In the maximum security prison where we volunteer, there are different levels of security that effects where individuals live. Some have freedom to leave cells to go to our classes or services, the library or the gym. Some stay in cells and must be escorted if they go to the health clinic or to an appointment. “Isolation” has cells with bars for some and the higher security cells have a steel door with only a food slot that looks out from the cell. Then there is the “Hole”.
With an infraction, or some need determined by security, our men are sent to the hole where there are thirty cells along an isolated hallway. Behind bars, and then behind a steel door, are small cells with only a toilet. In the day, the mattress is taken away, and the only light is a dim bulb. They are allowed one religious book but none of their other property. Some are kept in the hole for a month or more, and some, with no legitimization needed by security, may be kept for years. One man has written saying he has been in the hole in his prison for over twenty years.
I had visits the other day with two men that we regularly counsel with that recently came out of the hole. I am very touched by the stories that these two friends shared with me about how they used their time and I wanted to you to know how these men are growing and changing the lives of others within the walls of their prison.
C. has spent the last year doing intensive healing and inner growing. He had been an abused child who had turned his repressed rage on anyone who was a bully. His crime was a response to that pattern when he saw a woman being abused by her friend. He has now found peace and forgiveness and a strong spiritual practice. His time in the hole came from a quick lapse of impulse control. The infraction was minor, but security saw him and put him in the hole. He knows he did wrong and felt that the punishment was deserved.
In the hole, one is very isolated in the semi-dark and you see no one, but if you go over to the vent in the wall, you can hear and speak to the inmates in the other cells. They carry on conversations, huddled up to the vent. In the cell next to C’s, was a psychotic man who railed against his demons day and night. It was nerve-wracking, and the others complained about the racket. Others called back and forth with stories of their wrong charges, angry rants about enemies, and making noise just to keep from going stir-crazy. Little by little, C. would interject calming words into the chaos, especially to his neighbor. The neighbor began to quiet down and would call out, “C, are you there? Will you talk to me?”
Others began to listen too, and C. would sometimes quote a Bible verse to respond to their predicament or to offer some of his own wise counsel. Discussions changed into problem resolution and how to better handle life difficulties. The hole changed into healing conversations and more and more questions were from guys asking for advice.
When C’s time was up and he was escorted out of his cell, the security guard thanked him. He said that he had heard him helping the other men during his time in the hole, and appreciated how kind he had been.
Our other friend, J., has been one of the major healers and teachers of young inmates in the max unit. Every month he, like everyone, takes a drug test. Every month his required medication shows up with a false positive and every month the nursing staff reads his folder and understands that the test is positive because of his prescription meds. But this time, a new and rather bullying nurse determined, without reading the folder, that this was an indicator of drug usage and put him in the hole. It took almost a month for this mistake to be adjudicated. For J. in the hole, he too generously assumed his role as healer, just as he lives every day of his prison life and will throughout his sentence of three lifetimes. He brought a book on Mayan religious teachings for his one spiritual book that he could have. He too heard the murmurs of chatter and sometimes swearing and screaming floating through the vents as he read his book. Sometimes he would insert a few calming words and sometimes he would guide someone who was asking questions or asking for help. As others realized that it was J that was their new neighbor, the questions became more common. It was almost classes in healing and emotional balance that was being shared through the vents. And then, sometimes, when someone wanted to ask a question that was more private, J would hear his name called in the middle of the night. Sleepy, for sure, but always caring, he would roll over to the vent and ask what it was. One of the others would ask a very serious question about the pain in their lives and quietly a discussion would be whispered with the hope to offer guidance. J. is Muslim and knows that this is what his life is about. Healing happens wherever he goes and he continues to grow on his path. J. tucked his book on Mayan wisdom in the corner for the next resident when he left the hole.
At Compassion Works for All, we plant seeds as we can on our visits. But those who are there every day and who have been planted in this dark place as the blossoming wisdom of great healers are these guys. These guys who are there until they die, are making a profound difference with their most amazing life journeys.