What I like about Razor-Wire Dharma: A Buddhist Life In Prison by Calvin Malone is that he has gritty applications of mindfulness and kindness. He provides a non-self pitying look at incarceration, but also a critical eye.
Here is a quote of analysis about the prison system:
"When I see this waste of human resources, when I hear people mortgaging their future to pipe dreams, when I see the lack of direction that prison perpetuates, I fee an indescribable loss and deep despair. The prison system encourages recidivism instead of education. I think most prisoners reenter society worse off than when they left. Moreover, the expectation placed on them is that they will succeed in a life for which they are ill prepared." (p. 72)
But the bulk of this book isn't these asides about the context of his kindness and triumph. More often then not his stories are of struggle and triumph, of success in getting things done.
My own short experience of working in a jail was that it took forever to do anything and that the system was so entrenched and set in it's ways that really the main thing was just keeping the people under control. To be sure, that's not an easy thing and there are some rather difficult people. But it seemed like the system that tells prisoners are bad, also reinforces the badness at times. They don't seem to look too hard to transcend the prisoner/guard dynamics. So I dreaded reading this book, I thought it would remind me of my negative work experiences in prison, but it turned out to be a quite heart warming book.
I have also attended a retreat in jail, amature chaplaincy. One of the rules was not to ask why someone is there. They can talk about it if they want, but to force the topic on someone isn't nice. But for me, I was burning in curiosity, why were you here. I want to get to the nitty gritty. Calvin Malone must not talk about what he did because he's embarrassed. You have to do something pretty bad to get 25 years. What I know it's hard to talk about such things, I sort of feel cheated without any soul searching about his crime. Perhaps I have no right to ask that, but this is a book about prison life, so why not address that?
I wonder what my Dharma brothers in prison think of this book. I'll update the blog if I can get any feedback. Basically this book inspired me to want to go on another retreat inside prison.
Finally, one of my pet themes of this blog, a bette noire of mine, is that it's important to be authentic and real, and that being a "good Buddhist" isn't the goal if it's a false self. On this Malone says after a trying disillusionment about himself, "I learned more about how much i don't know and how far I have yet to travel. It's okay with me that I am not the great practitioner I thought I was. I'm just happy that I am still on the Path." (p. 89)
What these short clean tales tell us are inspiring stories about practicing Dharma in prison. Well done Calvin Malone.
To end, I list some interesting links about this book and working in prisons.
This book has already been reviewed on FWBO & TBMSG News.
There's an interesting link by a prison chaplain here.
Here's another prison dharma post.
Here's an interesting review of the book.
Here's a link to an amazon review, where you can see the rest of them and buy the book.
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