Meditating with felons by Suzette Standring

Suzette Standring
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I am reminded of when I volunteered in prisons both in Massachusetts and in Connecticut, teaching classes that involved meditation and journaling. I called it “Stress Management” because I wanted to avoid even the faintest wiff of “woo-woo” to the male inmates.  Wow, these guys had a lot of stress to manage. Clanging gates, non-stop noise, ear-splitting loudspeakers, little privacy, relentlessly lighted rooms, and the constant watch-your-back they all lived under.  These were the reasons they gave me in answer to my question, “So what brings you to my class?”

One man had a very different answer, “That’s easy, to hear the sound of a woman’s voice again.”

During one class I led a guided meditation on a “favorite room,” which we’d write about and discuss afterwards. The idea is that your subconscious is trying to tell you a story about your past.  A “favorite room” was aimed at having them remember happier times.

Kevin, 50+-year-old man, had been in and out of prison for violence since he was a teen. Now he was in for stabbing his brother. He had wide staring eyes, and yet an almost boyish, innocent manner. 

After the exercise, he said, “I thought of a room where I used to watch hockey on TV with my dad.  What does that mean?”

I said, “Maybe you like hockey? Or perhaps something more meaningful will come to you the more you think about that room.”

The next week, Kevin was excited, barely able to contain himself. 

He raised his hand, squirming in his seat like a five year old. “Ooh! Ooh!, I know something!”

“OK,” I said, “whatcha got?” 

He was so much like a little kid; this 50 year old man who was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 11. 

Kevin didn’t want to speak from his seat, instead he stood up like a child who had a winning answer.

He said, “I was ten years old and that room was the last time I ever heard my father say he loved me.” 

This piece came from a writing prompt, which was the silhouette of a lighthouse, but it reminded me of a prison guard tower.  The class was led by Elaine Person.