Teaching Meditation at Mokotów Prison in Warsaw, Poland
Updated: Apr 22
Today, I taught a meditation program at Mokotów Prison. In this infamous Warsaw prison, the Gestapo detained, tortured, and killed political prisoners during World War II and where the KGP and Polish communists detained, tortured, and killed political prisoners from 1945 to 1955. At the street side entrance on a busy street in Warsaw, there is a memorial to the political prisoners killed there by the Nazis and the communists. This reflects Poland's tortured history, long a battleground fought over by the Russians and Germans. We met in a very unusual great hall that was part of a school that pre-dated the prison. It had large paintings of famous Polish generals down one side of the room with ornate wooden frames and similar paintings of famous Polish poets lining the other.
My Polish peacemaker friend Andrzej Krawjeski said this prison benefits from a great many volunteer offerings, similar to San Quentin in the Bay Area, because of its central location in Warsaw, and that they have organized many concerts by famous Polish recording artists and all kinds of workshops for the prisoners in this same room. We waited as around 40 prisoners gradually trickled into the room, a very tough-looking group of men mostly in their 30’s and 40’s. None of them had meditated before. I shared with them a bit of my own story of transformation in prison and made a case for cultivating awareness and freedom through meditation or mind training. Basically, we were all programmed in early childhood. Some of us got reasonably good programming allowing us to function well in life. Many of us received very defective programming.
Our programming or conditioning is faulty for most of us who end up in prison. As adults, we have a choice whether to let this conditioning run our lives or to find a way to free ourselves of its grip. Through various short meditation exercises, I led them into experiencing that part of their mind that is free from this conditioning and, if cultivated, can lead to real freedom. Most of the men participated with great interest even though there was negative peer pressure they were all feeling, collectively creating it with each other. I addressed this directly, and they acknowledged it, which helped open up the room. Altogether it felt like a very positive session. We will follow up with books and the possibility of an ongoing meditation class facilitated by Shambhala and Zen practitioners if there is enough interest among the prisoners.