Teaching Meditation at Mokotów Prison in Warsaw, Poland
Today, I taught a meditation program at Mokotów Prison, the infamous Warsaw prison where 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 is a reflection of the tortured history of Poland, long a battle ground fought over by the Russians and Germans. We met in a very unusual great hall of sorts that was actually 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 painting of famous Polish poets lining the other side. My Polish peacemaker friend Andrzej Krawjeski said this prison benefits from a great many volunteer offerings, similarly to San Quentin in the Bay Area, because of it’s 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 there 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 the case for cultivating awareness and freedom through the practice of meditation or mind training. Basically, we were all programed in early childhood. Some of us got reasonably good programming allowing us to function well in life. Many of us received very defective programming. For most of us who end up in prison, our programming or conditioning is very faulty. 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 clearly a negative peer pressure they were all feeling, collectively creating it with each other. I addressed this directly and they acknowledge it, which helped open up the room. All together 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.