Our dialogues are an attempt to find wisdom and give expression to it. We talk about forgiveness, about kindness, and about the peace which passeth understanding. Maybe not quite what you’d expect guys in prison to be talking about.
Prison, by its nature is dehumanizing. But human beings live there. In our dialogue group, we look for our common humanity. Or maybe our common divinity. We try to give expression to our own stories, that which is unique in us. And to draw out from others something from below the surface, where most conversation takes place.
Some guys have described our meetings as an oasis. We try to create an atmosphere of openness and trust, taking on big topics, like Love and Freedom and Happiness. Freedom in prison? Yes, because we are discovering how to break what William Blake called the “mind-forged manacles.” We are watering the seeds of peace, of friendship, of understanding.
The guys in prison aren’t so different from those of us who live on the outside. What do you think most people in prison are doing at this moment? Well, if they aren’t at work, they are probably watching TV. And what about most people who are not in prison? If they aren’t at work they are probably watching TV. Deep down we all have the same yearnings. We want to love and be loved. We want to be understood. We want to live a meaningful life. We want to live up to our fullest potential.
Imagine a really terrible childhood. I think most guys in prison had a childhood that was much worse than that. Many of them got lost, got into trouble, out of control with alcohol or drugs and ran around with guns. In the dialogue group, we have the opportunity to reflect upon our lives and on our experience: what we’ve learned and what we’ve failed to learn, our struggles and our small triumphs.
I believe that in our depths, all of us have a profound wisdom and understanding. Our dialogues are an attempt to find this wisdom and give expression to it. We talk about forgiveness, about kindness, and about the peace which passeth understanding. Maybe not quite what you’d expect guys in prison to be talking about.
And there is a ripple effect. As our lives change, as we become wiser and kinder, we cannot help but touch the lives of others in positive ways. It seems to me that this kind of dialogue is an obvious, but much-neglected form of spiritual practice–as relevant to people outside of prison as within. It is a way for us to get out of the prisons we have built for ourselves, in which we live.