By Vern Ludwig
Since October 2001 I have been working with men at Federal Medical Center Devens, a federal prison, and in recent years at Massachusetts Correctional Institution Norfolk. This 15 years’ participation is my single, longest service in any one project.
In the Jericho Circle Project we work in two-hour sessions of five rounds: naming feelings; facilitating experience; and naming what has occurred.
My inspiration is fueled by the truth, trust, and courage I experience in a Jericho Circle. The Diamond Approach provides awareness and language to discriminate my perceptions in a way that is rare in much of my ordinary life. Diamond Approach work empowers me to facilitate effectively while I work with these souls who are lost, rejected, and denied. My own rage turns out to be a bridge to men inside. With compassion I can hold each man without judgment, exploring his pain safely for both of us. There is more. Michael, a Diamond Approach student, enters these circles with us, a man whose memory is vanishing into Alzheimer’s Disease. Nevertheless, he brings presence and acceptance. He is included in the mutual holding between the incarcerated men and the volunteers, and I find their generosity inspiring.
Support from my Diamond Approach Practice
My Diamond Approach practice has enabled me to lead appropriate meditations inside. I sense the energetic field of the circle and feel a quiet dynamism settle as we enter our evening. Diamond Approach work provides holding for my suffering. It aligns and supports my holding of others. I open wide when a man surrenders to being held. Sensitivity to heart, belly and body---mine and others---grows out of my Diamond Approach practice. I am in the world and not of it, not fixing but healing. My work reminds me I am a functioning, caring soul.
Impact of this Inside Work on Me
Each week I witness surrender, vulnerability, open-heartedness, and respect, which reassure me when doubt arises, as it does. Prison work demonstrates that grace can flow through me. It is the laboratory of my soul work.
Impact of this Work on Inmates
The Diamond Approach is not explicit in any of the work inside, but it informs my work with each man. Hank has served over 40 years of a life sentence. His wife and daughter express anger and outrage at his crime and oppose parole. He found his own forgiveness through inquiry in the circle. Then, Hank was troubled that he might be losing touch with reality. He would sit on his bunk after a morning meditation and feel held, cared for, loved, and happy. He had no one inside to talk with and felt disoriented. We inquired into his experience and he found that he could be experiencing his form of spiritual awareness. Hank relaxed into his personal awakening. Jim was an Army Spec 4, sharpshooter, in Afghanistan. His rifle platoon was patrolling a wooded valley and he came face to face with a boy, within ten feet, ready to fire on him. He shot and killed the boy. What is he to tell his own daughter about this, who is now the same age? In inquiry, he found objective understanding of his fired shot and forgiveness from himself and his higher power. Jim laid down his obsessive guilt.
I have difficulty letting go of my desire for every participant to understand and align with what we bring to the circle. Judging other facilitators competes with my acceptance and urges me to intervene. Yet sometimes stepping in is helpful, so discriminating my role is not simple. Respect for each soul underlies both the Diamond Approach and Jericho Circle work but there is tension between that respect, often espoused in principle by prison staff, and their need to control. Sometimes incarceration practices feel like insurmountable barriers to healing and rehabilitation.
There are now hundreds of inside men who have experienced healing journeys, discovered forgiveness and trust in their own inherent goodness, as well as a measure of self-respect and dignity. This is remarkable, for each man is imprisoned in a structure that crushes strength, light, and spiritual growth. Through this veil, I see inherent goodness in each of us, an awareness that nourishes my soul. I am reminded of my own prison of beliefs and judgments, and that I may also find self-love and dignity. Men are finding their humanity inside. There is no higher calling for me than to witness this and to help. I am grateful for my Diamond Approach practice, which offers access to the ground of being. My practice enables me to hold myself and others without judgment and allow True Nature to flow through me.