Warriors of the Heart.
If a Bodhisattva is truly someone who incarnates in a beyond-this-lifetime way to help people understand how our imperfections unite us rather than divide us, then the men in San Quentin are Bodhisattvas.
The Dalai Lama de-mystified the word Bodhisattva at a teaching one year. He said any time anyone has a thought or intention to benefit others, they, in that moment, are Bodhisattvas.
When I would squint my eyes open during our meditations, whether it be on death row or in mainline groups, these men, most who had been victims of neglect and trauma before prison and caused violence in the community, would be sitting, beaming, engulfed in peace in front me.
Stunningly beautiful. I wished the world could see them and was always sad that I was probably the only one who would ever witness them this way. I wept my tears dozens of times and always thought of His Holiness’ words at this sight.
Most of the men at San Quentin have long ago pledged their lives to doing good.
Some have donated many hundreds of dollars to good causes, which is amazing given they are paid an average of maybe 25 cents an hour (if that).
In the Buddhist sense, karma that ripens is the result of lifetimes. One might come into this world with a complex life that, from a relative sense, can look one way, but from an ultimate sense, can be for the greater good.
These men are Bodhisattvas.
They have shown thousands of us that we are not defined by the worst day of our lives or the worst decision we have ever made. That we are all imperfect, and that most have resolved to live their lives as peaceful, positively contributing human beings for the rest of their lives.
According to a staff person there at San Quentin, there has not been one incident of inmate violence throughout all this, which is testimony to the emotional literacy they have developed as a community.
They are now dying inside, at the blatant hand of bad decisions and a draconian system built on fear and an “us/them” mentality.
Many of us saw their birthing into their hearts and their resolve to give back.
At the Senate hearing on this issue which took place July 1, I heard testimony about how this was a tragic, botched, preventable crisis that is now being called the worst public health crisis in prison history.
I walked away thinking, well good!
Then, I realized that though yes, it is great they say they feel that way, this tragedy is age-old, fingers are still pointing, there is still an us/them perception and guys are dying.
Please, people, we need to roll with the momentum of this tragedy and beg our lawmakers to reduce the sentences of incarceration, increase community support, and so much more. Restorative justice in all ways.
On a long, beyond-this-lifetime level, these men at San Quentin are now sacrificing their own lives for a growing awareness of the brutality, dismissive mentality, and a complete lack of humanity in the prison system.
Written with heartache, by Susan Shannon