I got to the prison early but Kent was already there, pacing the floor.
“Hi Kent,” I smiled.
He nodded but didn’t stop pacing. “Are you okay?”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” he said, as he paced. “I think I’m goin’ crazy. I don’t think I’m gonna be a Muslim anymore... I just... This is horrible...”
“Well...” Pacing back and forth, but in front of me so I can hear him.
“This white dude? Yesterday he got in my face. Real bad. “And I wanted to smash his face in. I pictured him on the floor and I was stompin’ his face.
“But you know what I did?” I shook my head.
“I walked away.”
“You walked away from him?”
“Yeah! Listen. I been shot at. I been stabbed. I been dragged behind a car and I don’t even know how many fights I been in... and then... I walked away from that dude.”
I smiled. Kent didn’t notice. He was still pacing.
“I think I’m turnin’ yella. I’m nuthin’ but a big coward.
I interrupted. “Kent! This is wonderful! This is so beautiful.
You did just like we’ve been talking about.”
He stopped pacing and faced me, waited for me to continue.
“Yes! Somebody...” “A white dude!”
“...A white dude got in your face, made you angry and you stopped to notice what was happening.”
His brows furrowed; he was really listening.
“You stopped, Kent! You listened to your true self.” He looked doubtful.
“You did! You stopped, just like our teacher says to do. You didn’t just react out of habit.”
His face softened a little. “And now...”
“And now, you’re doing walking meditation!” (Sorry, Thay.
I know pacing isn’t exactly walking meditation.) “This is wonderful, Kent. This is so wonderful.”
He didn’t exactly smile, but a little bit, he did. And sat down for our meditation as the other guys filed in.
When I came in only Kent and another guy were there, a guy I didn’t know. Kent introduced me to him: Charlie. Charlie and I visited a little as Kent moved the chairs out of the way so we could do some yoga before we meditated. Charlie is a Choctaw from Oklahoma. After a short visit, he walked away to help with the chairs.
Kent came up to me and whispered, “That’s the dude.”
“Yeah, the white dude I told you about.”
“You brought him, the white dude, to meditation class?” My eyes were wide with astonishment. A smile spread over my face.
“Oh my gosh, Kent, you are amazing!” “Terry, don’t cry!”
“Well, I’m so happy!”
The other guys arrived. After yoga and after our first meditation, we always talk a little about our practice. Kent said to the group, pointing to Charlie, “This is the dude.”
Everyone knew right away who he meant. They bragged on Kent until he hid his face, pretending to be embarrassed, “Cut it out!”
I was grinning. Tears of joy were forming. “And Terry, don’t cry!”
“I’m not crying.”
“She can cry if she wants to, Kent—leave her alone.”
We all sat still then, enjoying the wonder of this man.
After a while I said, “Kent, would you be willing to tell us how it came about that you invited Charlie to join us today?”
“Well... well, I was doin’ yoga in our dorm and Charlie, he comes up an’ he says, whatcha doin’? and I say, yoga, and then after a while I say, and I’m gonna do meditation after that. And then after a while I say, and Friday I’m goin’ to meditation class, wanna come? And he says yeah.”
I’m speechless. We all are. We just sit in our circle, smiling. Finally I say, “So, Charlie I know this is your first time here, but would you mind telling us how you got the courage to say whatcha doin’ to Kent?”
Charlie squirmed in his seat as he said, “Well, Kent is a positive guy, uh...” Squirms, his eyes on his feet. “And I’m a... positive guy...” Squirm. “And well I just thought there’s too many negative guys around here and it doesn’t make sense for two positive guys not to uh...” Squirm. “Uh, stick together. So I asked him.”
Charlie took a breath and looked up at us.
Awed, no one said anything.
Charlie added, “And I like it here.” Pause.
“I’m comin’ back.” Pause.
“I’ll be back next week.” Pause.
I didn’t cry.
There, at the prison? I didn’t cry.
(Although everyone but Kent said it’d be okay.) But I cried when I got home.
Cried and grinned.
Terry Masters, True Action and Virtue, practices with the Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas.