The Razor-wire seems to have lost its edge, and no longer do the towers loom, menacing, confining. Prison has taken on a monastic quality, and now my friends, the guards in those gun towers, serve to hold the world at bay while I reside at “Freedom on the inside.”
Letter from a retired assassin
Well this letter is a long time coming, so I guess I had better get to writing it, huh? I know that this may seem odd to give you such a letter, but there is a reason for me giving it to you, as I am getting very short of time and this all needs to be said …
I doubt that I need to even tell you, or try to point out the change that has taken place inside of myself, as it is barely even subtle, but I will tell you some of it anyway. I have gotten rid, or gotten over so much of what I was holding inside of myself: rage, anger, hatred, all of what you would think about a prisoner. I really couldn’t even name these things as what they were because they didn’t manifest themselves in the traditional ways … they just sort of oozed out of me at all times. So I could not have explained what they were as I was so lost inside of them that they seemed normal … they seemed to be helpful to me, which is about as perverse as a man can get, thinking that all of this hatred and rage is helpful, but they seemed to be my defense; a way for me to deal with this world without getting hurt. I know now what I was really doing, what I was really feeling, but how do you know what you’re feeling when there is a general disconnect with anything other than the violence, the rage? How do you give up even the most perverse of belief systems when you have been brainwashed by its seeming successes?
So this is just a little bit of where I was at the time I started meditating. I’m sure that there was a sort of energy coming from me that probably seemed palpable … I am sure that you have seen this all too often, which is why I must thank you for myself and for all of us that you have led along the path and have taught and devoted so much time and energy to. It is simply astounding to me to think about all the endless good you have done in so many prison communities and I am humbled and heartened that you have done so much and that it is possible for me to do it since I have seen you change each one of us, one by one, with such patience and courage … it is a great example of water versus rock, and I am so thankful that I could never really put it into words the exact change and the exact difference in myself but I know that it is little more than a miracle …
And so I hold you in the highest regard, I honor you in my heart every day that I know that you are doing something little more than amazing by going into prisons and showing us, the most lost of the lost, the way. I can never thank you enough. — C.
(Note: this writer was convicted of a violent crime)
I was at Buddhist services last Tuesday and it had couple of zen teachers there this time. I guess they come every month or so. Anyway, they have us all ring this bell one at a time and tell how our practice is going. Well, there was this one fat guy who isn’t very neat, beard all scraggly, etc. Its his turn to go, and he’s having emotional problems, you can tell as he starts his story. His cell mate was moved out for some reason and the new cell mate told him to get the fuck out of the cell – that he wasn’t going to live with him, etc. etc. You know it’s prison and shit like that happens all the time. When I was young and still in general population I ran a couple of dudes off too, and laughed about it with the good ole boys. Everyone sees them as weak. They are rejected, no one will live with them, and [the tough guys] bulldog them or turn them out of the cells etc., etc. [I used to be one of the tough guys,] but I’ve never seen the other side of it. I’ve been on the other side. I’d fight and get violent so I never had the same problems or experiences as those who will bow down and submit to being pushed around.
I got to see that side of it and what that guy was going through. He was a mess and I would bet everything has considered suicide seriously. It amazed me at how strong he was telling all of us this shit most everyone wouldn’t want anyone to know about and showing his weakness. It was like an anomaly. And it made me feel this huge sense of – I guess love or compassion for the guy and guilt for the dudes I’ve run off. Well, I spoke up, of course and expressed this to him and everyone, a few of the other guys felt the same way.
(Note: this writer was convicted of a violent crime)
I have discovered that my open wound is my most precious gift and that the stronger it gets the less fear I have. Of course, I used to think that fearlessness had more to do with the ability to not feel than the ability to feel so much that you burn. I used to believe that clarity came from the coldness or inner-death, the absence of all emotion. And though I know that this pain is real and that the growth is infinite, my heart softly breaks more and more so that even someone’s mask can batter its crumbling defenses and pierce me again. Would it help to explain that as a child I was so sensitive that I can remember the pain today? I am haunted by my own memories as a child and at how much closer I must’ve been to enlightenment. My mother would speak on my sensitive heart during my adolescence as if to lament where it went. I know where it went. I grew up in a world where being a man meant trying to heal this open wound. My friends and family only tried to do what they thought best heal it, right? This is us, all trapped in samsara, all trying to heal our open wounds. Now all of the sudden we’re all doctors? Hmph…(Note: this writer was convicted of violent crimes.)