Ok, it is a very different environment to teach meditation in compared to a buddhist temple or city center. Coming there and passing through gate after gate, barbed wire on top of the high fences and security controls, leaving id-card, phone and everything but some handouts.
A guard shows us to a room that we quickly puts together with chairs in a circle. It’s a very tiny room, so we have to put away the plan for walking meditation. We can hardly get everyone in there if all 13 of the inmates who have shown interest will actually come to the class.
Then the people show up and fill the room, we greet them all when they enter and offer them a chair. After a short presentation, we start with a “holding your seat” meditation for 1 minute. I give the instructions and wonder how it will work out… After 30 seconds I notice one big muscular guy starting to shake a bit and sweating pouring down his neck. And I see how I have forgotten how strong defenses we sometimes have built up. Today it’s such a ordinary thing to sit down and just breath (not that it’s easy all the time!), but as an instructor it’s good to remember how it was to begin once. The first time I sat down on a cushion I really started to hyper ventilate – and continued to do so for the 20 minutes I sat there! I am very grateful for this man helping me to remember this.
After the first meditation we talk some, go through the Path of Trouble and the Path of Freedom. The guys start to share – some more “programme used” than others, some more insecure than others. And some try to get cheap laughs when it’s too difficult to just sit there. But the atmosphere is good and focused. When we do the last sitting meditation – they can both see that it’s dfficult but also that several of them feel relaxed. For the final Q and A-round some raises the question of how to actually do it? We point to the daily routine, the small step approach, the possibility to do one daily activity as meditation (leaving the urine sample as meditation was one old guys suggestion!) and to keep a gentle approach. The gym analogy also landed well – the training of the mind is not much different from training the biceps. Everyone has their own experience from that.
The one thing that was a bit of a mishap was the difficulty of communication through an institution. One of the guys where so happy that we were there. He had made his own meditation pallet and really looked forward to sitting with others on a weekly basis. When we said that we could start up the actual Path of Freedom programme in January he got really frustrated and sad since he’s leaving the prison at X-mas. We had been very clear to the prison staff about that, but the information hadn’t really found it’s way to the prisoners. It was actually the prison staffs suggestion that we come for a couple of introductions in the fall and then start up in January. I guess this kind of stuff is bound to happen working with giant institutions, but still – one doesn’t want it to.
The staff that were with us during the class (two of them) thought it worked very well and way above their expectations. I guess that’s proof for it being a programme and an attitude that really works in this environment.