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Who Am I? Notes from the Inside…

Updated: Apr 22, 2023

(Note: In 2012, PDN piloted its “Path of Freedom” curriculum RI. The full curriculum began in September, and we began a research study on the curriculum and the effectiveness of mindfulness-based emotional intelligence learning in prisons). 


Class Two: Who Am I?

It's early morning, and we are in the medium-security prison facility. Seventeen men show up for our second session as we work through the “Who Am I?” section from the Path of Freedom book (written by our one and only Kate Crisp, aka Vita Pires).


I understand this “Who Am I?” concept aims to break down some of our limiting core beliefs about ourselves. I say some because it seems almost impossible to imagine breaking them all down (at least for me and in this first introduction). Some questions posed are: ‘What are some of the identities that shape our lives?’ and ‘Who do we think we are?’

Some common answers we most often get are:

  1. I’m a loser

  2. I’m not good enough

  3. I’m too fat / too thin

  4. I do not deserve enough

  5. I’m not…

There are lots; I’m sure you get the point and, like us all, have some personal beliefs that limit you too.


As many of you can most likely relate to, it's not an easy feat to break down walls, but this seems especially true inside prison walls. So, this process was done with extreme care and attention. Thanks to some of the most compassionate and experienced facilitators I’ve seen in action, I could see and hear movement from the guys in such a real way. Many of them seemed to move from knowing who they are to questioning who they’ve been told they are…


This process was done by having the guys write on seven separate slips of paper some of their core identities, which then were gone through meditatively, allowing them to release them…all of them, until all seven were gone. They were then asked, “How do you feel now?”


As one can imagine, a lot of rich conversation followed.

Some things the men reported they wrote were: I’m a loser, I’m alone, I’m someone’s good friend, I’m a good listener, I’m a spiritual being, I’m incarcerated, I’m a father, I’m a person with feelings, I won’t give up! I’m a felon – (this guy put that as ‘least important’ and explains how great it felt to get rid of the stigma ‘felon.’ He said it brought him peace not to let it control him or imprison him anymore); the road to perfection is a road full of mistakes and problems to be solved;  I realized how deeply these identities affect me; I’m happy, considerate, kind and violent (that gives me the power and strength to examine what got me here).


The facilitators went on to explain how conditioning affects our belief systems and how our belief systems create a “knowing” mind, when in fact, as the core Buddhist teachings go, we can never really know such things; we’re told things are constantly in flux. After spending time with this model, the facilitators moved deeper into the core three tenants of “Bearing Witness, Not Knowing and Loving Action.”


Quote from one participant:

“This class is the ONLY class I’ve taken here that didn’t just break me down and leave me deconstructed – it didn’t make me feel like a piece of shit – I actually felt rebuilt.”  

It was a rich and powerful session..one for which I feel a lot of gratitude for being a fly on the wall. We didn’t get to ‘Statements of Learning’ this time, but we left with more questions than we had time to answer. I’ll leave you with one of those:

Why do we hold onto these limiting core beliefs?

Here’s to throwing away the permanence we think our identities hold!

Until next time…

Madrone Phoenix, PDN Staff




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