Going Inside

There was an abrupt change in the schedule at the County Jail a few weeks ago, which meant that the Monday evening meditations ended, at least until we can figure out a time which the volunteers can make. I miss going there, even though I am also glad to have fewer things to do on Mondays (the Embarcadero sit happens every week, and I meet with students pretty much every other Monday evening).
A couple of weeks ago, I got a request from the person who runs these things for the Sheriff’s office to meet with one of the inmates I connected with over the months, and yesterday was my first free day to do that. He used to be on one of the wings at the jail in the Hall of Justice on Bryant St, and I had met him one-to-one there once, in addition to the times he came to the group meditation, where he seemed to thrive. That wing got closed for health reasons last year, and he was transferred over to San Bruno.

I had never been to that jail, but after my rides south of the city over the last few months, at least I had a clear sense of where it was and how I could get there – I could choose to ride all the way, but I would be a little less presentable when I got there; the easier option is taking the BART to San Bruno and riding up to Skyline, still a work-out, but only a few miles.
There was a beginner’s mind quality to visiting for the first time. Making sure my clearance was up-to-date and getting a badge to enter was familiar, but I had no idea where to go. The facility is newer than the Hall of Justice, and much less grim to spend time in. The ‘legal rooms’ (where lawyers meet their clients) form a little quadrant together a few doors in from the entrance, with glass from waist height upwards – it was bright and the colours were restful. I had arrived at a meal time apparently – 9:30 in the morning – and had to wait for the inmate to be brought out, so I sat as peacefully as I could, in the newness and expectation, as a lawyer waited in one of the adjacent rooms.

I hadn’t seen this inmate in almost a year, I would guess, and he looked a bit weary. He said things were bitter-sweet. He is a smart and hopeful guy, but had done some unwise things, mostly under the influence of crack, and was now looking at his third strike felony, which would put him behind bars for a long time. His version of the story had many elements which would reduce the seriousness of the charge, but I don’t feel entirely sure that he isn’t spinning the most hopeful version for himself. He also wants to marry the woman he already calls his wife, though I also have the sense that she might not be as keen on this version of the story as he is.

My opinions on these things aren’t so important though; after chatting for a while, he asked if we could do a meditation, at the end of which his demeanour had changed quite noticeably. He shook my hand with enthusiasm when we parted, thanking me for lifting his spirits. I left the building into the sunny morning, with the coastal breeze keeping the temperature down; a hawk was being buzzed by a couple of crows above the trees. The deputy at the gate was not the person who had signed me in, and was obviously used to be chatting merrily with visitors, so we talked for a while before I took the much easier downhill road back to BART.

In the afternoon I returned to the tech company I had visited last month, in the kind of contiguity that reminded me of something I wrote about in the early days of this blog. The small group are mostly on the beginners’ side of things, but they sat strongly, and the process of settling and having the energy in the room work its effect on people felt just the same as it had earlier in the day.

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