I arrived this Saturday morning at the prison open to whatever may occur. I put my personal items in the locker and moved from the "unclean" side of the room into the "clean" side of the room. What differentiates clean from unclean is when people pass through the security point where we partially strip down and get checked by a correction officer. I was now "clean". Another C/O escorted me through the circuitous route leading to the chapel where our meditation group takes place. I was fifteen minutes early so one of the C/Os invited me to sit in the hallway at a desk with a couple of other C/Os. I asked them questions about Sousa and learned how the inmates are organized. I learned about the segregation units and the longer term isolation units. One C/O with arms about the size of my waist (but unlike my waist, no fat was to be found) and tattoos covering his arms and crawling up his neck asked me about Buddhist meditation. He said he lives in a neighborhood in the Boston area where the Dalai Lama has visited on two occasions as there is a Buddhist temple nearby. He inquired about how the Dalai Lamas are chosen from lifetime to lifetime. And he asked about the size of Tibet. The inmates then arrives and he escorted me into the chapel.
There were four guys today. Three of them have attended previous classes and one of them was new. We greeted each other warmly and took our seats. The new guy said that he is a meditator and I inquired about his techniques and experience. He said that he concentrates on objects, does chakra work, works with his energy (Chi), is interested in learning how to astral travel (I guess a useful skill to have in prison;) and wants to learn how to have better posture while meditating. So I started by giving a guided meditation starting with posture and good "head and shoulders" ;) I then led a mindful body scan after which we sat for fifteen minutes. Then I opened things up for discussion. The new guy asked why some Buddhists practice contemplating sickness and death. You can imagine that this lead to an involved discussion about impermanence including our bodies, thoughts, emotions and every other experience we have. I then brought up Fleet Maull's *Dharma in Hell* book and what he had to say about prison being a bit like a monastery and perhaps more like a charnel ground. I explained what a charnel ground is and that some advanced meditation practitioners choose to practice in such a fearful place in order to have a better understanding of impermanence and strengthen their practice in difficult circumstances altogether. The guys intuitively got this analogy and agreed that prison is similar to a charnel ground.
We then meditated for another fifteen minutes and I provided a lighter/shortened version of guided meditation. I opened things up for discussion again and they didn't want to talk! They wanted to continue to meditate, so that's what we did for another 20 minutes until the C/O came in to notify us that the class was over. I gave them a homework assignment which was to meditate for at least 10 minutes each day and at the end of each meditation session to ask themselves the question "Who am I?" We were all beaming with warmth as we parted and I had that familiar grateful feeling that is so characteristic of my experience with prison work.