Updated: Apr 21
Part Two of Earlier Email By KC Walpole (reprinted with his permission): Greetings:
There is a second and if you will, a mechanistic part of the equation that I am not sure if I can surface it in an accurate or compelling way but want to bring it up as an essential part of the equation.
In the last decade, there has been an incredible amount or research on the brain. Dr. Austen in his book Zen and the Brain and Dr. Schwartz in his book the Mind and the Brain have done incredible jobs in translating that research into both meaningful applications as far as it reinforces the dynamics associated with the practice of meditation. Of particular note is Dr. Schwartz’s development of a four step process in the treatment of OCD without the use of drugs and an 80 percent success rate.
The mechanistic problem as I see it is that if a person spends a year or more in a county jail or state prison their brain is radically altered not only by a dysfunctional thought process required for their survival but by the brain being marinated by the flow of cortical and adrenalin. You could say that the brain is being rewired, memory is being destroyed or disconnected at best and the primal brain goes unchecked with the frontal cortex become isolated from any part of the rational thought process. I suspect that we are in the process of creating dumber society that will become increasingly dysfunctional in the generations to come.
My own sense is that after a year or so, the ex-offender that leaves prison becomes frustrated beyond belief at the inability to function in the “normal” world and either goes back to drugs, alcohol or alternative life styles. The people that may have been there to support them have also become frustrated because the person they may have known or loved is not there anymore.
All of which is true. The brain has been rewired and the mind has adapted to the rewiring. As prisons become increasingly crowded, the staffs become less and less trained, programs become less and less, chapel space becoming smaller and smaller there will be an increasing spiral downward in what I would call the emotional dumping down of a significant portion of the population.
If this was the true extent of it, I would say the problem would go away in a generation. However, there is another trend I see in the interviews I have done as a part of the retreat process. At a conservative estimate there have been over 1,000 of these with it rather equally divided between men and women. The number of inmates that have had parents or a significant influence that has been in the military be it WW II, Korea or Vietnam and on the other hand been to prison is big. I put it at least 50 percent. Then the number of inmates that have siblings doing time is also amazing.
I have seen entire families in prison and in one case have seen three generations of women in the same prison. My sense is that Dr. Schwartz’s 4 step process (which has a great tinge of secular meditation) has a great potential as an application to teach as a process to restructure the mind. However, when we talk of restructuring the mind it conjures up 1984 and a host of brain washing type garbage.
And that is the other half of what has been sitting on my mind. Look forward to some feedback on where we might take this. Do good and take care.
Yours in the Dharma K. C. Walpole
Gateless Gate Zen Center