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How to Dissect a Sheep’s Brain

“I know that one, because I dissected a brain once. Not a human brain though, a sheep’s brain.” We got schooled in brain science in juvie this week by a teenager who focuses so hard when he meditates that he looks like he is going to shoot lasers out of his eyes. He and the other eight guys in class this week, always full of surprises, had the opportunity to meet Fleet – asking lots of questions, holding very still during meditation, and hopefully coming to believe in themselves a little bit more.

Kate started class off with an introduction to Fleet, and another new facilitator, and with a brief check in for everyone there. One very young guy in the class commented proudly that he has been using the Director’s cut meditation this week. Like every class so far, we had a few new folks dropping in, but we now have a steady core of about five who we can pretty much count on being there. They even arrived early and set up the room this week! After introductions, I led a two minute body-scan meditation, which all the guys pretty much agreed was easy for them to do, when Fleet asked them. Fleet held off answering questions about his own life story until after the meditation, but when we opened it up the questions came pouring in:

“What did you do?”

“You served 14 years, but how long was your sentence?”

“You didn’t get no bail??”

“Doesn’t it suck that drug dealers can get more time than sex offenders?”

“What did you do once you got out of prison, with a big mark on your record?”

Fleet answered whatever questions came in, always returning to speak of the transformative power of meditation and education, as well as to the theme of this week’s class, Holding Your Seat. He briefly acknowledged that there are some things about the legal system that don’t make a whole lot of sense, but encouraged everyone to do what they can within their own life, their own circumstance. “Re-starting a life at 50 with a criminal record was hard,” he said, “but alot of things in life are hard, and that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do them.”

This was certainly a fitting message for this group. At some point Fleet asked the room who had grown up with at least one parent in prison. Predictably, yet heartbreakingly, nearly all the guys raised their hands. I felt as if all I want to do with this group is say over and over again, verbally and nonverbally: That doesn’t have to be you. You are basically good. There is nothing wrong with you, at all. You matter.

Fleet led a lively discussion of Holding Your Seat, and did a bit of Straw Breathing (no one pretended to be smoking a joint when Fleet led it!) and then a one minute Being Still Meditation. And of course, we all held still. For the last few minutes of class Fleet addressed the heart of the matter directly:

It makes me really sad to see you all locked up in here. But I am happy that you are at least safe here, and away from what could be a worse situation somewhere else. And I am hopeful about your future. There is nothing wrong with you. You have a basically good heart, just like everyone else. You want to be happy, to be loved, to have friends, to make a difference, to be a good person, just like everyone else. You are basically good.

We all shook hands at the end of class – an unplanned tradition that has taken hold with this group, that I think everyone enjoys. Then the guys left, to be patted down and sent back to their rooms, and we headed over to the coffee shop to get lattes and to debrief; hearts a bit cracked with the sadness of seeing youth locked away, and the sparks of hope in each one of their eyes.

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