Friday, June 18, 2010

The Monastic Life

People asking questions, lost in confusion; I tell them there's no problems, only solutions. They shake their heads and look at me as if I've lost my mind; I tell them there's no hurry, I'm just sitting here doing time.
-John Lennon,"Watching the Wheels"
I live the life of a monk, albeit a more dangerous and profoundly more depressing one ( the life, not monk). The majority of my days are spent in meditation and prayer. If I'm not contemplating my navel, I'm chanting or standing on my head. Not really, but you get the idea. There's really not a whole lot else to do: wake up, do yoga/workout, meditate, go to chow; read/study, meditate, go to chow; read/study, meditate, right, sleep; wake up... day after day after day for months, then years.

It might not seem so bad when looked at objectively, I suppose, but notice all that's missing : the love of a good woman (shoot, after nine years, I'd take a bad one right now ), good friends, music, laughter, being in nature, sunshine, animals, swimming, hiking, canoeing, meaningful work, culture, variety, choice, fun, freedom -- insert your favorite things here. Also, we haven't factored in, the constant noise, violence, filth, stench, lack of privacy, cruel and demoralizing guards, tear gas, handcuffs, strip searches, staph infections, etc.nor the anger, frustration, and hopelessness that permeates every cell.

Still, there's plenty of time to think. Each of us in prison spends countless hours contemplating our crimes and every other mistake we've made in our lives, no matter how small or inconsequential at the time. We relive them in painstaking detail and feel remorse for each one. Those scenes are replayed over and over, sometimes for many years, until we can finally forgive ourselves. We all do this, despite any outside appearance to the contrary. The younger "warrior" monks with energy to burn and things to prove, tend to have a harder time settling down, but they too, have plenty of time in their bunks to think and reflect, and before they leave(if ever), are better for it.
For many of us, the monastic life lends itself to studying: philosophy, scripture, science, history, literature, and anything else we can get our hands on. Those with the inclination become scholars. And although it will likely help in finding a job someday, it does make for a more interesting and well-rounded convict. Then again, my future work in hypnotherapy and counseling will be the result of all I've studied and learned while in prison, and, of course, there are the various trades learned here, like welding, carpentry, electrical work (is my choice) and diesel mechanics, even if it is just the basics.

But a monk's main aim is to develop spiritually. At some point, the time spent thinking and studying becomes time spent meditating and praying. And it does take time. There's a necessary process one must go through -- a profound quieting of the mind -- before being able to truly commune with the Divine. This is usually pretty difficult at first, sometimes requiring years of effort; but once a certain point is reached, the progress snowballs and a person makes leaps and bounds towards enlightenment. Enlightenment is personally experiencing the superconscious state where one connects with their higher, truly spiritual self. It's what it's all about.

For the prison monk, meditation is also a way to escape beyond the walls and razor wire, even if only for a short time. This is a nice bonus of sorts and the reason some inmates first get started. Plus, it can also be a better high than the than one could ever find otherwise; being connected with the Divine is a euphoric feeling, and there's no greater experience of Unity and Love possible on this physical plane. But the most tangible benefit is the insight gained into the true nature of reality: the oneness we all share and our existence as eternal, spiritual beings, currently having a physical adventure on Earth. Obtaining such knowledge seriously transforms lives and is the biggest reason of all to meditate.

Imagine if everyone had such an experience. What if each of us could gain first-hand knowledge of the existence of God/Creator/Source and the divine realm of angels, guides, and fellow spirits/souls by personally experiencing it in the superconscious state? Well, let me tell you: we would all treat each other better; we'd make the most of our short lives; we'd better understand and bear our suffering; and we wouldn't be at all afraid to die. Plus, the crime rates everywhere would drop like rocks and recidivism would be nil. Pretty cool, huh?

Those of us in prison fortunate enough to have so much time to meditate and who've been blessed with such an enlightening experience simply aren't capable of committing any further crime. We've literally seen the light and our lives are forever changed. We realize now that love would be the basis for every thought, word, and deed. And I., for one, intend to share my experiences and teach as many other people as possible -- within prison and without -- how to meditate and discover the divine for themselves. Hence, Check it out.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people believe that meditation and enlightenment and God or the Divine realm is a bunch of baloney. I certainly did, before I became a scholar monk. They may dismiss my own accounts and all of those throughout history as mere fantasy, mental derangement, or New Age wackiness. However, besides experiencing it for oneself, the proof is there for anyone to study if they care to make the effort and aren't afraid of being wrong for once. See my recommended book list at

And yes, granted, the number of prison inmates or anyone today for that matter, who've actually transcended the material world, however briefly, is relatively few. Still, what matters most is being on the path -- to being dedicated to a spiritual life. Those who make Love the basis of their every thought, word and deed can't go wrong. Easy to say, of course, but harder to do. And although we will slip up from time to time, our sincere effort and intent will keep us in grace and on the right track. So, even if one doesn't have the opportunity or desire to meditate that much, it's still possible to live as though enlightened. And many in prison have discovered this path and are walking it daily.

Penitentiary: 1. a place for penitents and spiritual reflection; 2. a warehouse for the living dead --

The point I'm trying to make and will keep trying to make, is that prison experience is conducive to spiritual growth and that they're a great many good, decent people rotting away needlessly in small cement boxes all over the country, who have more than atoned for their sins and deserve a second chance at life. Redemption is real. People can change; they can learn from their mistakes and become better people for them.

Our prisons are full of nonviolent first-time offenders who are being punished excessively. Instead of locking these people away forever or for too long, i.e. out of sight, out of mind, we need to acknowledge their commitment to self-improvement into a new, spiritual way of living and reduce their sentences as well is give them the opportunity to prove themselves by putting them back into society. In return, these parolees should be required to participate in local community service and public works projects as a way to repay society, as well as foster responsibility, purpose, and positive relationships in their lives. Some could be required to enlist in the armed forces for a while. These people could be real benefit to society rather than the burden they are.

Besides the moral and ethical reasons for commuting the sentences of role model prisoners, there are plenty of economic ones to consider. It costs taxpayers something like $40,000 per year to incarcerate someone. In Texas multiply that by about 170,000 souls. That's $6 billion per year -- each and every year.

Then again, the prison industry is supposedly a huge money maker for private industry utilizing slave labor, especially in Texas. Or maybe it's the prison personnel unions who have the most to gain. I really have no idea. The Sentencing is a good source for information about the prison industry as an big business. The Texas Department of Corrections is the state's largest agency with a budget to match.

One thing is certain: too many good people are suffering too long in prison while their families suffer with them. In too many cases, nonviolent first-time offenders are being punished too harshly and being denied parole for no good reason, specially in Texas. Currently in Texas, one person can be sentenced to five years in prison while another serves 99 years or life for the same crime. "Five to life" is hardly a sentencing guideline; it is unjust and immoral and does more harm than good. Also in Texas, during the sentencing phase of the trial, the prosecution is allowed to accuse a person of as many additional extraneous crimes as they'd like without the need for any evidence whatsoever. For example, I am serving a 50 year sentence for my first-ever offense, robbery, where no one was hurt. I was a suicidal alcoholic at the time and had sought psychiatric help, only days before. An overzealous prosecutor demanded a life sentence and was was within his legal rights to do so. He portrayed me as a violent career criminal based on nothing but speculation and his own wild imagination. There was no evidence of any such crimes. I have never hurt anyone in my life, nor ever before been in trouble with the law.

Why is Texas allowed to get away with this? Are there federal laws in place to prevent such a travesty of justice? Nope'fraid not. Apparently, Texas is a country unto itself and can do as it damn well pleases. Perhaps your state has a similar complex. I'd suggest we all contact your representatives, but I've completely lost all faith in government and the entire judicial system.

Anyway, bitching and moaning aside, I can thank God every day for my arrest, for it literally saved my life and allowed me to regain my sobriety, my sanity, my soul. Who knows how long I would've continued being the alcoholic ass I was. Everything is for a reason, I believe, and I doubt that I would ever become as spiritually aware and blessed as I am today, otherwise.

Which brings us back to the main point. My conclusion here. A timeout behind bars can be just what a person needs to get their life back on track. The public needs to recognize this and understand that there are many good, decent people in prison; they are not all to be feared and despised as tends to be the case. There are veritable saints inside who could be doing a world of good if given the chance. Also, once again too many of these people are being imprisoned for too long. Lengthy sentences need to be reconsidered and reduced, and qualified inmates need to be paroled.

However, the parole system in Texas and perhaps throughout the country is broken. Societiy is too afraid and unprepared to except former prisoners back into the fold. Large numbers of those who should be released are too daunting. But a much larger number of parolees can successfully reenter society if a comprehensive investment and effort is made in renovating the parole system. Rather than spend even more taxpayer dollars on prisons, we need to invest in reintegration services like transitional housing, education, work programs and drug and alcohol treatment that better serve and more directly affect society. As in medicine, prevention is paramount, of course, the treatment i.e. rehabilitation and reintegration, is just as important.

Anyway, final word before I go: regarding your attitude towards prisoners and parolees in general, please lose the fear. I can promise you that prison monks make role model citizens and great neighbors.

Thanks again for reading and caring. Bye for now, -- Eric

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