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“Holding Your Seat”

I’m including how the new POF program at Concord MCI is set up because I’m interested in the particulars of how other programs are organized.

This last Thurs. night twelve inmates attended our POF group, which just began a month ago at Concord MCI. Because it’s an “earned good time” program (2 ½ days a month taken off time inside if you have perfect attendance) the program is required to go for 16 weeks. The men who make it often but not every time receives a certificate when it ends. There is a waiting list for the next 4 month session. Concord has set it up so that there are a maximum of 15 inmates at a time. We (Alan, Gary and I) rotate facilitating classes with one another’s assistance.

Last week I presented “Holding your Seat” and asked Gary (Alan was away) if he’d draw the diagram on the board, do attendance, and the beginning and ending meditations. He said yes. Of course there’s also space for spontaneity and for each facilitator to jump in. We have 1 hour and a 1/2 sometimes less. We plan to do a review of the previous material every 4 weeks or so. This plan is subject to change of course.

I think that check-in at the beginning is in some ways the most challenging time as you want to respond a little to each person if it seems appropriate, because it’s a good time to relate directly to each man, a good teaching moment for all, and requires deep listening while you need to move it along. It seems very rewarding if done skillfully – a work in progress.

Given that there is only one man who has familiarity with meditation and mindfulness, it seems to be going very well thus far. At this point a number of the men have had good results doing the body scan meditation to help them sleep. There are now a few men practicing for a few minutes a day. All of the men have said they have experienced deep relaxation during the meditations – so deep for some of course that falling asleep is the next logical response. We encourage eyes open, close placement, not zoning out, and staying present. This week they made a serious effort to take a good posture and remain still. Looking around the circle and seeing this was a sight to behold and so very different than our first time with them.

All of the men were attentive throughout the session. One man in particular made a valiant effort to stay alert and not fall asleep toward the end. We got into a discussion about the reluctance they feel about changing their outward behavior, because of the underlying fear of change and the fear of consequences in relationship to what they were learning in the holding your seat and state shifting material. Any slight change in behavior inside is noticed and reacted to. I encouraged them to begin by making subtle changes in how they reacted to those they are in relationship to on the outside. We also suggested that they start small – just seeing how they feel, what body sensations come up, try focusing on the breath and also to give some thought during the next week to what we discussed during the session.

I’m personally big on examples and stories so threw out a few simple scenarios that were non-threatening, low impact situations where irritation might come up. They came up with a few examples too. Then we went over how they could work with those situations. I felt like there was a good ratio of them talking to our talking. They stayed on topic. From the things they said it appeared that they got what was presented intellectually. They each took a copy of the Ego States diagram to mull over. One of the men, who volunteered to read the definition of dressage aloud for the group, was pleased to keep it afterward.

This work is so very rewarding. Thanks to anyone who had the fortitude to read this far.

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