By Mark French Recently I was taken away to solitary confinement for investigation purposes. "The Hole" is supposed to be the most restrictive prison environment—one man, one bare cell, and only personal hygiene, writing, and religious materials allowed. There is no exercise yard, gym, library, or going to meals—just 24 hours in a cell with meals brought in.
My first day was quite miserable. All I did was run through memories of the past to try and figure out what went wrong or tremble from fears of what the future might bring. But on the second day, I received a Community of Mindful Living envelope containing a beautiful brochure and a letter from Therese about the various programs. As I was reading the section about mindfulness retreats, I realized what a golden opportunity I had. I was touched by the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, "This is not a retreat. It is a treat." I decided then that I would treat myself to my own personal solitary mindfulness retreat.
I began to enjoy each moment in the next Days of Mindfulness. I'm no artist, but the Buddha I drew was beautiful to me. My cell became my meditation hall with my pencil sketch of the Buddha and pictures of Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong from the brochure. Each remaining day began with a light breakfast and a lying down meditation as I remembered from Wherever You Go, There You Are. After a mid-morning snack, I had two 20-minute sitting periods followed by 30-minute walking meditations in my six-by-ten-foot meditation hall. After dinner at 4:00,1 had two more sitting and walking periods.
Each day I had two exercise periods and two Dharma study periods consisting of mindfully reading the CML brochure and Therese's letter. I ate my meals silently, mindfully. By the end of my 18-day solitary retreat, I was thankful for having had the opportunity to practice, to be alone with each moment. I now view this experience not as a punishment, but as an opportunity to learn first-hand what life in a monastery might be like. It was, indeed, a treat. I can't say I haven't agonized over the backward steps I've taken, nor have I avoided thinking about what the future holds. But I am fortunate to have a renewed outlook on mindfulness and living in the moment.
Mark French is an inmate in Deer Lodge Correctional Facility, Montana.