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Path of Freedom: Reflections on a Process

By Carter Tracy, PMI Staff Correspondant, August 5, 2103

I met Fleet Maull for the first time while I was living at Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  He was there offering an unusual sort of retreat for a zen center.  It was all about communicating, taking responsibility for your emotions, recognizing patterns in relationship dynamics, a series of concepts he was calling “The Path of Freedom”.  After seven months of zazen, learning these insightful inter-personal techniques felt truly revolutionary!  I took notes carefully during the retreat and carried that notebook around with me for months, referencing it whenever I stumbled into a conflict or misunderstanding with somebody….

Later that year, when the opportunity opened, I took a job with the non-profit organization Fleet Maull had founded after his release from prison, the Prison Mindfulness Institute (PMI).  PMI was newly establishing itself in the State of Rhode Island and I was happy to be returning to my New England roots. Although my job description was administrative, I was excited to be working at the heart of the Path of Freedom Curriculum.  Every time I transcribed a talk or copy-edited a new chapter, my understanding of the emotional intelligence development concepts were reinforced.  As I went about building a new life in a new city, with new friends, new social dynamics, new activities, I was grateful to have the Path of Freedom tools to draw upon.  I put my best foot forward and found opportunity and connection easily.

Today, I am involved in the managing of four classes in Rhode Island’s Adult Correctional Institution, based on Fleet Maull & Kate Crisp’s Path of Freedom Curriculum.  The semester-long classes are broken into 12 individual classes, focusing on the 12 chapters of the Path of Freedom Curriculum.  In addition to presenting concepts and having discussion.  Every class has meditation time and some time for a contemplative movement practice (yoga or qi gong).  Each class is facilitated by one of our lead-mentors (a trained individual who is well-versed and integrated with the Path of Freedom concepts) and one of two volunteers.

Path of Freedom volunteers who assist with our classes in the Rhode Island prisons all complete our facilitator training webinar, an interview with one of our staff members, and a training seminar on prison policy.  Most of our volunteers are stirred and inspired by their experience, and often, the Path of Freedom offers a growing edge for every one in the room.

“Even in a place where there is a seemingly infinite stream of “NO’S!” there was a sense of possibility blossoming in that concrete bloc room last night. One older prisoner opened to seeing the humanity in his younger cellmate who had mocked him by calling him an ‘old man.’  Together we all discovered the possibility that the younger cellmate is really just trying to fulfill his need for connection or humor or power or any of the other needs we ALL have….It was a meaningful class. I feel deeply privileged to be able to bear witness to and share in such a transformational time and space with those living behind bars.”  PMI Path of Freedom Volunteer

For the prisoners, the class can inspire a breakthrough in understanding.

   “I am starting to see that there are so many things I need to change about myself and I can see the pain from my youth.”

 “During the meditation I just felt good – there was no thinking about my past and pain – it was very relaxing.”  

   “This stuff we feel has to be worked out – and it has to be worked out now.”

In my own experience, I feel inspired to be piece of the change that is meaningful in the lives of individuals whose choices have led them to incarceration.  I am also inspired to be relating to the people in my daily life with renewed clarity and openness.

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