Yesterday we had the last class with the group that has now been meeting weekly since January (see previous posts). Three of the most “loyal” participants and one guard who has been with us the most during the course, and one of the newer participants came. I missed one man who has been with us most of the classes and one that has come and gone a bit. Maybe they did not want to come and say good-bye, or had some other reason for not being there.
After a first short meditation we looked at the list of the different themes that have been part of the course. Pake Hall said a few words about each theme, as a summary. The guard was taking notes. Then we asked them to share what they think they have gotten out of participating, what they will take with them after we part. Everyone had something to say, and here is the list I wrote down:
The basic practice of remembering to take a deep breath, I do it especially when I feel that I am becoming a bit worried/anxious (a 60-year old man who has been in prison on and off since 1974)
The ability to SEE the thoughts, with the space created around them (the youngest, newest and very eager participant)
Despite all the buzzing and the difficulties in here, to just STOP and focus on the now. It is easier in my own room, but I can do it anytime (the first man)
Listening – to be able to do this more (“-“, this man is very talkative)
To be able to let go of thoughts, and not to keep threshing/racing with them
The forgiveness exercise, I can’t get enough of it! I do it every evening and other times as well. I can do it anytime (the young participant)
To not act immediately, e.g. when I get mad and want to shout and someone, to just be calm for a little while.Then it is easier to find solutions too (another younger participant that has taken the whole course)
To see clearer
Power over my own life – it is also similar to “self-observation” that we practice in a addiction-treatment program here
We asked them to think about how they will use these skills 24-7, after there is no course to come to?
I will read the book – it is good that it is written by someone who has own experience of being in prison (the older man)
Now that spring is here I can meditate while sitting in the sun (the other older man)
When you are in the outdoors, in nature, it is easier
For me I can do the practice anywhere, it is an inner thing (the youngest man)
It is a way to dissipate pointless thoughts (“-“)
After this we did metta-meditation and then offered them a choice of books on Mindfulness by Thich Nat Hahn and Jon Kabat Zinn to take with them as support for continued practice. They all found something they wanted, including the guard who took a book on the Four Noble Truths. Those who had only missed one or a couple of sessions also got their certificates.
It was a very heartwarming good bye, shaking hands and wishing each other all the best. On the way out the guard asked one of the older men how the knowledge about how good the course is can spread in the prison. The participant answered: well, they think this is weird, meditation, they don’t know what it is. The guard agreed and added that it is the same story among his colleagues. A minute later in one of the corridors, we met the head of the prison and the older man took the chance to tell her: This is GOOD for us! We all laughed and the head of the prison said: I know!
Next week we will have a teleconference with her and discuss what she has heard and seen of any “effects” of the course for the participants. We will also give her feedback on what we have seen, as well as the written evaluations we have gotten and that will be sent to us from the participants. We hope we will be invited back this fall.
We also had a brainstorm for ourselves on how we can organize our own team and hopefully find more people that want to train as facilitators. Some are a bit reluctant to take a course that for us runs at 1-3 am in the morning :-). We plan to have a seminar or meeting with other Buddhist groups to see if we can find others to collaborate with, that want to become “socially engaged” in this way.
All in all, it was a blend of feelings after leaving the prison yesterday: happiness that the course has been received so well among the steady participants, for all the things we have learned from them, for the possibility of practicing together and at the same time the tender sadness of letting go and knowing we will probably not be seeing each other again. One man said as we left the room: I will see you on the streets of the city in the future!