People behind bars are often open to change, as Suvarnaprabha discovers when teaching prisoners to meditate.
There is a series of rituals you learn when you start going into prisons. Of course they aren’t meant to be rituals –- they’re for security, but they end up feeling like rituals, in the same way that some of us automatically bow when we enter a meditation room. You walk up to the door, push the button, turn your back to the door, the door buzzes, and you turn around, open the door and go inside. Every time you go through a door, even on the inside, you do the same thing: you push the button, turn to face the camera, open the door, go inside.
In 1998 I spent four months co-teaching a creative writing class at a medium security prison. Once a week I drove my little Honda into the hot Central Valley (where pretty much all California’s prisons are), my chest achy and nervous every time. Walking in the first day: I passed through a series of remotely-controlled gates, each buzzing as we approached it, someone watching us on a screen somewhere, pressing a button to let us through to the next gate. Even as a visitor, you feel you have no control over what’s going on. At almost the last gate, the Director of Arts in Corrections mentioned that he was required by law to tell me that the prison policy is not to negotiate with terrorists. “We’re supposed to tell people before they come in,” he says.