|Prisons of stone and iron may hold the body for long and painful years in darkness, but they cannot shut out the light of truth from the truth-loving soul; they cannot destroy the peace of the dutiful spirit. --Hubbard Winslow|
Fleet Maull: Waking Up in Prison--by Awakin Call Transcript, syndicated from awakin.org, Sep 24, 2016
Fleet: I'm doing great. It's a beautiful day here in western Massachusetts, in the Pioneer Valley where I'm living now. I'm just looking forward to spending this time with you and your audience today, so I'm doing great.
Birju: Wonderful. I'd love to start with a little bit more on the background side, and maybe have you share a little bit of your roots. You've mentioned that your experience in mindfulness goes back pretty far. I'm curious where this interest in mindfulness and compassion first arose.
Fleet: Well, I grew up in the Midwest in a Roman Catholic family, and I always had a spiritual inclination I think, even as a very young child. I grew disaffected and pretty alienated really from the 1950s, early 1960s culture I was growing up in. Although I appreciated the ritual of the pre-Vatican to Catholic church, and I never really bought into the theology exactly. I was always looking for something different.
Fortunately, the modern Catholic church has improved the theology greatly, but unfortunately I think they got away from a little of the beauty of their more mystical ritual. But any rate, I guess when I was in junior high and high school I really was reading graciously in different traditions. I was actually in a comparative religion class in high school, a Jesuit high school, where I first read some Buddhist scriptures.
They were the first thing that really just made sense to me, the clarity of that. Shortly thereafter I read a book called Zen in the Art of Archery by a German named Herrigel, I think his name is. Who went to Japan probably in the 40s or 50s and studied Kyudo, the zen art of archery, with a Kyudo master. It was kind of a direct confrontation, or deconstruction of his ego in the process of studying that art with the master.
In that I just really recognized, at that point I knew I was a Buddhist. I was in Missouri at that time, not a hot bed for meditation and Buddhism. This is in the 1960s, late 1960s. I started searching everywhere, but eventually I became even more disaffected and gone headlong into the counterculture of the times, and the experimental drug use and even abuse. At one point I decided to leave the country really looking for something real.
It was during my early travels in Central America and Latin America that I began encountering other travelers, other seekers, and reading more books, and I really got interested in meditation. Then I actually first started practicing meditation on my own in a very remote valley, high in the Andes mountains in Peru. Working with some books like, there was a Dali's book called The Secret of the Golden Flower, which Carl Jung wrote a forward for.
The I started focusing in on some of the early translations of the Tibet Buddhist teachings. That's kind of where it began, back in the early 1970s. I was later able to ... When I found out about the founding of Naropa University in 1974 by the Tibetan master, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, I read about that in South America, decided I need to go there.
That's where I was formally introduced into training in mindfulness, both as a practitioner and eventually as a teacher.
Birju: My goodness. Your answer is just so information packed. It's also fascinating and eclectic. It seems to me that you had this multi-year long process of being acclimated to a wide variety of meditation techniques, schools of thinking around this very early on in your life. Is that fair?
Fleet: Yes that's fair to say. I was really looking at everything. I was very interested in the Grujic, at one point I almost got involved with a Grujic group, but it didn't quite click for me. Although I'm still a great lover of his teacher. I was exploring a lot of things. I was very interested in Zen. At some point I really focused in on the Tibetan Buddhist teachings, and there wasn't much available then. There was basically the Evans 1 series.
There were four or five books that have been translated. Today there's hundreds and hundreds. They're not considered the best translations in the world today, but it's what was available then. I really had somehow ... I don't know whether it was a karmic connection or whatever, but I clearly recognized that was my tradition. In particular, the experience in the lineage of the great yogi Milarepa.
Then when I first heard about Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, and the founding of Naropa University, that just grabbed me. I just knew I had to go there. I saw his name, I knew I had to go there. He was actually that first summer session at Naropa co-teaching with Ramdas, and Ramdas is a [grace 00:08:06] year old mind today. At that point I was really just pulled in by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. I didn't really even know at that time that he was not only a Tibetan Buddhist master, but of the very lineage of Milarepa.
I was all over the place, but when I did find that tradition that was the right Karmic connection for me, there was no question about it.
Birju: I'm curious about the strands of life. I hear you narrating through the mid 70s. Here we know that just a few short years later you were sentenced to multiple decades in prison. What was the life path on both sides that allowed for that kind of expansion in two directions to happen?
Fleet: As I said, I had jumped headlong into the counter culture of the time, in the latter part of the 60s, and the early part of the 70s. Which included a lot of drug experimentation, a lot of drug abuse. All the psychedelic drugs and so forth, but then I shifted into IV drug use and became pretty seriously involved in drug abuse. Actually, my original decision to start traveling in Latin America was in part to escape that world.
My travels throughout Latin America weren't just ... The primary purpose was not drugs, but rather it was to ... In retrospect I realize I was always looking for something real. There was some point early in my childhood, perhaps when school started, that things shifted from being vivid and real and magical, to just gray tones. The magic was gone, and that may be a normal developmental passage, but I was never able to make peace with it. I was constantly looking for something that felt real. Something genuine. Of course the early experiences with alcohol and sex and drugs, these things kind of feel like wow, you're plugging back in.
Sex and drugs, these things kind of feel, like "Wow", you're plugging back in. It feels real. They are to some extent, but they also carry with them a lot of baggage, especially if one has a propensity towards addiction. That was that mixed up journey and it continued as I was living outside the country as an expatriate, justifying being involved in small-time drug smuggling as a way to live outside the system, and having gotten into this very polarized us versus them thinking. That the system was completely bad and having a sense of being right and standing outside of it. Justifying all kinds of things.
Then, I was always at the same time, a seeker all the way through. I got to enroll at the university, got a Master's degree in contemplative psychology, got very involved with drugs, and Rinpoche studying. But I kept this secret life going, where I was continuing to finance my life, and keep my problems at bay. I had a young marriage and a young son. The marriage was in trouble.
I kept all those problems at bay by continuing this small time smuggling. I knew I had to stop, the cognitive dissonance was very loud in my head. Of course, I self medicated around that. I would spend about half the year in retreats, and training, and doing really good things; and another half of the year being this crazy cocaine smuggler, cowboy kind of person. It was completely crazy. I knew I had to stop, and by the time I was able- well, before I was able to pull it apart, I ended up with a long time federal sentence for drug trafficking.
Birju: Most folk, that I would imagine, that's a tough hit. If I recall correctly, you were sentenced originally to 30 years in prison. On one side, there's the psychological hit that one must take when one is in their early 30s, and being told this. I'm curious how you get from this place of saying, "Well, this is time I have to do", to this perspective that, "I'm not going to throw my life away, despite the situation."
Fleet: The first perspective was, as I was standing there getting sentenced, my knees literally buckled and my lawyer kind of held me up. I was actually facing- I was sentenced on this so-called "Kingpin" statute, which I still to this day don't really think was warranted. Not that I didn't earn my way into getting into prison. At any rate, I could have been sentenced at that time, anywhere from 10 to life. I was hoping for 15 or 20. When I heard 30, my knees literally buckled.
When I went back to- then I was taken back to this county jail where I was being held, and awaiting a transfer to a federal prison and so forth. That's really when the reality of what I'd done to myself, what I'd done to my son, in particular, how I'd let down my family, my community, my spiritual teacher. It just hit me- a ton of bricks. I just hit a brick wall and really went into a dark night of the soul experience. Just devastated, really in particular over what I'd done to my son who was 9 years old at the time.
I was literally devastated, and finally had to face the truth of the incredible series of selfish decisions I'd been making for years. Justifying it in all kinds of ways. Thinking I was basically a good person. Thinking I love my son. All of which on some level was true, but it certainly wasn't playing out in my actions. So I had to face that. That's really what began to transform things for me. I became radically dedicated to extricate all the negativity out of my life, and do something positive with this experience.
I was scared to death. I was in this county jail, hearing all the horror stories about prison. Unable to sleep, having nightmares all night long about prison rapes, just all the fears one might imagine, having anticipating going to a high security prison for 30 years. I was devastated, but I knew that it was sort of like that moment when I was finally cornered, and I knew, I had to take everything I had received and apply it, just in a sense of surviving.
I just started focusing on meditation and practicing it as much as I possibly could, and really wanting to find some way to leave a better legacy for my son. I had no sense that I would even survive my prison time. Once I got there, I had even less surety that I would survive my prison time. But I wanted to leave my son some better legacy than just his dad went to prison, or even that his dad died in prison.
Birju: So you had this shift in thinking that led to being able to rely a bit more on your past experience, being exposed to all these forms of contemplative practice. I'm curious how that moves from a sense of personal practice and wanting to maintain personal sanity through this time, to saying "Okay, I want to do this. I want to offer this to other people. How did that manifest? Did you have immediate uptake when you're telling other people in prison "Hey, do you want to meditate?" What does that look like?
Fleet: That worked in a number of ways. At the beginning, it was choiceless. My root teacher, Chyogam Rinpoche, it was as if he was sitting right there on my shoulder. He was an incredible man, who, as far as I could tell- and I ended up actually being one of his primary personal attendants and traveled with him extensively, even though I had had this secret life going on in the background. I'm from Missouri, the Show Me State, so I'm skeptical by nature. I was always kind of watching him like a hawk.
As far as I could tell, 24/7, he was dedicated to nothing but the service of humanity and awakening human beings, where they were able and willing. So he was completely service-oriented. I had that example and there was no question that I was going to figure out some way to show up and serve and contribute in this world in which I found myself. In order to practice, I- you start off in prison, at least a lot prisons, in these big dormitories. In fact, some you stay in dormitories.
In this particular place, you started off in these 28 man dorms, in an upper bunk, and it was just bedlam, especially in the evenings. Just a crazy environment. But I would sit up on the top bunk and try to practice late at night. Then I discovered another alternative, especially because I wanted to do extensive practice during the day, and on weekends. At the entrance to these dormitories, there was like a broom closet. In there were the trash cans and the brooms and the mops and everything. So I would go in there and clean it up. It was usually not too clean.
I'd clean it up. Set the stuff outside so people had access to it, take a folding chair in there, and sit and do my practice. Even through the summer months when it was just sweltering, I'd just sit in there and sweat. It was like sitting in a sauna. I began doing that, and people saw me doing that. There was a little window in the door, and sometimes they'd look in and they'd think "What's that crazy person doing?" Or sometimes without thinking, they'd just open the door and see me in there.
People saw me doing it, and in prison, interestingly enough, even if people don't understand what you're doing, if they recognize you're really disciplined and dedicated to it, they tend to respect it. Also, I almost immediately got a meditation group going in the prison chapel. It wasn't easy, because when I first went down there and inquired, they said "No way. Prisoners don't start nothing around here. We've got a long list of Christian churches that want to get in here and start groups. Forget about it."
I found a way to just keep showing up down there, and I found there was a space that was open. I said, "Well, can I just sit here?" They kind of looked at me like they couldn't figure out a reason to say no. So they said "Yes, but if anybody comes, you'll have to leave." Anyway, I just started regularly going down. I got a few more guys to join me, and then I got the outer Shambhala community to name us as a Dharma study group, and they started- the chapel started getting mail for this MCFP, which was Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, Dharma study group. We just kind of morphed into becoming an official group.
I was doing that, and the way- men would just see things about my life, or they'd see me practicing up in that broom closet or up on my top bunk, and they'd kind of get curious. Like "What are you doing?" So I said "Well, come down and check it out." That's one way that the meditation group attracted people. Over the years, it was a very transitional place, because there was a thousand medical patients, 600 medical, 400 psychiatric, and about 300, what they call general population, or work cadre inmates like myself.
We were just there to help run the place. We worked in food service, I taught school for 14 years, that was my day job. GED and college and helping people learn to read. People worked in carpentry and welding and orderlies in the hospital, in the kitchen and so forth. I would put out posters a little bit sometimes, I worked in the education department, so I had the possibility of making posters and going and putting them around the institution. Mostly, it was people I met, and they became attracted to going there. It was a lot of turnover at this institution. So the group, we'd have 5 guys, we'd have 10 guys, we'd have 6 guys, we'd get down to 2. Over the 14 years, there was a couple of times I was the only one that showed up. I think that only happened twice. But there was a lot of turnover. People would see something about me.
It was people would see something about me and go ... And the way I was carrying myself in the prison, and they'd get interested.
Birju: I have to believe, correct me if I'm wrong, the practice and the group, it's not just about sitting in silence together. At some point it goes from silent practice to some form of reflection or sharing with one another, and my guess is that there's folks that have a lot of pain inside and I'm curious how you would be holding space for so many people who come from holding so much pain.
Fleet: Well, you know that's interesting. The way I did that group, and initially we started meeting on Saturdays, then eventually we also had a Wednesday evening. We had actually three hours on Saturday morning, and two hours on Wednesday evening. It was always a newcomers group because there were new people coming all the time. I would give basic meditation instruction, and we would practice. I managed through the chapel to get them to purchase videos for us, so we had a lot of good videos. A few from the Zen tradition, quite a few from videos that Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein had made from the insight meditation tradition, we had a few things from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, so I would sometimes show one of these videos and we'd have a discussion about it. We'd talk about the practice. In terms of in that group, and maybe it was because it was a pure led group with me primarily leading it, we didn't get into a whole lot of processing of people's pain or what they were dealing with. We really did focus on the practice.
Now, today what I know about, from the work we do, about your typical prison meditation group, and there are hundreds and hundreds of these groups all over the country, that the typical structure is you do some practice, you have some open dialogue, and you some kind of conscious movements, some yoga, some stretching, some qigong, something like that. In the dialogue process part, people do surface a lot of the struggle and turmoil that they're dealing with. This may be because there's often an outside voice there, an outside facilitator to listen. When I go into groups today, that is often what's coming up. In the group that I led and facilitated all those years there was a little bit of that, but it mostly focused on learning the practice, and watching videos to get more teachings about the practice, and talking about the meditation instruction itself.
Birju: You've alluded to the growth of this work over time, so I'm curious as you practice for the course of years in your own prison term, did you find that this work was expanding beyond your prison, or did that happen later?
Fleet: Yeah, I actually started receiving letters from Buddhist groups around the country. I had done some writing and been published about my prison experience of being a practitioner in prison in like the Shambhala Sun magazine, a couple other magazines, Tikkun, and later in Tricycle, and so forth. People kind of knew about me out in the western Buddhist world a bit, and they were starting to get more and more letters from prisoners, and there hadn't been much organized Buddhist prison ministry of any kind in the country. People really didn't know what to do with these letters, and they started sending them to me in prison. I couldn't legally correspond with prisoners in other federal prisons, but I could correspond with prisoners in other state and county prisons. They really didn't like it, but it was kind of a gray area.
I would take these letters, and since I worked in the education department I had access to a copy machine, I would copy an article from one of the meditation magazines and put a note in there, and I'd send it to this prisoner. In doing so, I would kind of be in this state of bliss because I knew how meaningful it was going to be for that person. I mean, when you got a mail call in prison you're happy to get junk mail. I really knew the impact it would have on guys, and I was familiar with that Joseph Campbell expression, "Follow your bliss." I said, "This is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life, stuffing envelopes."
At some point I realized there was a much greater need than what I could do from my prison cell. One of the guys who was coming to the meditation group had a contact on the outside that his brother knew or something, and she offered to get involved. She ended up being like a mail drop for me. I figured out how to start a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. I managed to raise a couple thousand dollars from family and friends, and doing all the paperwork and everything, just using her to do the mail for me.
Got this organization started, and we started off sending books to prisoners, and corresponding with prisoners, and connecting prisoners with correspondent meditation instructors, and it just started growing. She burned out in about three years, and a friend of mine who was then Vice President of Shambhala Publications took it on and ran it out of Boston for about the last 10 years of my prison time. That's how it started. By the time ... It was called Prison Dharma Network then, and by the time I got out of prison in 1999 it was a really well-established organization. Then we started taking it to an entirely new level once I got out.
Rahul: I was curious about the kind of adversity that may have arose from other prisoners. Was there ever any kind of violence or resistance from inmates that really challenged the practice or the group itself? How did you deal with that?
Fleet: As I said, in general if you're serious about something in prison and you have your act together, you're not hanging out, and get involved in the crazy games, and the drugs, and the sex, and the gambling, and so forth. You stay away from all that and you're a disciplined person, you'll avoid a lot of the problems in prison. It really depends on how you carry yourself. You don't want to carry yourself weakly or timidly. You'll attract predators. If you carry yourself belligerently you better be ready to fight, but you find that way to carry yourself. I think there was a general respect. The problems in that ... I was also helped start the first Hospice program in a prison anywhere.
I happened to be doing my time at the US Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, which was the maximum security federal prison. They brought medical patients from the federal penitentiaries there, the highest security federal prisons, and this was the height of the AIDS epidemic, so we were dealing with all that. With another inmate, and the support of the prison chaplain, and the prison psychologist, started the first Hospice program in a prison anywhere, and then later went on to start National Prison Hospice Association to get that movement out into the world. Today there's over 80 state and federal prison Hospice programs in the country. It's one of the things I ... Really helps me sleep at night, that I feel good about something I've done with my life.
Any rate, there was a lot more conflict around that, because there were inmates working as hospital orderlies that would really prey on the patients, steal their food, steal their tennis shoes, steal their belongings, especially when they were dying. As a Hospice volunteer, you often found yourself protecting your patient and I often got into conflicts there. You could just get into conflicts anywhere in the prison. I lived on a unit designed for 50 people that had 120 men on it, and no air conditioning in the summer, so there was a conflict, or a fight, or a dangerous violent encounter waiting around every corner at every time of day. Really with mindfulness and awareness I probably avoided thousands of encounters. I did get into five or six potentially really dangerous encounters, and fortunately I managed to handle them without hurting anybody else or getting myself hurt, but sometimes you really had to step up and challenge the situation.
More, it was more around that Hospice work that I found myself getting into even more potentially conflictual situations. There were a couple other times. People that are in for sexual offenses often are preyed upon in both state and federal institutions. The state penitentiaries are the worst, but there was a guy coming to our meditation group for awhile, there was another guy that was also a teacher in the education department for awhile, both who were in for sexual offenses having to do with minors. That word got out in the prison, and they started getting threatened, and people doing stuff, and in both cases I stood up for them and that's really a no-no in the convict world. I took a lot of threats to do that. It came up more around those kind of things than around the meditation group. The meditation group was fairly well accepted. Whether they accepted, or respected, or thought it was goofy, they knew I was serious about it, and pretty much respected it.
One interesting side note was after ... This was early on when I was practicing in those broom closets, later on I eventually got a single cell. Managed to keep that for the last-
Later on, eventually I got a single cell. I managed to keep that for the last 10 years I was in. I could have lost it at any time. Even if on an inspection they found a little dust in my corner, but I managed to kind of military style, I managed to keep that for 10 year, and it was godsend in terms of my practice and study, even though absolute bedlam was just on the other side of the door most of the time.
At any rate, when I was in those early days, when I was still practicing in the broom closet, the black Muslims who wanted a place to do their prayers 6 times a day, seeing that really, they could do that too. Then there started to be a little competition for the use of the broom closet sometimes. We managed to work through that.
Rahul: Interesting. There are actually a number of people right now listening from jails, and we have a question from someone in the Boulder County Jail who says, I have a serious anger issue. I was wondering if you have any special techniques to overcome this.
Fleet: Yeah, anger is really one of the most difficult things to work with. I think to begin with, it's really helpful to, just step by step, to begin to develop a little mastery of our own mind, using simple grieving techniques when we start to get triggered into that fighter flight response which often is fueled with anger, and underlying the anger, of course, is fear. We use simple breathing techniques. Focus on belly breathing. Do the straw breathing, which is where we breath in through the nose and then out through pursed lips as if through a straw. We are doing that breathing with the belly and breathing out a few counts longer than the in breath. Breathing in may be a 4 count. The count is is like our heartbeat, 1, 2, 3, 4 and the breathing out, maybe a 6 or 7 count. Like that.
That will immediately engage the parasympathetic breaths of the autonomic nervous system, which is about down regulating and shift us out of that fighter flight response. That can be helpful, to deescalate ourselves when we find ourselves getting angry.
The other thing is to really look at the source of the anger. When we get angry, it is basically, we want a yes and we are getting a no in some form or another. Some supposed me says, I ain't putting up with that and I start to get really angry. When we're angry there's always a really strong I in there, like you can't do that or I'm not putting up with that. You can't do that to me. What's really helpful is always bring right into the midst of that story line, who. Who's the me? Who's the I? Who's the they? Me who? If we're using some meditation practice, regular daily meditation practice, and we begin to really question that fundamental I and me and other that's underlying those stories of anger, we can begin to deconstruct on the spot a little bit.
Actually when we cut to the story lines that really add fuel to our anger, what we're left with is the clarity, which is the natural ... in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, we talk about all the emotional states that has their own wisdom. Anger is connected with the Vajra family, mirror like wisdom. When we cut the story line and the self identification, which throws the gasoline on the fire, we can defuse that kind of anger. What we're left with is the clarify and the mirror like wisdom.
Anger is a really interesting one to work with but one of the most difficult ones to work with.
Rahul: Thank you for that. I'd love to translate that into a an experience that you've had. You mentioned working with folks in the Hospice context as well as in the prison system itself who want to engage in contemplative practice. Do you have a particular example of a person or an experience that you had that really sticks with you? Somebody who's made strides as a result of some of these practices or the spaces to practice.
Fleet: A couple of short stories come to mind. One is, what very often happened when we were going up to see our patients and as Hospice volunteers, we did very extensive training. We brought outside people in to train us, and I did a lot of the training myself over time. I managed the training program for about 11 years. We constantly tried to keep up about 10 prisoners, inmates who were trained to be Hospice volunteers. We were then assigned particular patients and we would stay with them throughout their process up to their eventual death unless they had the good fortune of being released before they died, either on what was called a medical release or they just finished their time. In many cases, they ended up dying there.
Very often we would go up to visit our patient and find that they've been unattended for hours, that they've messed themselves, that their bed was full of urine or feces, they were getting bedsores just because of really criminally negligent treatment by the staff and lack of treatment. It's a very polarized environment, and I saw even good new nurses when they got hired in or later they started hiring certified nursing attendants as well, I'd see them come in initially trying to give really good care and then then start getting all this pressure from the correctional staff and start buying into the correctional culture and pretty soon they're just hanging out in the guard shack or the nurse's station and just going to see the patients when the absolutely have to.
We would come up and you'd find this patient who, by that time, you were really bothered because they're like a family member to you and there they are, and they've been laying in their own urine or feces for 4 hours. Just the rage comes up. You're just so angry. If you storm down to the nurses and start telling them off, you're not going to be out in Hospice volunteering anymore, you're going to be in the hole, you'll be kicked out of the Hospice program, and your patients will be worse off. You really had to find some way to get yourself together.
I used all the abilities I had to de-escalate and diffuse that anger and instead, I would focus on cleaning up my patient, changing their sheets, getting them all clean, redressing them, getting them all completely comfortable in their bed again, and usually by the time I completed all that work and got them dry and clean and comfortable in a fresh bed, the anger had completely diffused, and I was more just connected with them. That's one example
Another is, one of my Hospice patients was a man who had been coming to the Buddhist meditation group for quite some time. It was towards the end of his time there that he revealed to me that he was an AIDS patient. I was curious because he had been interested in all the videos we had there in the chapel that were kind of about death and dying. We had some great stuff from Steven Levine and [inaudible 00:37:14] and other stuff, but he got transferred back to his home institution. Later he got transferred back and he was very ill. I got assigned his Hospice volunteer, and I spent the next, almost a year with him. He went through such stuff. This before the Protease inhibitors became available, and AIDS patient suffered from every kind of opportunistic infection and skin malady. Just constant suffering and pain. Horrible hemorrhoids and skin maladies and night sweats and constant chills and fevers and he couldn't go to the bathroom without excruciating pain. He was a practitioner.
We had this common bond in that we both had sons that were 9 years old. He also had a daughter who I think was 7, and despite all this suffering, the most painful thing for him was the fact of what he had done to his children, and his son and daughter were out there growing up without their father. You can imagine as I would hold him and he would share all this, it was really hard for me to remain objective because I had my own experience with my own son who was growing up with a dad. That informed by ability to be with him but I had really developed a capacity to set that aside and just be there for him and really hold him and that.
He was a profound example and teacher for me because some patients are in such a disempowered situation there and they have absolutely no control over their own care, their own medication, their own choices, the food they get, anything. They all can get really angry, and sometimes they direct that anger at the staff. They get very conflictual and polarized relationships with the staff. They get locked up all the time. There is a lot of that going on. He never expressed the slighted anger towards the staff. He was always very courteous, and even though he was suffering, he never complained about his suffering. I was packing him in ice. Sometimes I would just sit there and hold him while he was shivering, and he never complained. The only thing he ever expressed grief and pain about was his kids. He tried so hard to practice.
Even when he came back in this incredibly debilitated situation, he wanted to sit up and practice with me. When he could barely, he was skin and bone and I'm like no, no, just lay there, you're fine. "No, no, I got to sit up, I got to sit up." I had a real strong practice while I was at the other place and I helped him sit up. He sat there, and I was in the room and he had tuberculosis, and he had another thing that kind of matched, that where they couldn't determine if the tuberculosis was active or not, so I had to be in there. He was in a negative pressure room, and I had to be in there with a mask on, and we're sitting there knee to knee practicing meditation, and those masks, after about 10 minutes, are no good. I'm sitting there with him practicing meditation for a half hour, and I realized after 10 minutes I'm sitting, we're sitting there exchanging breaths. I'm going "Oh, my God." I hung in there with it, because he was hanging in there with it. He was such an example of bravery, and the fruits of practice to me, that he was really one of my teachers. His name was Lyle, he ended up dying there in the prison.
Rahul: Wow. Thank you for sharing that. I'm moved at knowing that you have unlimited stories behind you. Moving forward in your life, you were released from prison when you were 50. That was a few decades ago now. From my understanding, the work that you're referring to, has grown in the wildest of ways. As I understand it, you not only have all of these programs to continue working with people who are within prisons, and people who are in Hospice, but also working with law enforcement. Working with the judicial system, working with business leaders. It seems like you're addressing every link in the chain. I'm curious how this all happened coming out of prison 20 years ago?
Fleet: I'm not sure how it all happened. I knew when I went in, course I thought I was going to be 65 when I got out, I thought it was basically all over. I was going to dedicate myself to do something with my life anyway. It took me about 3 years going to it, learning how the good time worked under the old law. After my appeal went through, and they knocked off 1 account, then I realized if I stayed out of trouble, I would serve 14 years. At that point it still felt like forever. I knew I would be close to 50 when I got out, and broke with a record. It wouldn't be easy to get a life going again.
I was dedicated to both preparing myself to the abuse when I got out, and also really adding value to the community I was in. Somehow that really paid off. One of the things that I think really has served me since, from my time in prison, is I was in a maximum security facility that is really what Sociologists call a total institution. Which means it's basically a totalitarian environment, resistance is futile. In particular, at that place if you tried to buck the system you'd be back in the psychiatric ward. Naked on a concrete bunk with restraints, and be getting hosed down at night, pumped with Thorazine or Haldol. It was really serious, no joke. Resistance was futile. The basic answer to everything is no. Like can we start that? No. Can we start that? No. Why couldn't we have this program? No. They tried before, someone may have abused it, they always have their stories. How do you get anything done in an environment where you have absolutely no power, and the answer to everything is no? You have to get really creative, right?
I really benefited from my root teacher. His emphasis was never so much on right or wrong. Not that he didn't believe from morality, but he focused as in the Buddhist tradition on skillful means. What's skillful? What actually are the causes, and the conditions that create happiness? What are the causes, and the conditions that lead to suffering? How do you skillfully communicate with people to get things done? I was not in there babbling with the staff, and this is right, I'm going to sue you. I was just, how do I work with people?
I kind of figured, over time I discovered that people were kind of like vending machines. We have, this is not a wonderful [inaudible 00:44:03] an analogy, but we have all these buttons. You push one button, you get a Coke. Another button, you get a Diet Pepsi. Another button, you get a water. Everybody's got their human being button. If you go to the staff and you press their authority button, that's what you're going to get. Or, if you press their fear button, that's what you're going to get. You find that human being button somewhere, and overtime, you're consistent, you're courteous, you're genuine, you're real, it's amazing how you can get in a relationship with people and get things done.
I was able to create a lot of programs in that institution through the educational department, through the chapel, and also start 2 National Organizations while I was there. Which is unheard of because you go up to staff and say, "I want to start." They tell you, you're crazy. I just did it, it happened. They knew about it, and they weren't crazy about it, but they couldn't quite figure out. At one point when they realized how big the whole thing had gotten they said, the assistant ward called me and he goes, "Let me get this straight, they want to interview you on NPR, and you have this nonprofit organization out there running. Oh wait a minute, you're running 2 nonprofit organizations and now you want to do this and that." He said, "What the hell is going on here, how did this happen?" He was amazed, he figured they'd been asleep at the wheel for a long time, or something.
At any rate, how do you get things done? I think I learned a lot. When I got out and started right out of prison, started working as a business, and management consultant. I think that's what I really bring to the world, as a consultant and an executive coach, is really an in my bone sense of how do you work with people, and how do you get things done?
Also I think, I had nothing but opportunity since I've been out. I've been really grateful. I travel around the world, do the witness work with the Zen peace makers in Auschwitz, and in Rwanda, to lead street retreats around the country. I've been very empowered by my own spiritual liege, the Shambhala community. Today I'm a senior teacher in a meditation tradition. Also, Bernie Glassman my Zen mentor, empowered me as a Sensei. My teachers, and communities have been very empowering to me. The prison work, you know kind of timing. For a long time it felt like we were pushing this big boulder off a very steep hill, and the world of corrections and criminal justice was getting darker and darker. We knew we were doing good work and changing lives, but it's kind of like lighting candles in the darkness. Eventually, things change.
Today, the worlds awoken to the fact that our criminal justice system is broken, and unsustainable even. Really on both sides of the political spectrum. people agree it's broken, and unsustainable. It's amazing the world is actually starting to cooperate with us a little bit. It's kind of scary. The world is, the work is really taken off. We have prisoner programs all over the country, and around the world. There's a lot more research establishing these kinds of curriculum's as evidence based practice, which is really our main, one of our main organizational missions. Now, we're getting the opportunity to work with correctional officers, and law enforcement, first responders, prosecutors, and judges. Bringing mindfulness, and mindfulness based emotional intelligence to them in ways that they realized are making their jobs more effective, more sustainable. That are helping them protect their own health, and get better results. Things are just taking off in so many different ways.
Rahul: Wow, that's so beautiful. I know that we do have a lot of people listening from jails around the country. Several of them have asked for resources. We'll be sure and mail out a link about some practices, and how to support meditation in prison from all of your wonderful work.
Fleet: Good. One of our programs at prison mindfulness institute is to send books to prisoners all of the U. S., and around the world. Anybody that's listening in, and can certainly write to us, and let us know whether you're interested in Zen, or Tibet Buddhism, or insight meditation or what have you? Or, just that you'd like to get started with practice. We're happy to send books out.
Birju: You had mentioned at the start of your time in prison, one of the things that really stood out to you was that sense of remorse, and regret with the kind of example for your son. Here you are, so much of life has changed. I'm curious on one level, there is all the work that you've done for the world, and the benefits that have come out of that. I'm curious about your own ongoing journey, and your own ongoing relationships. How has that evolved as a result of this work, working on you?
Fleet: You got to be careful what you ask for. Once you really dedicate yourself to a life of transformational life, life of spiritual evolution, life will certainly bring you the opportunities and the challenges. During my time, I stayed in touch with my family. One of my great longings was to be with my son again, to be with my mother, and father again. It worked out that my dad died of cancer shortly before I got out of prison. They did let me go home to his, for the funeral. Which was amazing they allowed that. Then my mom died of cancer, 5 months after I got out. They died just 10 months apart, I lost both of them right around getting out of prison.
Then the woman who had been my girlfriend before I went to prison and amazingly we remained best friends because I was a terrible boyfriend before I went to prison. We remained best friends and we're even toying with the idea of whether to get back together or not. When I got out she was living in Canada, had a great job up there. Her daughter was up there. I couldn't leave Colorado. About a year after I got out of prison, she came down with a kind of cancer and died very quickly. I went through all that kind of loss. I'd also lost my spiritual teacher, early on in my prison time in 1987 when he died. I'd experienced really a lot of loss, a lot of challenges of that kind and really had to bring everything I'd learned and all my practice and who I was as a human being to bear on how to deal with that. How to be with that. I went through some really, really tough times around those losses.
I then, continually working on the relationship with my son. Thank goodness my son is still very much with us. We've had a challenging time as you can imagine, if your father was in prison when you grew up. You'd have some anger issues about that and he does and has and we've done a lot of work on it. Fortunately, he's managed to stay out of trouble and he's doing okay with his life and we're very, very close. We have our issues at times and we work through it but that's a really important relationship to me. We work on that a lot. Family relationships are tough because the people closest to you are the people that can push your buttons. No matter how many months of time I spent in meditation retreat every year, my son can still push my buttons. That's an ongoing challenge.
Also, sadly I ... back in about, I don't know, somewhere around 2002 I connected with a woman who was just my absolute soul mate. I'd known her before I went to prison. She was part of the Shambhala community for a long time and we had so much in common. We just really bonded. We were both in a place in our lives when we could finally do a relationship and just had an amazing relationship and partnership. Then I lost her to cancer in 2008 after being together for six years.
Life is going to bring challenges and you just have to keep stepping back up to the plate. Here I am, I thought maybe that's it for me in the relational sphere. I just don't know if I can do this anymore. I jumped back into the frying pan about, almost two years ago. I started dating a wonderful woman named Sophie and we're now living together and it's fabulous. I jumped back into that frying pan. You just have to keep stepping back up to the plate with courage and bravery and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. As long as you're continuing to do your practice. As an Acharya in the Shambhala tradition, one of the ... that there's about 30 Acharyas worldwide. The Shambhala community is a global community with over 300 centers worldwide. We have hundreds, maybe several thousand teachers actually and the Acharyas are the most senior teachers. The head of our lineage holds an extremely high bar for us in terms of our ongoing practice and study. We study with him very personally. You've got to be really, really committed to deep practice on a daily basis and a lot of retreat practice and training throughout the year.
I'm immersed in that. I'm still immersed in my zen practice and the bearing witness work. You combine that with what life brings to you and that's living in the fire. What Rinpoche calls living in the challenge. Sometimes people ... and I've used the metaphor, a lot of other people used it of the eternal grounds. Which is in India, Nepal and Tibet. People that couldn't afford cremation, they would just throw the bodies out in these wild places and they just be devoured by wild animals. These places became kind of mythological places of tremendous fear. It's said even Yogi's would go live there, confront their deepest fears around their own mortality and so forth.
I use eternal grounds as kind of this metaphor for the scariest places in life. So a lot of the work I do going to Rwanda and Auschwitz, the prison work. Going out in the streets, some people reference that as eternal ground work, but we all have eternal ground going on right between our ears and right in our own hearts. It's a challenge of being alive as a human being with an open heart, is no small thing. If we're doing the work, to continually further open our heart and open our heart and open our heart. Keep stepping into the challenges of life, that we're living in that eternal ground. Living in the fire transformation and it's not an easy journey, but it's such a rewarding journey because you feel the realness of it. It's like you can stand there and the light bulb almost got me that time but I'm still here. You just feel like you're alive and you're surviving and you're leaving into the fear and the pain of if all. There's something incredibly rich and powerful and meaningful about living your life in that way.
Birju: I'd love to push just a little bit on that because at this point, you're an inspiration to just many, many thousands of people. As a senior teacher today, I'm curious what it is that is your own edge of growth? Where do you find opportunities to continue growing in yourself?
Fleet: Well just on a daily basis. Be in relationship. As I said the people closest to you can most easily push your buttons. I practice a lot like anybody whose been practicing for forty years and does a lot of deep practice. I've had a lot of powerful meditative experiences. A lot of realizations and so forth and deep insights. It still comes down to living your life everyday. There's a lot of times when you just distinctly want to tell the world to go away and you want to shut down and just focus on yourself or your own needs. Every moment I'm presented with being in relationship, being in relationship with the people in my organization. Being in relationship with my son. Being in relationship with my girlfriend.
I do a lot of teaching and lead a lot of retreats, there you're really on the spot. In some ways that's almost easier for me because its kind of what I do and I thrive on it and I'm practicing as I do it. So I'm in a practice state and it's a flow. I love that. The challenge is more in between in the moments of our live when we're being in relationship with the people intimately in our life or even just with the people we're dealing with as we're traveling. The people in the stores, the taxi driver, the people at the airline counter. Staying in relationship, staying open. Being conscious, being mindful, being compassionate is a constant challenge. It's just a constant challenge and I think that's where the growth always is. It's in the midst of our daily life.
It's really important to have a really consistent deep daily practice and it's really important to do a lot of retreat practice and do solitary retreat practice when you can. All those things are really challenging, but where the rubber really meets the road for me is in our ongoing daily interactions with the people in our life and the tendency to want to get focused on my own needs rather than other peoples needs. The tendency to start to shut down and get onward up and feeling that and instead letting go and reopening. That to me that's where the ongoing edge of transformation is.
Birju: We do have a question that came in online. This is from Carol Ruth Silver in San Francisco. She says, "I spent a short time in prison and a longer time as a lawyer for the prisoners in the San Francisco county jail. My focus is now trying to reduce incarceration by reversing the prohibition of drugs throughout the country, as a speaker for law enforcement against prohibition. Do you have ... do you support refueling the war on drugs? Legalizing, taxing and regulating all drugs as a health matter"?
Fleet: Absolutely. I think the drug war is misguided and has been completely ineffective and has been incredibly damaging. Drug addiction is a medical issue. I think drugs should be de-criminalized, regulated and we need to put the resources into treatment for those who are struggling with addiction. Absolutely, criminalizing it has been completely ineffective and has given us ... it's been one of the things that's really fueled this prison-industrial complex, became a self perpetuating industry. To where we have over 2.3 million people incarcerated, over 7 million people in the system altogether. Everybody's heard the statistics. We incarcerate twenty-five percent of the worlds prisoners. Just really obscene statistics and in part it's been or in large part driven by this drug war. So I definitely favor de-criminalization and I'm not in anyway shape or form promoting drug use but it's a medical issue. Addiction and alcoholism should be treated as a medical issue.
Birju: Right. My wife and I recently watched the latest Michael Moore film entitled 'Where to invade next?' We're sounds like a play on Americas military adventures around the world but it actually a film about him visiting other countries and exploring how they deal with things like crime, the drug war, prisoners. It was really remarkable to see how these issues are treated differently in Europe. Drugs are treated very much along the lines of what your talking about here Phillipe and what also particularly struck me was the way in which we treat prisoners in the United States, very much in this role of kind of a punitive space where the law enforcement, dehumanizing people. I think there seems to be much more clarity in Europe that both parties are basically in prison when you do that. I mean, the guards and the prisoners and there's a dehumanizing effect on all of them. Despite recognizing this concept it was sort of a strange experience to see how well prisoners are treated in Europe even when they've done the most horrific crime. I'm curious if you can reflect on how prisoners are treated and what is, sort of the skillful need in dealing with the situation with regards to how we treat prisoners in the country today.
Fleet: Yes, I've seen the Michael Moore film, it's a good film. I would want to be clear that I'm very current on the state of corrections in Europe and he was referencing the system in Norway. There certainly are some good examples of a much more enlightened approach to criminal justice and corrections in the Scandinavian countries. That does not apply to all of Europe at all and even in those Scandinavian countries in Norway for example, those kinds of prisons that were depicted in the Michael Moore film is where you can go when you're getting closer to finishing your time, but other prisoners are in institutions that are more similar to the ones we have in the U.S.
Again, I just don't want to over idealize things, but at the same time it is really pointing to some of the solutions and there are some very different attitudes in some of the countries, especially the Scandinavian countries. Here in the U.S. we have so demonized people who break the law and people who get in trouble. There's shows like Lockup on MSNBC that are highly exploitative and scaring people to death, because they go and show the scariest looking prisons they can find, being as crazy as they can possibly be and we so demonized all of that.
When you go to prison, I don't care what you get locked up for, you're just immediately buried in shaming and demonization. I had a good friend who was a tenured school teacher in a Denver school system, dedicated community servant for so many years and she was a grandmother. They came and arrested her at her house for something to do with her dog and dog being off leash and something about the neighbors calling. Anyway, they come and cuffed her and put her in the back of a squad car and took her down and booked her. She went through that same shaming experience any prisoner goes through. In prison, for me one of the really necessary factors to personal transformation, is where we really honestly face the harm that we have caused and develop a real genuine sense of regret and remorse around that, which is not guilt and shame, that's very different. Guilt and shame is about how horrible I am, it's very self focused. Regret about the other, that we really see the impact that we had on others and we deeply, we wish we could change it, go back and reverse it so it never happened or somehow heal it or repair it, or at the very least not cause any kind of harm like that again.
It's very difficult for prisoners to get in touch with that, because they're so hit with all this shaming and demonization that naturally we're just instinctually trying to protect ourselves, kind of protect our own mind and being. What we often protect ourselves with is we armor up with anger and bitterness and our victim stories and most prisoners can, despite how they may be very guilty, but at the same time, most prisoners are so over-prosecuted and the system, that even prisoners who have done some pretty untoward things end up feeling themselves like victims. Of course, most people that do negative things and violent things and have been victimized as children anyway for the most part. It's really easy for prisoners to get stuck in this victim mindset and really when you're in the prison that the conversation that's going on all day long. It's about victim story about the man, about the guard, about their lawyers, about the guy that ratted on them, etc., etc., etc.
It makes it very difficult for prisoners to get to that place where they have the courage to face themselves, face the impact of their own actions and decisions and get connected with that deep sense of regret, which to me is what really begins to fuel the spiritual journey. For me, what really hit me when I went in was the deep regret I experienced about my son, but I was still justifying my involvement in drugs. "Cocaine was a recreational drug back in the 70s, lawyers and doctors and judges were doing it, dah, dah, dah, dah. I would have never sold heroin, I was." I had all these self justifications, but I was very involved in 12 step work dealing with my own substance abuse problems and after sitting in those meetings for the first two years and listening to one man, this is a male prison, listening to one man after another tell about how his life unraveled around cocaine use in particular, I could no longer hold up the orifice of my justifications anymore and I realized what I had been involved in for a long time was extremely harmful. I had to face that and I developed this profound longing to at least not cause anymore harm.
That's a necessary part of transformation for prisoners and we actually prevent them from having that experience by the approach we take to incarcerating and demonizing them.
Birju: That's very insightful, you know the distinction between guilt and shame, and regret and remorse. Thank you so much Fleet.
Ahmed: Hi there. This is Ahmed. I'm actually pulled over on the side of the road, because I want to ask this question and I've been enjoying this call, so thank you so much for sharing all that you have so far, Fleet. My question is that when you think about the time and the process that you went through when you were in prison and then also with so many of the individuals that you've come across both in and out of prison, I would think that there's so many excuses that can come up for why someone wouldn't move forward in their practice, right? Even for yourself whether it was overcoming addiction and whether it was just being in prison and even though there are powerful motivators, such as being that example for your son, there's the day-to-day practical realities of your surrounding environment. It's easy to move into just cowering, or going into old habits and I'm curious, what is it that you did or in things that you recommend to others to sort of fight through that, to maintain that daily practice to overcome that sort of, even the sense of laziness or distraction that we sometimes end up being prone to mentally.
Fleet: Yes, thank you that's a great question. I have a couple of threads on that. One is, anytime we're trying to develop ourselves to develop a consistent meditation practice to work out, to lose weight, to take better care of ourselves, to work on building a business, to do anything that takes effort, we're always going to run into resistance. It's really important to expect the resistance right and to make friends with the resistance, because otherwise resistance catches us off guard. If we make a commitment to practice meditation at 5:00 p.m. every day, I can guarantee you at 4:45, you're going to start hearing story lines in your head, "Oh, I'm too busy today." "I'm not feeling to well." "Oh, I have to do that thing," or, it's just going to happen. If you buy into those story lines, boom! You don't go practice, but if you recognize, "Oh, there's the resistance thinking. Thank you very much." It's like my alarm clock and you let that accompany you right to the meditation cushion. Expecting the resistance and making friends with it, I think is very important in terms of doing any of this kind of work.
I want to mention one other thing and this is something that came out of my time in prison and a type of work that I'm incredibly grateful that I was introduced to, but all the work I do in the world, we're taking it into businesses, or for prisoners, or correctional officers, or law enforcement. We take it into hospitals, work with doctors and nurses, all kinds of folks from life. We call our work basically, a mindful space of emotional intelligence curriculum of one form or another. Within that is embedded this module that I call radical responsibility and it comes from, at least in part, I've added to it and collaborated on it, but the core of it came from a training called The Event, that I still lead and that I was introduced to in prison, because the founder of the event got in touch with me, read some of my writings, wanted to use some of my stuff in his curriculum. We got in relationship, I managed to miraculously get him into the prison we did four events while I was there. If the prison knew what it was before it came in, they never would have allowed it. We do stick work, we do intense, it's very intense personal transformational workshop, kind of old school style, but it creates very powerful transformation.
I'm very grateful I still lead two events a year today, and if somebody wants to check it out, it's just theeventtraining.com, but the radical responsibility core that came out of that is, the way I talked about is voluntarily embracing 100% radical responsibility or ownership for every circumstance I face in life day in and day out. Of course, some of the circumstances we face, we can see we had hand in creating when we're honest enough about it, but there may be stuff that just seems like it fell on our head, it came out of nowhere, and everybody would agree, I had nothing to do with it, unless it's passed liked Karma. Who knows about that kind of thing? This is not about self-blame, but it's just going, "Okay, there it is. It's in my lap now.
The only salient question ... I mean, I can spend some time having my feelings about it. That's normal, but at some point, the only salient question of "What am I going to do? What am going to do with this?" That's focusing my energy on that which I can do something about which is myself. We spend so much of out time blaming external circumstances, blaming internal circumstances, blaming our past, blaming our childhood, blaming other people, blaming the weather for our own internal states and our own states of motivation or lack of motivation. It's just a waste of time because none of that do we have any control over whatsoever. It's hard enough to influence our own behaviors but at lease we have a shot there.
My focus is this idea of radical responsibility to voluntarily embrace 100% ownership. That's a constant transformation for myself day in and day out to keep stepping up to the plate. I gradually deliver these trainings and in the midst of it I help people discovering this, what I call life distinction, that circumstances are neutral. Now of course, some circumstances feel a lot less neutral than others. Some are criminal, some are horrible, some are just heartbreaking we wish they would never happen to any human being but at some point, once some things happened the only place we can move forward in ours lives is to focus "What am I going to do with this? Maybe I just to go get a lot of healing and a lot of support." Still at some point there's a choice, what am I going to do with this? Otherwise we move into that victim mind thinking where I'm helpless and the cause of my internal state is out there and I'm powerless to do anything about it.
Now it's completely reasonable that we fall into that as human beings and horrible things happen to young people, I'm in any way not validating that, but nonetheless where we can put our energy to empower ourselves to move forward with our practice with our life is really, for me, this idea of radical ownership or radical responsibility. Where we waste as little time as we can in blame and resentment and being caught up in being right. Instead just focus, what is the most creative response to what I'm facing right now?
Birju: We've got a couple of questions from the online forum. The first is: have you had any suggestions on how to begin to de-radicalize Islamic young men in prison in America and Europe?
Fleet: Yeah, wow that's a big one. That's not an area where I've done any work so I'm really hesitant to say much. The only thing I could say it would have to start with empathy. Demonizing people, making them wrong doesn't help. I don't him to it in any way shape or form, but Marshall Rosenberg, who was a great teacher to me now is working on Nonviolent Communications. He often used the example of sex offenders, and I'm not in any way connecting that with the radical Islamic thing, but I'm just using it as a point that he said how do we relate with them? Well we just shower them with fear and demonization and shame right? That actually just feeds their cycle of playing out their own additions of shame. What we have to feel is get into an empathic space with them where we realize that they're trying to get their needs met in the most beautiful way they can.
When he says that in relation to sexual offenders the audience goes crazy. Well if he said that in relation to someone involved in terrorism the audience would go crazy too. We have to be able to listen to them and realize that their actions are coming out of their own pain, their own suffering and they're trying to meet their needs in someway or other. We're all trying to meet the same needs, be happy, safe and secure. All human beings. Unfortunately we get our psychology twisted up and we do some pretty terrible things in that effort to meet our needs.
I think it has to start with listening and with empathy. You've got to create relationship if there's going to be any dialog about helping invite someone into different strategies to get their needs met, then it's got to happen within a ground of empathy where they feel listened to and feel respected. I think that's where we have to begin.
Birju: The other question was "Have you found any probable impact from the recent restorative justice movement in prisons and jail here in the United States?"
Fleet: Oh absolutely, I just wish I could expand further. We consider ourselves very much part of the restorative justice movement. I've given a lot of talks on it, been to a lot of restorative justice conferences. We very much feel we're part of the restorative and transformative justice movement and it is definitely the right answer to when there is criminal activity or human tragedy. Instead of using retributive justice or punishment orientated justice what we really need to focus on is harm reduction and how to repair the break in the community fabric. What I like about transformational or transformative justice is it goes a step further than... I mean restorative justice,... some programs certainly transformative in nature, but what the transformative justice word means, and you find more use of that in New Zealand, Australia, and in Canada, is that it's very preventative.
In other words, we're looking not just how to respond to a crime once it's happened, but looking at the cause and conditions of which the crime arose. What in that individual's life who is doing some kind of harmful behavior, what has happened in their life, what do we need to do to listen to them and bring them healing. If we actually hope that they're going to start behaving differently. What are the societal causes and conditions that are creating that experience for them and many other? If we're not willing to look at how to change those societal conditions we can't hope to prevent more crime. Even with you were just starting with the crime and responding to it with a healing restorative paradigm rather than a punish re tribute paradigm you're going to get much better results. I'm a big believer in both restorative and transformative justice movements and feel part of that movement very much.
Speaker: Thank you, Fleet. I'd love to hear your thoughts on the folks on this call who are inspired by your work but do not engage with such marginalized populations. Any thoughts on lessons we can take to apply it in our own context? Whether that's school or work or home or place of worship. Even beyond that, if there are ways we could get involved in the kind of work that you're referencing I would love any suggestions there.
Fleet: Well I think we've known for thousands of years from all the worlds great faith traditions, philosophical traditions, indigenous traditions especially the contemplative aspects of those traditions, that becoming a more reflective, more awake, more conscience human being is in our own enlightened self-interest. We're going to enjoy our life more, we're going to have better health and better outcomes in life. Now we have the current brain science that supports it. There's more information coming out every week and it's so clear now that basic, consistent daily mindfulness practice has such salutary impact on the brain and on life outcomes that if somebody could put it in a pill they'd be investing billions of dollars in getting it patented right now. The science is there to show how powerful this is and it's really becoming a no-brainer that human beings from pre-school to the elderly, we should be making available to them basic mindfulness training and basic emotional intelligence training.
In other words, we all have this incredibly complex system, the human brain is the most complex organism and machine actually, in existence including the whole solar system out there. Nobody gave us an instruction manual, but today we kind of have the instruction manual. Combination of the traditional contemplative traditions and modern neuro-science and we can empower ourselves to self regulate, even in our own enlightened self-interest. If we do that we're going to end up getting much better outcomes for ourselves and we're going to be much better partners with others in life.
This really applies everywhere, and that's why mindfulness is going into k-12 education and into healthcare in education, in [inaudible 01:19:25], even into the military and law enforcement and other areas. I think it's something whose time is come and it's becoming very widespread. Again, this idea of where do I focus my attention? Do I want to focus my attention on my resentful feelings about by circumstances and blaming my circumstances on other people or trying to control other people?" Which is impossible or I do want to even in my own enlightened self-interest focus my precious time and energy where I can add the most value, create the most possibility and the most opportunity for myself and others in life.
That applies to what we're all doing in life. Whether we're working in the corporate sector or the healthcare sector or education. Whether we're in retirement, whether it's how we work with our kids. One of the ways we get caught down there, what we call, below the line in blame, resentment and so-forth is just being hooked on being right. Well if we're parents and we have kids, especially adolescent kids, we have this deep need to be right and we're getting hooked into being right all the time, we're never going to have a relationship with our kids. They're gone right. So all of this kind of reflective, emotional intelligence training allows us to be in deeper more authentic relationships with the people in our lives through owning our own stuff. Not projecting it onto others. Society of radical responsibility, being accountable, keeping our agreements, being genuine, open and vulnerable to others. That creates trust and that creates authentic relationship. That grows across every sphere of human activity, because we don't do this thing alone. Whatever we're going to accomplish in our lives we're going to do in relationship with others so learning how to be an authentic relationship to others to me is the key human learning. I think it's there, it's available, and it's applicable to every aspect in our lives in whatever direction our life might take.
Birju: Thank you for that response. As the host of the call, it's my privileged to ask you one final question. Which is how can we as a broader service based community support your work?
Fleet: Well, you can learn about it to begin with. Our prison work is at prisonmindfulness.org. Also now a big focus of ours is training mindfulness teachers to work with that risk population, vulnerable populations. Same organization different division engagedminfulness.org. We have a front to back initiative that transformed the whole criminal justice system at mindfuljustice.org. Check out those websites, learn about our work. If you want to support our work financially you can figure out how to do that through the sites, if you want to get involved in it you can figure out how to do that. We have lots of online trainings where we get people started on how to take mindfulness programs into jails and prisons. If you want to become a certified mindfulness teacher we offer that kind of training. If you just want to be in community with us we have all kinds of ways to get into community. That's where I would start, just learn about the work we're doing and if you'd like to engage, find a way to get engaged. We really welcome that on whatever level, in any way shape or form that people want to be engaged in this work. Let us know how we can support you in this work, if you have aspirations to do this kind of work let us know how we can support you.
Birju: Wonderful. Happy Saturday to you, and everyone listening.
This article is a transcript of an Awakin Call conversation. It is community of listeners, who start with the idea that by changing ourselves, we change the world.
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The paradox of trauma is that it has both the power to transform and resurrect.
Peter A. Levine
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