat. 30 of them were in a drug program and were designated to attend. A lot of the focus in the selection process was anger issues. By the time of the retreat, they were fully into the entire process and there was no way you could have distinguished them from the volunteers out of the general population. In no way, shape or form did they prove distractive, disorderly or disruptive.
As in most retreats, we had a circle talk afterwards for 46 of the inmates. most circle talks are rather superficial in nature. This as in almost all the circle talks I have heard in prison quickly gets down to the bone and often proves to be gut wrenching because of the histories these men and women carry. Histories that are totally unimaginable. Histories that no community would dare publish because it would surely demolish the thin veneer of civilization hidden in front of the closed doors of both the homes and criminal justice community. They give would give a new meaning to the home being a castle and justice being blind. Then again, there may be more to it than meets the eye.
Yes, these retreats are missing the bells and whistles of most meditation halls and the alignment of the cushions may not be as precise but know the intensity of the work is indeed profound.
Next week-end we will have a three day interfaith retreat at the men’s prison in Lawtey, Florida. This like the women’s prison in Lowell and Gadsden is a quarterly affair.
The staff at Gadsden will sit down with us after the next retreat to discuss the implementation of character based dorms for both the general population and addiction dorms. Essentially this amounts to dorms where yoga and meditation will become a part of the daily training schedule and quarterly retreats are of 5 and 10 days. Each dorm does an MBSR cycle in the first two quarters. The additional feature of our character based dorms is that we pull the tv out of the recreation room and put in a 24 hour computer learning center with about 20 stations. This will require some major financial support.
The third aspect of our overall prison program is the residential component. Two of the three house we have are part of the Gateless Gate Zen Center and the third is a totally secular meditation program run by Mathew Tenney. This like the MBSR program, retreat program and character dorms is a major undertaking. At the moment we are renting the three houses and in the black. However, we need to own these house and purchase an apartment complex to properly support those inmates coming out of prison that want to continue their practice of meditation as it relates to its integration into education, work and relationships.
We have set a quarterly schedule of retreats and MBSR programs that will take us through next year. however, as cooperative as the prisons and inmates have been, is as uncooperative as the economy is. It takes us over $500 a cycle just to pay for workbooks and gas for the MBSR programs and the ensuing five day retreats at Lowell and Gadsden. Then again we are not even including factors like mats and cushions of which we need in the neighborhood of 60 more sets. There is a very real possibility that we are going to have take a serious look at our capacity to support this ambitious program without considerable outside help.
Rest assured, I will go anyplace at almost any time to speak to whatever group in any attempt to raise funds for these programs.
Yours in the Dharma
Kinloch C. Walpole
Gateless Gate Zen Center
1208 NW 4th Street
Gainesville, Florida 32601
Phone: (352) 336-1517
Web Site: http://gatelessgate.org