Yesterday I made my first visit to the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility, outside of Las Cruces, NM. This photograph is from the state's web site, and shows the door where I entered the facility following the prison's chaplain.
When I wrote to the chaplain volunteering to come and teach meditation at the prison, he called me back with some surprising information: There was already a meditation group at the prison, and he himself, the prison's chaplain, was a practicing Buddhist.
Not what I expected in this part of the country, but you really never know.
The prison is business-like, clean, efficient. I had to sign things, turn in my keys and license, be aware of some do's and don'ts. The chapel is simple yet designed to accommodate many different religions: Christians of various schools, muslims, indigenous American religions (I saw supplies for a sweat lodge in the chaplain's office), and more. Not a bad room, actually: large ceilings, carpeted, air conditioning. No pews, just a bunch of red plastic chairs.
After dinner and medication line, the guys in levels 2 and 3 had rec time, or a chance to come to meditation class. About ten guys in clean green uniforms came in. Many of them have been meditating with the chaplain for a while -- ages 20 to 70, some Christian, some not. Two guys came for the first time and wanted instruction.
Polite. Interested. Asked good questions. Strong zazen. Sometimes, the chaplain told me, they are fidgety or chatty. Today, not so much; they were checking me out, the new visitor. But when everybody is sitting Zen, you can feel what's going on in the room. The chaplain has done a nice job with this meditation group. Muslims and Christians and non-religious sitting together with very little bullshit.
They asked me to come again, and I said I would. I would love to. It was a pleasure.