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Mindfulness Meditation for Youth in Prisons with Leslie Booker

Updated: Mar 27

In this week's podcast episode, Leslie Booker speaks with mindfulness teacher Julie Paquette about her time working with incarcerated youth.

  • “What do we do about it?” The inspiration to truly see the unseen

  • The process of developing trust

  • “The function of freedom is to free someone else."

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Leslie Booker is a Buddhist Meditation Teacher, Writer and Lover of Liberation. She shared the practices of yoga and mindfulness with children who had been incarcerated in juvenile facilities and Rikers Island, and other vulnerable populations in NYC for over a decade. The gifts from this work have allowed Booker to show up with a fierce heart to cultivate a space of belonging. She is a co-author of ‘Best Practices for Yoga in a Criminal Justice Setting’, a contributor to Georgetown Law's report on ‘Gender & Trauma and contributed to Sharon Salzberg's book ‘Happiness at Work’. She is a co-founder of the Yoga Service Council at Omega Institute and the Meditation Working Group of Occupy Wall Street. In 2020 she was invited to be a Sojourner Truth Leadership Fellow through Auburn Seminary, graduated from Spirit Rock’s 4-year Retreat Teacher Training, and was voted by her peers as one of the 12 Powerful Women in the Mindfulness Movement.

Mindfulness Meditation for Youth in Prisons Transcript

Julie Paquette: 

Okay. Hello and welcome to another session of the Prison Mindfulness Summit. My name is Julie Paquette, and I'll be your co-host for this session. I'm very happy to be here today with Leslie Booker. Welcome, Booker. 

Leslie Booker: 

Hi! I'm happy to be here with you too. 

Julie Paquette: 

Thank you so much for being part of the summit. I'm going to read your bio to familiarize our audience, just what's your background and your history. And then we can jump right in. 

Leslie Booker: 

All right. 

Julie Paquette: 

So, Booker is a Buddhist mindfulness meditation teacher, writer, and lover of liberation. She shared the practices of yoga and mindfulness with children who have been incarcerated in juvenile facilities in Rikers Island. The gifts from this work have allowed Booker to show up with a fierce heart to cultivate a space of belonging. She is the co-author of Best Practices for Yoga in a Criminal Justice Setting, a contributor to Georgetown Laws Report on Gender Trauma, and contributed to Sharon Salzberg's book, Happiness at Work

She's the co-founder of the Yoga Service Council at Omega Institute and the meditation and working group of Occupy Wall Street. In 2020, she was invited to be a Sojourner Truth Leadership Fellow for the Auburn Seminary, graduated from Spirit Rocks, four-year retreat teacher training, and was voted by her peers as one of the 12 Powerful Women in the Mindfulness Movement.


Leslie Booker: 

Yup! It was a big year in 2020. 

Julie Paquette: 

Congratulations on that. 

Leslie Booker: 

Thank you. 

Julie Paquette: 

It's quite a bio. I think that maybe let me start with this question. So, with all this varied experience in your past that is sort of changing and shifting, I'm wondering, in terms of working with youth and working with those that were incarcerated, what inspired you on your path? Who and what? 

Leslie Booker: 

Thank you for that question. It actually started when I was nine years old. My family and I had been living in Japan up until I was nine years old. And so, when we moved back to America, I had never seen folks who were experiencing homelessness. I remember driving in the backseat of my parent's yellow Volvo through Washington DC and seeing folks experiencing homelessness and being so moved, being so upset and confused. What's going on? 

I talked to my parents about it. Even as a nine-year-old, I could tell that people were unwell, that they were sick, that they weren't able to care for themselves. And so, I asked my parents what was going on, and we had this great conversation about it. I was like, "Cool. So, what do we do about it?" It wasn't enough for me just to understand that people were vulnerable because they had trauma from being Vietnam War veterans, or that they were living with addiction, or that there's mental health issues. 

I was like, "Okay. Now, what do we do about it?" As a nine-year-old, I felt so just impotent. I didn't have the bandwidth. I didn't know what to do about this. And so, at that point, I realized that what I wanted to do when I grew up was to be in a position where I could walk next to folks who were historically not seen, not witnessed, not appreciated, not valued in our world. I didn't know what that meant. I didn't know about being a social worker. I didn't know about careers that could lead me to that kind of relational path. When adults would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said I wanted to be a professional volunteer. 

They're like, "Clearly it's not a real job that can help you to do this work." And so, when I was around 18-19, I started going to protests in Washington DC and sort of getting involved with activism and almost immediately burned myself out because I was running around with my mouth wide open trying to shut down everyone and shame everyone who didn't believe what I believed. But I also have my ears and my eyes shut, and so I wasn't willing to hear anyone else's side. And so, that kind of fire and energy and anger and rage just immediately burned me out because I didn't have a support system around me. I didn't have guidance from elders around how to show up, and not bring yourself up in those spaces. 

So, I decided to run away to New York and join the fashion industry. I was so surprised to find the same thing there. There's still a lot of suffering. A lot of people who were not seen in their own particular way. They're just seen as a coat hanger. Not a person that had any strong emotions or preferences with their own traumas. I was thinking, "Oh, this is happening here, too." So, what's happening? I got really curious about suffering, the end of suffering, which led me to yoga and Buddhist meditation. 

What got me to teaching yoga and mindfulness to young folks is I was living in New York and everyone around me was somehow involved with the Lineage Project. It was just like the water I was swimming in. And Lineage Project is an amazing organization that's been teaching mindfulness and yoga to incarcerated and system-involved youth in New York City since 1998. 

And at this point in my life, everyone around me was involved with the Lineage Project. And they kept saying, "You should really be a teacher. Really be a teacher. We need more Black women." I was like, "Well, I don't teach yoga, and I hate teenagers so that doesn't really work." As I was deepening in my practice, there was something in there. I was learning how to alleviate suffering in my own personal life. So why not see if I could offer some guidance and support to young people. 

And so eventually, I got my yoga teacher training certification, and I joined Lineage Project. I stayed with them for 10 years, eventually becoming the Director of Teacher Training, and really bringing in these conversations around privilege and access and trauma and positionality. And really the importance of doing our own work before we stepped in front of a classroom. 

At that point, I really thought that being another Black person was enough. And when I got in front of these kids, I realized that we had such a different background and experience, and they didn't trust me. And so, I really had to take a big step back and do my own work and look at my own privilege and my own access points and how that was impacting the way that I showed up with them. So, that's a little bit of my backstory. 

Julie Paquette: 

Yeah. It's so interesting to me. You said something really fascinating towards the end about kind of just feeling like there was some common commonality just by who you were showing up and how you quickly learned that there wasn't like this initial trust or there was something about your life that was different that, you know, there wasn't this instant connection. Right? 

And so, you mentioned forming the trust and deepening in practice and doing your own work. And so, I'm curious what that was for you that developing what it took to sort of develop that trust with those youth in those situations that maybe wasn't kind of an instant connection. What helped you to develop that trust and what kept your hope going with it? 

Leslie Booker: 

Yeah, so this was, you know, 2006. So, this is quite a long time ago, and we weren't talking about equity and trauma and the way that we are now. We weren't talking about creating spaces for belonging. And so, even living in this skin and this body I thought tomato-tomato. You're Black, I'm Black. You know, what's the big deal? 

I realized that because I came from a different background and a different upbringing that we didn't have a shared lived experience. I think that folks I was working with as well. You know, we didn't have that understanding of how different our experiences were. I knew that if I showed up with my heart, if I left the ego behind, left behind what I thought the practice should look like, how I should show up, I let go of being the one who had all the answers. And so, we had a plan. Always go into it with a tool belt full of all the things, and also be willing to pause when something comes up. When a kid is sharing some wisdom, to pause and to turn towards that. 

I was really into the proper posture for the body and for meditation. I realized that we didn't have all the things that we needed in jails, we had nothing actually, and jails to know the right props and stuff to create the kind of support that I wanted them to have. And so, we learned to get really creative. I learned to watch them and to notice, "Oh, this is a comfortable way that everyone seems to be sitting. So why don't I just adopt that way of sitting as opposed to forcing them into the way that I wanted them to sit." 

And so, also, even though we have this four or five part format of the way that the class was supposed to run, if something happened in that first place, if the conversation was really alive and juicy, and there's a lot of inquiry, then that was yoga that day, then that was our mindfulness practice. Because it wasn't about teaching these kids to wrap their legs around the back of their neck. It was about inspiring them to reclaim their humanity. 

You know, working in jails, everything about that environment is meant to rip away your humanity to make you feel like a caged animal, to take away your autonomy, to make you believe that you are not free, when in reality, their hearts and minds could be free even though they were locked up in jail. And so, that became even more important to me is being in these conversations, listening deeply, being open with my heart, being inquisitive, you know, asking questions, being able to laugh at myself when I said something silly or I get my right and my left mixed up, which I still do, or I called my hand my foot, my hand is my foot. But you know, to be able to find a way to laugh at myself and to bring joy into this. Because if there's no joy, then what are we doing? 

And so, just the reminders to keep my heart open was huge. Sometimes it was impossible to keep my heart open. I was ever to the vulnerable populations for over 12 years in New York. So, not only working with incarcerated youth but also folks who are experiencing homelessness, folks who are living with HIV and AIDS, folks who are living with addiction and going into their environment as to where they were. 

Even though I was able to leave at the end of the time I was teaching and go back to my home, it doesn't mean that I didn't carry some of that with me. And so, it was so important for me to really learn how to take care of myself when I needed to take a month off from teaching and replenish myself. It is so important for us to drink as we pour and for those of us who love to serve to show up to say, "Yes, of course I do that." Sometimes we keep saying yes, yes, yes. And then next thing we know there's nothing left for ourselves. And so, it's really important for me to learn to drink as I pour to take time off to go sit retreats, to be inspired, to be in nature. That's what really supported me to keep doing this work.


And also, to reach out to my colleagues. The folks that I was co teaching with, the organization that I worked with, the people that I was training. It was just so important to keep these conversations flowing of not only what brings us joy around this work though that's hard. And what we necessarily would share with each other what we were learning about self-care, about self-preservation. It was so helpful to remember that I wasn't alone, that it wasn't a personal failing if I was feeling overwhelmed or burned out. 

Of course, I was. I am human. At one point, this was my full-time job. I was doing this five days a week. And so, it's really important to remember to always lean on people, to not be a hero, but to remember that sometimes we need breaks even those that wear these superhero capes, you know, that sometimes we need to take them off and rest and to use them as a blanket. 

Julie Paquette: 

So, so, so important. Right? So important in doing any work. Maybe in particular in doing this work, but you mentioned so many things in that with the letting go of ego and the letting go of a specific plan, especially when it comes to you. So, when it comes to working with those that are incarcerated, coming in with such a specific plan, and being able to let that go, right? This whole aspect of letting go. Letting go of the ego, letting go of a hardcore plan that maybe is not what the group is calling for on that particular day or that particular instance. 

And then, having a community that you can actually be with and share with about what you're experiencing being real within that whole taken care of self, right? This knowing that this is an act of love rather than selfishness, just taking care of itself to be able to be there fully for others. So, I feel like you said so many gems within that and in doing this work. What helps people to keep going in some senses, right, to not get fully burnt out, or to bring you back after those helpful breaks? 

Leslie Booker: 

I just want to clarify something because you hear people say that a lot. Just let it go. Just let it go. I want to be really, really clear about what I mean when I say that, because when we say just let it go, there's a lot of spiritual bypassing. 

When you say just let it go, it's not acknowledging the harm that people live with on an everyday basis. We can't let go of the color of our skin. We can't let go of the fact that police are constantly in our communities policing our neighborhoods, policing our bodies. So, when I say letting go, what I'm speaking about the Pali language, the language book by the Buddha was this notion of "Nekkhamma", of renunciation. 

It's made up of two words, "Ne" and "kkhamma". So, one is to leave, but then the second word "kkhamma" means to go towards. So, not just letting go. It's more of a shedding, a shedding of identity, a shedding of what this should be like so that I'm able to move towards what actually needs to be known, to be shared, to be witnessed. So, it's letting go of my ego so that I can go and be present to what is actually happening in real time. I just want to clarify that. I think that's a very different thing than just letting it go. 

Julie Paquette: 

Thank you for that. Yeah. Yeah, that's such a clarifying way because I do feel like we get into that like it's just easy, let it go, that's fine. And yeah, I think the way that you described it is so brilliant and there's more to it. We can't ignore it, right? Letting go is not ignoring. It opens space to really, maybe see things a little bit more clearly. 

Leslie Booker: 

Yes, this is moving towards the fire. We go directly into the fire. We don't go around that. We don't go behind it. We go directly in. When we are able to do that, that's how we really begin to cultivate a deeper relationship with our kids. That's how we cultivate trust, because we're willing to just stop the record and to be like, "All right, what's actually happening right now?" It also allows them to see how our practice can actually support us in those moments. 

If we can't let go and turn towards them and offer some guidance or some support based on our practice, that's when it really comes alive. That's when we really get buy-in from the people that we are sharing these practices with. This is when they're like, "Oh, now I get it." Because we can explain all day long what yoga and what mindfulness is and how it's going to be good for you. But it's not until they experience it in real time that they can really and truly understand it. 

Julie Paquette: 

Yeah. Yeah. It's like the ability to experience whatever is in front of you, whatever is arising, right? It's not just that it feels good. It's the capacity to see what's truly there. It's not always pleasant. Yeah. Yeah. 

Leslie Booker: 

And we can hold it all, right? If we can clear the dust out of our eyes and see things clearly and remember that things are not perfect. They're not permanent. They're not personal. And being able to show that to young people is so liberating. It can be so liberating for their experience. 

Julie Paquette: 

Yeah. The liberation, the liberating piece that you mentioned, and you mentioned sort of when we were speaking earlier about freedom. And so, you had actually brought up the quote, "The function of freedom is to free somebody else." Toni Morrison. I'm curious as we kind of talk about liberation and freedom. I'm curious what that means for you, in terms of yourself in your work with youth and youth that are incarcerated, and people that oftentimes don't feel like they have freedom. 

Leslie Booker: 

Yeah, you know, growing up, I grew up in the South, I grew up in Virginia, outside of Washington, DC, and growing up in a Black Baptist Church and growing up with my Black family. It was all about never leaving anyone behind. If someone's not doing well, we don't take them out of the family. We still hold on to them. We still include them. They still belong to us. 

I find that sometimes in dominant culture, when someone makes a mistake, they are pushed away. They are shunned. They are kicked out. And so, I learned that if I'm doing well in my life, if I'm feeling a sense of freedom, if I have abundance, that is not just mine, and mine alone. I got that because someone reached down, and they pulled me up. You know that expression, "Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps." I'm always like, "But what if you don't have boots?" If you don't have boots, you don't have bootstraps to pull yourself up by. 

And so, I kind of think of it like a stick figure sort of thing, like, my hand is holding on to someone's hand who came before me who's lifting me up, this other hand is reaching down and pulling the next person up. And so, if I had figured out how to have a sense of freedom in my body and my lived experience, then it's my responsibility to share that with another person and support them in finding their own freedom. So yeah, so the function of freedom is to share freedom to show someone their freedom was possible. 

Julie Paquette: 

For you, what's helpful in showing people their own freedom? When people are feeling like they can't see it or it's so out of their reach, how do you show others that freedom? 

Leslie Booker: 

I think for so many people, especially our young people, when they are told that you're going to be just like your dad, you're going to end up in jail just like your dad. I heard that from so many of the young boys that I worked with over the years, and they had given up. They're like, "Well, this is my destiny. This is what I was told I was always going to be." And like, "Here I am. I'm 12 years old. I'm already here." 

And so, there's something about reminding them of the fact that they have twice. It's like yes, you made a mistake. And maybe one step back from that because it is complicated because some of the young people that I worked with were involved with gangs. They got involved with gangs because they were looking for a family. They were looking for a sense of belonging. They were looking for protection because they weren't protected in their family of origin. 

Unfortunately, a lot of the gangs do engage in illegal activity in order to make money. A lot of these kids are 10-11-12 years old. They're actually not old enough to legally have a job. And they don't have that kind of support system in their home or in their communities. I think it costs something like $250,000 a year to incarcerate one child. What if we took that money and invested it into the communities they live in instead of policing these communities? Why don't we create an environment where they can go after school when they're bored, when they're lonely, when they have nothing to do, when they're hungry? 

Now, first of all, I think it's society's responsibility. They created this mess of children that are not supported and cared for. I think that they need to clean up their mess. And instead of punishing the children who were just seeking out a way to survive. I forgot what your initial question was, I went off on my little soapbox there. 

Julie Paquette: 

I asked about how do you model that? How do you get in touch with being free? 

Leslie Booker: 

We remind them of their wisdom. We remind them of their intuition, of their wisdom. I remember talking to a kid once. I was teaching him meditation for the person doing something really simple just watching the breath as it presents itself out, following that breath, and knowing the breath as it breathes, in and out, very simple breath meditation. 

When we were done, I was like, how is that experience? And the kid said, "Man, I felt like I got high. That's what it feels like after I smoke a blunt." I say tell me about smoking a blunt. How does it feel? Why do you do it? It was the impact of it. And he says, "Whenever I'm stressed out, I go someplace by myself, and I light up. And when I do, it gives me a chance to really take a big in-breath and take a big out-breath as I blow the smoke out. And when I'm done smoking, I feel like there's clarity. And what I was so upset about, like I've shed, I realized that it's not as important anymore." 

And so, I said, "So, intuitively, you're already practicing meditation this whole time, except you didn't know about meditation, but what you knew about was smoking blunts, but it was the same thing. You're doing the same thing for the same end game." And so, it was just so fun to show him. He knew that when he felt stressed, he knew it was stress. He knew what stress felt like in his body. He knew that he needed to go away to not be around other people, but to go and have some downtime. He knew that he needed space to kind of gather his thoughts so he could respond instead of reacting. He knew that when he took that time, that he reclaimed his dignity, right, that he was now back in control of his actions. 

And so, being able to know my practice well enough to be able to see the practice within him was one way that we can really reflect back the wisdom that these kids already have. Their intuition, their wisdom is already there. It's just not typically reflected back to them in the environments that they're living in. 

Julie Paquette: 

Yeah. Yeah. It's being fed to you. In a sense, you're just facilitating the feedback, the reflection for them to hear their own wisdom. 

Leslie Booker: 

Yeah. And we have to truly see it. It's not just lip service. We have to truly see and feel and believe in them in order to do this work, in order to see their goal, in order to see their wisdom. We have to truly, truly feel it in our gut and in our hearts. 

Julie Paquette: 

Thank you for that. I want to ask you maybe one last question. You have brought us to this stage of my life. I'm really interested in writing a love letter to my younger yoga teacher and mindfulness teacher and sharing it. So, I'm wondering if you would be okay with sharing maybe a little bit of that letter with us. Something that might be helpful maybe to others that are interested in doing this work, in working with youth and working with those that are incarcerated. Your love letter to yourself. How can it inspire us all?


Leslie Booker: 

Yeah, I am. I'm co-writing a book with a bunch of friends that will come out hopefully sometime next year called No Justice, No Peace. I'm co-writing this with Holo Cory and Dr. Serrano King and Jacoby Ballard and Carrie Kelly. It has been put together by Tessa Hicks Peterson. 

As I've been trying to figure out what my chapter looks like, I'm like, "Oh, well, I think it needs to be a love letter." I don't want to speak to people who are 20-30 years into this work. I want to speak to people who are in their first few years who are trying to figure out how to navigate it because it can be really confusing when we come in. And we come in thinking that we have to know all the answers, that we have to do everything exactly right, that we're not allowed to make mistakes, that we're not allowed to get burnt out and tired. None of those things are true. None of those things are true. 

Early on, in my teaching with Lineage Project, someone shared a quote with me from Audrey Lorde, who is a great writer, poet, activist. And she says "Caring for myself is not self-indulgent. It is self-preservation. That is an act of political warfare." When I heard that, I was like, "Oh, hang on." It changed everything because it wasn't about getting a mani and a pedi and getting a massage. Though I also very much enjoy those things. But it really was this radical act to say, "Hang on." Like, for me to show up with my joy and my energy and my love, I have to be a 100% full human. It can't show up half-broken. I need to show up in a way that I am feeling like I have something to offer, that my shoulders are wide enough to handle whatever is coming to me that day. 

And sometimes I would show up and within minutes, you know, there'd be like, 20 kids on top of one kid in this huge fight, then I had to teach yoga after that. Or sometimes I would show up and a kid can be really angry. And then after chatting for a few minutes, I would realize, "Oh, their parents didn't show up for visitation again." And so, if I show up and I'm not resourced, I'm going to get irritated, I'm going to get agitated. I'm going to be like, "Why can't y'all get it together?" Instead of taking a moment and being like, "I wonder what else is going on here? I wonder what else was happening." 

And being able to have the capacity of my heart to lean and say, "Dear one, I'm noticing that you seem a little agitated today. What's going on?" And then, to see if I can incorporate that into the teaching that day. And so, yes. So, part of my love letter is telling people that we don't have to be perfect, that we're human, that it's okay to take a break. It doesn't make you less down with the cause. It doesn't make you less committed to your work. Continue to study, continue to practice, continue to go on retreats. And continue to lean on other people. You're not alone in this. You don't have to figure this out by yourself. 

Always have mentorship. Always have someone who knows what you're going through who has been in your shoes before, who has a couple of years of wisdom more than you do. Someone that can show you the path. I was reading somewhere around the civil rights movement. There'd be older women. And before the young men would go out for protests, they would look at them. And if they were too agitated, too angry, they would say, "Today is not the day for you." They would ask them to go home and to really ground back on themselves before they showed up to the next protest. Because they didn't want them showing up with a hothead and being too provocative. They needed them to stay for the fight. 

I thought that was such a beautiful, little known story in the civil rights movement. And so, it's important for all of us, the work that we're doing is hard. It's heartbreaking. So, we need someone that we can lean on, that we can cry to, that we can share what's happening. And so that we can release that and start again, or take a break, or find another way of doing this work. That's the beginning of my love letter to myself, to my younger self. 

Julie Paquette: 

Thank you for sharing that. I'd like to actually hear the full paragraph or the full story at some point when this all comes into fruition. 

Leslie Booker: 

Yes. Me too. I'd love to know what this chapter in that book looks like, but yeah, we'll find out in 2023 at some point. 

Julie Paquette: 

Well, I am wondering if there is anything else that you want to share with those listening, if there's any additional advice or inspiration just before we wrap up. 

Leslie Booker: 

Keep going. Just keep going and keep educating yourself. When I started doing this work, you know, like I said earlier, we weren't talking about equity. We weren't talking about positionality and privilege and access. We weren't talking about trauma. It was a brand-new topic. I knew that there was something important in there. And so, I began just having really awkward conversations in my training. I said, "This is going to be weird. It's going to be awkward, but this feels really important." 

And then I was so happy when people began to do more research and there are more studies that I could reach back to have more meat to lean on. There are things that are not on top of my heart right now, on top of my mind right now, that are probably really important things that we need to continue to bring into our teaching. And so, keep yourself educated. Know what's going on in the world. Listen to your students, pay attention to what's happening, and make sure that you're staying abreast of that so that you can be informed and that you can find ways to bring that and to incorporate that into your teaching. And let go of your ego. Leave it out the front door. There's no space for your ego when you're holding that seat, when you're sitting in that seat of the teacher. There's no space for that. 

Julie Paquette: 

Yeah. I am curious, actually, you bring up trauma informed. I'm curious if there's something that you can lend that's been either you've seen a difference with the lending or the leaning more into the trauma informed awareness of how prevalent trauma is. I'm wondering if there's something that you want to share a little bit more about the trauma informed as far as doing this work, and in general, just holding space for people. 

Leslie Booker: 

Yeah, I feel like, you know, people are doing such a great job now. Whenever I go to a yoga class, I'm like, good job, you've been doing your work. Remember to offer options to observe, to pay attention to people's bodies and not look at what they're not doing, but really focusing on what they are doing. You know, and really saying, it looks like you're really honoring what your body is capable of today. And that's beautiful. That's amazing. 

I remember I was teaching a class. One of my kids was just walking back and forth. I'm teaching this really beautiful sequence class. I was really proud of myself. He was just walking back and forth on this yoga mat, completely ignoring the instruction I'm giving. I pause. I was like, "You know what you're doing? You're doing walking meditation." And he was like, what? And I'm like, "Yeah. What's going on? Why does it feel like this is what you want to do instead of the postures that I'm teaching?" And he said, "I just have a lot of energy moving through my body, and it feels like the best thing to do is just walk it out." And I'm like, "Yeah, beautiful." 

And so, allow different things to be happening in your classroom. That's okay. That's okay. There's a pretty good chance they're not doing anything to undermine you or make you go crazy. What they're doing a lot of times is simply taking care of themselves and taking care of what's happening. I have a lot of kids who had bullets lodged in their legs. I had people that have metal rods in their spines. And so, they literally could not do what I was offering. 

And so, again, that's an intimacy of like, "Wow. I noticed that you're doing that. Is there anything else I should know?" And just really remembering to celebrate what they are doing because our kids are hearing "no". We're living in such a negative bias culture. Our kids and other vulnerable populations that we are working with, they are hearing "No" so much. No, you can't see your kids. No, you can't go home for Christmas. No, you have to stay shackled while giving birth. No. Just all the "no" that come with being incarcerated. 

And so, to be able to say yes to something that they are doing, yes, when you see them really having autonomy over their own bodies. It's such a moment to pause and to name it and to celebrate it. Don't let those moments slip away because they are so precious. If we don't recognize it, they're not going to know it for themselves. And so, really keep your mind, your heart, your body open, and celebrate. 

Julie Paquette: 

Well, I think that's maybe a beautiful way to end. I want to mention, I want to thank you, first of all, for doing this interview and being part of the Prison Mindfulness Summit. How can people find out more about what you're currently doing? 

Leslie Booker: 

Thank you so much for asking. Now I'm a full time Buddhist meditation teacher. I'm no longer working in jails anymore. But everything that I do, the way that I teach, the way that I create cultures of belonging through the stories I tell in my dharma talks are 100% inspired by the young people that I've taught for over 12 years. 

And so, if you're interested in practicing with me on a retreat, Spirit Rock out in California and all over the country. You can sign up for my newsletter. So, you can go to my website,, which has been under construction for about two years, but you can go there and sign up for my newsletter and my newsletter will send you monthly information about what's coming up next, what I'm doing. 

What's coming up next? October 22nd. I support my friend Rhema Sally with writing a book around Buddhism and Black liberation. And so, there are weekly conversations with Rhema, another contributor to the book. So that'll be October 22nd through Spirit Rock. 

In January, I'll be doing a workshop with the Yoga Teachers Association at the Hudson Valley's an online workshop around equanimity. So, some Yin Yoga, as well as Dharma talk and connect a little retreat on equanimity. And the thing that I'm most excited about, and that I really hope that you join me with is that I'm offering a 10-month course called Spirit Rock on the pair of knees and these are the perfections of attainment of heart and mind. That is like the prequel to the Buddha's Life. 

So, these teachings that he learned and all these different iterations that he was born into over eons and eons of years, until he perfected them. So, qualities like generosity and ethics and renunciation, patience, truthfulness, just to name a few. So that would also be at Spirit Rock. That's a 10-months course starting in February of 2023. 

We're really looking at how we take our practice off the cushion, and really engaging in relational practices in the world, which is a huge part of the lens that I teach through. So, I'm very excited about that. 

Julie Paquette: 

Me too! 

Leslie Booker: 

Yeah. I know, right? It's going to be a really beautiful 10 months. We're really supported by the community, really supported by the Sangha. So yeah, we're not doing this alone. We're doing it with each other. 

Julie Paquette: 

That's great. That's great. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for sharing. Thank you for taking the time. And please, be well. 

Leslie Booker: 

Thank you so much to everyone and thank you for doing the work that you're doing in the world and keep going. Keep going. 

Julie Paquette: 

Bye, Booker. 

Leslie Booker: 

Thanks so much. Bye. 


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