This maximum security facility has been on a lock down for three weeks. That means the inmates are not allowed to leave their cells at any time. Twenty four hours in the cell is hell on earth. Nowhere to go, no reprieve for the running mind, no outlet for tensions that are building up. It’s all cooped inside. I call the administrative lady daily for new developments. They are still looking for the weapons, she says.
Some weapons were discovered in one of the yards. To be on the safe side all the different yards have been locked and programming has been cancelled.
I hope Benito, Stewart, Richardson, Alex and Upchurch are fine. I know they have more sense than to get involved in the gang wars there. My friend Mike, who I love deeply, called me recently about something he had read in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. "There is a Buddha," he said, "who willingly reincarnates back to earth so he can help people who are in hell." "Interesting," I said, and tried to forget his words.
We are all so jaded, human suffering touches us momentarily and we go on. I walked with Rudi back from his store when we witnessed an a car accident. Several people gathered, all whispering and watching the police take the wounded out of the vehicle. "You see these people," Rudi said, "none of them will skip their lunch today to feel these victims in their heart." I remembered his words as weeks went by and I could not get in touch with the people who study with me. I taught a class in the American Legion of Veterans and witnessed another form of incarceration. Very real people, some laughter, jokes and different lifestyles characterized the forty or so people who attended. My teaching in the prison made me more real and accessible to many of them. “We are all War Veterans” I said, “and we all live in prison. The only way out of town is up.” Some were intrigued by these words, a few got deeper into their shells. I continued “What separates us is not money, race, success or failure. What separates us is the degree of our unhappiness.” Many hands were raised up. “What does being happy or unhappy got to do with it," asked Linda. She was a dark haired woman with blazing eyes. She had an air of contentment about her.
“Everything,” I said. “Happy people do not go to wars. Happy people do not commit crimes.” I noticed I was losing some of them. “There are several veterans in the prison I teach,” I said. “They built around them another wall, the Veteran's wall. So now they are prisoners and they are also war veterans, they are wearing two hats, both protect them from having to change their reality.
My heart drifted back to the maximum security prison I have been visiting twice a week for the past year. I so deeply hope the people I shared my time with have internalized some of the teaching and stay detached and above their hellish circumstances. Over one month locked up in a cell. Truly mind boggling. But then I recall what the warden told me last month: “The sheep don’t like the sheep dog but they are really afraid of the wolf.” The guards are the sheep dogs. The wolves are the inmates that carry on their gang activities in prison. They cause havoc and misery within the place that is already the gateway to hell. Some sheep dogs are nasty, some are more benevolent. But all of them are essential in the intricate fabric of the prison.
After my talk, one veteran approached me. “I was just released from the jail you are teaching in. Spent twenty years there. I can relate to what you are saying.” He shook my hand firmly and gave me a look that asked for a connection. I hope to see him in the next class. I deeply believe that we came to this earth to do good. To receive through total giving. The concept of giving and receiving, tit for tat, had always presented some discomfort to me.
Lee, my coordinator and one of the guards in the prison, calls me almost daily to inform me whether the lock down is off. Lee is quite an amazing man, very outspoken, physical and boisterous. He wears slightly dimmed glasses and you cannot see his eyes. But his energy speaks volumes. The first few times we met he did not want to have anything to do with me or the classes. He would sit during class looking at the participants with a frozen glare. Lee is now one of my best students. His hugs crack my bones with love. His loud voice, once so repellent to me, is now a source of comfort and joy. “I miss you, I love you, can’t wait for you to return with more energy and wisdom,” he says each time he calls. Coming from Lee, these words are astonishing in their honesty. He has been working in this prison for the past thirty years and saw everything that could make a human being dead and jaded. Lee kept his soul alive. Barely, but the flame was reignited. He just called me to say that we are on for tomorrow. I am deeply grateful to be of service and to reconnect with these people.