By Miranda Chapman
Most Thursdays my father and I leave everything in the car and carry in ourselves and our identification. I speak loudly through the plate glass window to the guard on duty: “Mindfulness group.” We are handed our badges and sit to wait for our escort, often surrounded by the din of others waiting to visit loved ones, sharing their stories or lamenting the brief moments of contact through a wall of glass.
Passing through the threshold of the metal detector, we enter the cream colored abyss of cinder block walls and automatically locking doors. The energy of the unknown surrounds us as we travel through the halls to the program space. The counselor on duty lets us know who is coming, who is in court, who has been transferred out.
The room we are in is windowless and adorned with plastic chairs but the space transforms itself as we form a circle and sit down.
This week felt harder than others. Two of the men who had been with us from the beginning, through all of the changes of faces, had finally been transferred to serve out the remainder of their sentences in other facilities. My sense of loss, of their willingness and eagerness to engage in the practices I was leading and the work we were doing together, was huge. But, it acted as a profound reminder of the value of this Thursday afternoon ritual.
The coming together of people to remember our basic goodness, to share space free from judgement and hierarchy, to find a common ground through the breath and present moment awareness — it all feels so remarkably human.
So many incarcerated men are dehumanized because of the choices that landed them in jail but, each week, as we enter Hartford Correctional Center, I am given the gift of remembering. Remembering that we all make choices that serve us and that don’t serve us, that the outcome may look different but I am not different: I long for love. I long for peace. I seek freedom from harmful patterns.
In that room we remember our connection rather than our distance. We are all humans, trying to make our way and opening our hearts to the practice of presence to begin again, even when we find ourselves in that same old place. To notice, on a deeper level, the patterns that nourish us and the patterns that starve us. And, we start to trust that mindfulness, kindness, compassion, are a way toward freedom.