Prison Journal—Behind Bars

I was waiting to be let in to the prison. This is usually a process that takes some time. Today was no different. I was told to wait as the computer that would recognize my PIN number was not booted and it needed time to come back up. The morning was warm and humid. The prison is in the Everglades, on the very edge of western Miami-Dade county, just a half-mile or so from Krome Avenue.

After a couple of minutes of observing the clouds and noticing the movement of prisoners inside the barbed-wired fence, a large man comes in a dark crumpled loose fitting suit and a giant Bible that seemed to match his large size. He was wearing what looked like a fancy watch, equally oversized. He looked like a character from a Flannery O’Connor story.

He definitely looked like some kind of minister. He seemed tired, maybe a bit unhappy. His cologne spread through the humid air, and I was blanketed by it. As I looked at him, I said to myself, still tired from teaching during the week my 200 or so students at MDC, “A Christian minister. Selling Bible shit. Spreading guilt and salvation or maybe the other way around. Not my thing.”

As the thoughts danced in my head slowly, I realized that I was in the depth of judgment.” Instead of reprimanding myself for it, I just waited and wallowed in my disgust.

The computer took longer to boot up than usual. The wait offered an opportunity I didn’t expect. Unexpectedly, I turned to the man and asked him, “Oh, how has your day been today?” It was an odd question given that it was only 8:30 in the morning.

Without much hesitation, he responded, “The fact that we woke up this morning is reason enough to be happy.” I was surprised by his response. He said it without preachiness, somehow as if it came from some deep knowing. I understood this wasn’t a platitude.

My judgment got monkey wrenched. I paused. “Yes, being alive is a really a good thing.” I also meant what I said, though someone listening might not have caught my own sincerity. This week’s meditation with the men involved something about becoming aware of the preciousness of human life and the truth that death is certain for all.

“It is great to be alive, brother,” he reiterated. “What do you do here?”

“I teach a yoga class every Friday morning,” I responded and was wondering what he would say as he held his huge gold-leafed Bible with the words of Jesus in red ink in one hand.

“Oh, yoga is really good,” he said. He added, “I study the Kabbalah. The ten emanations,” he repeated twice, looking at me without any need to explain further.

“Like the Chakras, the seven energy centers in the body,” I managed to respond.

“Yes. The body knows. The body is a teacher,” he added. “Even the Buddha…I like the Buddha, too,” in a stream of consciousness explanation that lacked logic but made sense. “He wasn’t a god. He was a person.”

I nod and manage to quietly say, “Right on.”

He then pulled back his sleeve and showed me his prayer beads around his wrists. I had mine in my pocket.

“My name is Simon. I’m half Jewish.”

By this time the computer had booted and our PIN numbers had been accepted. Soon after, he walked in before me. I had to get the yoga mats from the car. But even after he disappeared into the long prison corridor from the entry point, I could still smell his cologne.

Minutes later, as the last of the yoga mats were scanned into the X-ray machine, and I was patted down and asked if I was carrying any contraband, I realized that this man with all of the garb of a Christianity and fundamentalism that had caused me grief and pain in the past, in fact, had some kind of practice that served him somehow.

I judged him. I put him behind bars before I knew anything about him.

The last door of the entry point locked behind me.

I was now inside the prison ready to practice yoga with the men.

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