Buddhist priest Daniel Buckley counsels an inmate who is restricted to his cell at downtown Los Angeles’ Men’s Central Jail, where a meditation class draws eager participants. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / April 9, 2010)
April 18, 2010
“Eyes closed, heads down. Focus on your breathing.”
The men in the sanctuary obediently followed their Buddhist chaplain’s command, bowing their cleanly shaven heads and beginning their meditation exercises. A bell chime hung in the air before melting into silence.
Most of the men were new to the relaxation technique, seeking to add a little Zen to their lives. But the venue for this course was not a posh studio in Silver Lake or Santa Monica.
These men were trying to get in touch with their chi at Men’s Central Jail.
The downtown L.A. correctional facility, which civil rights advocates have labeled medieval enough to drive men mad, might not be the most intuitive choice for a meditation center in the city. But inmates who frequent the popular weekly course, now in its third year, say the techniques for relaxation and self-control couldn’t be more useful in their environs.
Bernard Young, 58, has been locked up at Men’s Central since being charged with assaulting his wife with a deadly weapon almost a year ago. The Houston native, his beard white and frizzy, said he could attribute most of his transgressions to allowing anger to overtake him. A friend in jail suggested he start taking the meditation courses a few months ago.
Learning to meditate, Young said, means taking back control.
“When I start thinking bad things, I just start meditating,” he said, pausing to smooth his standard-issue blue jumpsuit. “I need all the help I can get.”
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