It has taken me three months to absorb my last year at the maximum security prison in Soledad. Yesterday there was a murder committed at D yard, the highest security level yard in the compound.
Periodically I have long talks with Garcia, one of the guards in the front desk. He is the guard that issues my pass every visit. From the very beginning he scrutinized me with disdain mixed with indifference. Lately we have warmed up to each other. “Why do you do that?” he asked me. “Don’t you realize it is pointless? These people are controlled from the outside. They are puppets on the strings of a local gang member in Salinas.” Garcia referred to the inmates in the prison who obey the dictates of their leaders outside. “One phone call,” said Garcia, “and someone is dead.”
My first talk with him came after a specially strong class at A yard. On the way out, happy and feeling on top of the world, I attempted to share my experience with Garcia. At the end of his pessimistic outlook I felt restless and uncomfortable within myself. The journey home was taking place in silence while I was soul searching. All the discomfort ended when I recalled what one of the inmates told me after class: ”You bring my soul out. I forgot I had a soul.” He had tears in his eyes and so did I. He was in for life plus eighty seven years. Whichever ends first.
It has taken me three months before I could bring myself back to the prison. I am currently teaching three classes a week in the maximum security prison in Soledad. Over a hundred inmates have crossed my path. About twenty five of them stayed with the meditation program.
The next time I met Garcia - the guards are always are referred to by their last name to protect them from the wrath of a disgruntled inmate once he leaves the prison – I told him my true feelings. ”I am here Garcia, for the miracle”, I said. ”I am here for the transformation of even one person.” Garcia’s eyes lit up momentarily. "What are we without hope?” he said. “There is no point getting up in the morning.” I like Garcia, I actually like him a great deal. With an average of ten murders a year, endless stabbing and countless disappointments, Garcia has kept a deep sense of humanity. He is no Mother Theresa but guards cannot and should not be saintly.
The miracle at the prison is ongoing. I am asked questions that force me to get deeper into my own limitations. I am challenged every class by people who have nothing to lose and are ready for something to gain. I have initiated a course of twenty four classes at the end of which, I will issue a certificate of completion which, I hope, will help the participants in their parole hearing. I have volunteered to appear with any inmate in my classes in front of the parole board.
Ana is one of my sponsors. I cannot cross all the security checks without a sponsor and a guard. Ana’s eyes are like two pools of compassion looking at the world with humility. She is a dental assistant in the prison and a sponge when it comes to absorbing spiritual energy. The inmates, the guards and sponsors in the prison are intertwined into a very complex blanket.
What I have found out is that the prisons are basically created to keep the inmates away from us. What happens to them while inside these walls is of minor importance. And they stab and kill each other quite regularly. There are over two million people incarcerated in the united States. California has 200,000.
All this goes through me while walking from the front door through the maze of security fences, electrical wires and watch towers. Once in the class room all disappears and I meet human beings who want to change...who are desperate to change.
My first question when I meet new students is, “What do you want to gain from these classes?” The answer is almost unanimous, "inner peace.” I recall my first meeting with Rudi. I walked in and immediately started talking to the bald man sitting at the end of a poorly lit store. ”I want to study meditation,” I said. I have never heard of the word, I just repeated what I read in a book.
“So why are you really doing all this,” asked Garcia again. “Driving here three times a week, three hours both ways? ” He shrugged his shoulders. ” I am here because it makes me grow,” I replied from my heart, skipping all the wonderful words about helping human kind. ” I am here because each time I come, I feel a different energy within me.” Garcia nodded.
Most of my students do not know what makes them register for the class but each one is there for a reason. Something in them wants a change. And I am there looking for a miracle.