Men’s minimum feels a wee chaotic, and it was clear that things run more loosely from the start. For one thing, much of the population leaves each day on work release, so the energy is more frenetic than in a place where everyone is settling in for the long haul.
Nevertheless, I settled into a dingy classroom as the C.O. went to call in the remaining members of our former class. Six of the seven guys showed up, greeting me with genuine enthusiasm and “What took you so long?!” All my frustrations about getting into this place vanished right then. Stephen (my co-teacher) appeared at the door, and we were ready to dive in.
Having missed three weeks, we offered the men a choice on what we would cover: conflict, pain, or forgiveness. Universally they all chose forgiveness. So we dove into the topic, emphasizing that in this work, we aren’t talking so much about forgiveness for the sake of the person we are forgiving, but rather forgiveness as a path of healing ourselves and moving on. Forgiveness, in other words, is a path of freedom.
We talked about what we do when we don’t forgive– which usually means being stuck in the blame game (all agreed that that game eats you away inside) and stuck in old grievance stories of betrayal and woe. We noted that by not forgiving, we give free space to someone in our heads– usually someone we don’t like– and how that doesn’t make much sense. And we also talked about the unenforceable rules that set us up for that scenario– how we run around the world with an assumption that everyone else should follow our rules about how the world should work. Every time someone violates one of those rules, we are surprised and angry, even though the rule is unenforceable. This seemed to hit home for the guys.
Then one participant noted that forgiving the guy who “got him into prison” wasn’t the problem. He said for him, the problem was that he would forgive AND forget (usually in the context of “drinkin’ & druggin'”), and then he would end up in the same situation again. “That’s why the breath is so important,” he said. “It gives you time to stop and remember.”
We also talked a bit about choosing to be a hero rather than a victim (a similar notion to stepping off the Drama Triangle and into the “co-creator” role).
At Moran the night before, Fleet had talked about using the Hero’s Journey as a metaphor for doing time in prison: You find yourself away from home in a dangerous place, and you go through all these trials and tribulations and — if you choose to take the hero’s route (big emphasis on IF YOU CHOOSE)– you end up with all these new gifts and strengths to bring home to your life and to the world.
We closed the discussion by discussing choice and how this whole class was about using mindfulness to help give you the power to choose. Stephen then led a half hour of yoga –during which about 10 different guys walking by asked how they could get into the class. We then finished with a guided meditation focusing on gratitude (the antidote to grudge-holding) at the end. One of my favorite yogic sayings is, “May we live like the lotus at home in the muddy water.” I use this quote often in my class in the women’s prison as it always strikes me as incredibly apt for the setting, but I had never thought of using it with the men. As we shared appreciation around the room, one of the men noted that he appreciated the saying and would remember it.
May we ALL live like the lotus, at home in the muddy water…