Prison Mindfulness

By Mair Honan A few years ago, the word "prison" arose repeatedly in my meditation. I thought it referred to an internal prison and laughed when the words "Thomaston prison" arose one day. Thomaston is a nearby state prison. I had no conscious desire to enter the prison and no experience in prison work. But, a week later I bumped into someone who works at Thomaston and asked about bringing meditation in. After an interview with the education office, our mindfulness program began.

We present mindfulness meditation as a way to focus the mind and develop peace and clarity in life, rather than as a Buddhist practice. We openly speak about our teachers, however, and the inmates know we have taken Buddhist precepts. Dharma teacher Lyn Fine came to the prison to transmit the Five Mindfulness Trainings to one dedicated practitioner. Each new person receives instructions from The Miracle of Mindfulness. We remind them they can get a free copy of We 're All Doing Time from Human Kindness Foundation in Durham, North Carolina and free books from Parallax Press. When someone wants to learn about Buddhism, we try to help.

During the sessions, the inmates sit on chairs. We sit in meditation at the beginning and end of each session. We also read and discuss a short piece from a variety of teachers. The guys may have questions or want to discuss their practices. During one session, I offered walking meditation, but it activated too much tension in the small room. For now, we pass out instructions from Thay's Guide to Walking Meditation and encourage them to try mindful walking alone in their cell or out in the field.

About nine months after we began, I saw a connection between the inmates and my brother, my closest sibling. One evening, an inmate laughed a particular way and it felt as if my brother was there. A few years ago, through alcohol abuse, my brother killed himself and another young man. Such pain-I loved him so dearly. When I heard the inmate laugh, I remembered that my brother was arrested in his teens and spent a short time in prison awaiting trial. I had wondered why I felt so comfortable with these guys. As Thay says, the past and the future reside in the present.

We're all learning from each other. I am particularly grateful to these men who are unwittingly helping me heal a deep grief. From the beginning, I knew this could work only with the Sangha's help. Six regional Sangha members are cunently involved in the prison practice. We are all grateful to the Thomaston Prison staff. Without their openness, Support, and thoughtfulness, we would not have a meditation program in the prison.

Mair Honan, True Seal of Enlightenment, practices with the True Heart Sangha in Maine.

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