“Breathe my fellow brothers. Breathe in and all will change for you.“
That was how my class started on Tuesday evenings.
“I was a miserable child. Insecure, unhappy, always picked on by my teachers. I had a choice of either carrying a baseball bat with me, iron knuckles, or leave to the end of the world. I left. I went to the end of the world looking for the third way. Not breaking the law. Not being crushed by society. But learning how to internalize the bullshit of the universe and spit out the poison.”
I found out that being personal and real goes a long way with people who are used to masks and images. You cannot survive in this environment unless you learn to appear tough. All inmates are tattooed from neck to toes. But you do not cast away darkness with a stick. You use light.
“This, my brothers, is what I am here to teach you. You too, Johnson. Give me six months and I’ll teach you how to dig an inner tunnel that will lead you to freedom.” I love Johnson. He could have been my son. Johnson comes to classes then disappears only to reappear again with the same ‘tough guy’ expression on his face.
I looked at the people in in front of me. Some were stunned, some were dead. Most of them opened up to the energy and large smiles spread on their faces. This is my third month of teaching meditation in the maximum security prison in Soledad. Not a minute goes by without my feeling and loving Rudi for saving my life, thus allowing me to help these people.
“I am teaching you a craft,” I continued, ”a craft that you will take with you wherever you are. Look at a snail, observe how he carries his home on his back. I call it the third way. There is no longer a need to carry guns or knives to assert yourselves. If you toss a diamond into a pile of pebbles, it will shine. This diamond is not going to have to stand up, pound on its chest and say, 'look how fantastic I am.’ This diamond is going to dazzle just by being itself. Well, here I am teaching you how to become unique without having to hurt and destroy others. You will shine like a diamond in a goat’s ass.” Everybody broke out laughing. I laughed, enjoying myself. I didn’t know where all this came from but it was fun.
The energy in the class that followed was powerful. Johnson shook his head and blinked incessantly. He was absorbing a great deal and I was grateful for that. Johnson is a young African American kid of about twenty. He comes to classes periodically. He sits through class with a bored expression on his face, looking around and not really doing his inner work. I never said a word to him, as he kept coming almost every week. This class was different. At the end of the class he raised his hand. ”I almost fainted,” he said. “I saw colors and the room turned orange. You totally disappeared.” His face lost the crude and tough expression it usually carries. He suddenly looked his age. Before I had time to answer, he charged out of the room back to the main corridor and to his cell.
Up-church was beaming. His round and beautiful face glowed. Up-church is a big man. He resembles Louis Armstrong minus the teeth. I assume they don’t have dental services in the maximum security prison in Soledad. I have noticed that many inmates are toothless. Suddenly tears started streaming down his cheeks. “I have been here for forty five years,” he said. My heart felt as if a knife went through it. Forty five years in this dreary place. “I was a young kid when I came,” he continued, “sentenced for life without parole. I gave up all hope. I knew I would die within these walls. I was angry and as the years passed by, I became bitter and reclusive. Then you came and your words brought hope to my life.” I looked at him and almost cried. The man in front of me had transformed himself. Whatever crime he had committed, forty five years later, he was a changed human being. His next sentence shook everyone up. ”I found out today that they have just changed the parole regulations for people over sixty five and I am eligible for parole. I am going to get out of here.” Bursts of laughter and cries of joy spread through the room. The inmates came to him and shook his hand, some patted him on the back. I was besides myself with happiness. Up-church continued, ”You gave me hope and everything changed.”
I looked at him and his eyes were on fire, two dark pools of burning coals in the middle of his face. “I am going to tell you something that may sound crazy right now,” I said to him. "There will come a day when you’ll be grateful for these horrible forty five years. They have changed you and now you can go out and help people. Whatever you do, help others. I know people who spent the last forty five years just revolving around themselves. Focusing on money, relationship, a bigger house. They have not gone anywhere. They had their forty five years and you had yours. What’s the difference? Time flew for both of you. Who is better off? Time will tell. Your actions will provide the answer. The past is dead anyway.” Up-church was sitting quietly soaking it all in.
I was truly overjoyed. During the past few months, I have talked extensively of how these walls are just a reminder of our inner prison. And once we start shuttering our inner cage, the outer manifestation will change as well. I repeated over and over again that the only way out of town is up. It appears that even a prison sentence comes to an end. I saw in Stewart eyes with a mixture of sadness and joy. Stewart is sentenced to eighty seven years to life. He is meant to die in this place. Last week he told me that they allowed him to have an hamster pet. He was happy describing the little creature.
I can write books and still not convey what I feel and what really goes on between these walls. Life within a life within yet another life. So many intricate and convoluted layers of existence amidst the madness on planet earth. I find that while teaching detachment I learn of detachment. Yet my detachment is tested weekly in this place.
It was a small class last week but all I needed was one person that these teachings would make a difference in his life. I was just ‘one person’ when I walked into Rudi’s store. There were no droves of students outside pushing to come in.
What I said next was meant for Stewart. “They say in the old books that everything is pre-destined, that all is written. But that permission is granted.” I looked around waiting for it to sink in. Then I repeated it. “All is written but permission is granted.” For me these words were the most important words I had ever heard in my life. It had changed my life. “permission is given to all of us to change even that which is unchangeable. The need of the human being is the strongest force that exists in the universe. It is unbreakable.” Stewart’s eyes gleamed. I had hoped these words stream into his consciousness and stay there. Permanently.