A lot has happened since the odyssey to the four corners of the nation to talk of women and children in the jails and prison of the nation. Most of the concepts discussed in that journey are now becoming a reality in the state of Florida. However, there remain a few more steps to complete the reality.
As such the next step to attract yet more attention will be a run from Key West, Florida to Deadhorse, Alaska which is a run of some 5,100 miles to be done in less than two weeks. As with the first run, my hope is to attract enough attention to give me access to venues that I might not normally have access.
In a sense, this run will be infinitely more challenging as I will be traveling from the sub-tropical temperatures of Key West to well inside the Arctic Circle to one of the northernmost towns of Alaska. As with the first run to the four corners of the nation, it will be a combination of camping, homes, businesses and an occasional motel.
Anyone wish to sponsor the trip in its entirety or any portion is welcome to do so by making a contribution to the Gateless Gate Zen Center through PayPal or by check. There will be more information of the trip posted in ‘on the road’ section of the blog.
Along the highways and byways I traveled, I was asked several questions about the this and that of the problems associated with the this and that of women and children in jails and prisons as they sit in context of the bigger problems. To that end the blog is re-dedicated.
However, it is not enough to sit on the sidelines and comment on the this and that wrong. I also remain committed to going into the prisons and jails of the nation to teach as I have done for the last 15 years. Recognize I teach on my own retirement income and depend on the donations of others unencumbered by state and federal agencies to support my efforts and to this end I continue to hold out the begging bowl.
Yes, the ride 10,585 miles is over but the job remains and to that end I remain dedicated.
This blog is designed to support talks on Women and Children in the Jails and Prisons of the Nation to be given on a 11,000 mile Corner to Corner trip around the country in the summer of 2011 — my 69th year. The reality is that there is not much that can be said in a 60-minute talk on such a broad topic, but my hope is to arouse enough interest so that those attending the talk will be motivated to take the second step and read this blog as well as the eBook. Then maybe take the first steps in extending open hands to those engaged in the re-entry process.
Much of the initial material in this blog has been adapted from the many articles I have written through the years for local media, including The Gainesville Sun (see an example), and is the result of the 15 or so years I have spent as a volunteer in Massachusetts and Florida prisons teaching Zen, Mind Body Stress Reduction (MBSR) techniques, and the Inward Journey to inmates. At a conservative estimate that means I have presented 2,300 programs, traveled more than 200,000 miles, and traded in 5 vehicles with lopsided mileage. Programs have probably been equally divided between men and women’s prisons and have included inmates from death row to youthful offenders. I have never been paid for what I do.
I have often been asked about my qualifications for such a project. If the truth be known, they are none. I have no training in the administration of criminal justice, and I am not a psychiatrist, social worker, therapist, anthropologist or an ex-offender. I am a retired soldier, a prison volunteer and a person who has done a lot of things I would like to undo. More than anything, however, those mistakes reflect where I was at the time, and my sincerest hope is that I have learned from them and used them in trying to help others either avoid them or recover from them. I sometimes wonder if it is only luck that separates me from those I visit or teach in prison.
I have soldered for 24 years with 8 years as an enlisted U.S. Marine and 16 years in the U.S. Army as an officer of infantry and Special Forces. My military career can be best summed up as “I went where I was sent and did what I was told.”
The single most traumatic event of my volunteer experience was attending the execution of an inmate in Florida State Prison at his request. I am no stranger to death and destruction, as well as drama and trauma. However, nothing in my life had prepared me to witness the surgical execution of a human being by the State. This procedure separates the executioners and the condemned by a piece of paper with words drawn up by a politician. This event, more than anything else in my life, shocked and energized me. In many ways it drives/haunts me to this day.
There is also a second reason that motivates me to undertake such an odyssey. A couple of years ago, I had 9 female youthful offenders in a modality MBSR class that also sat a five-day retreat. Seven of them had kids of which two were born behind bars. Then about a year ago, in my readings I came across a statistic that 70 percent of the children with a parent that had been born in prison would find themselves serving a sentence. Now think in terms of a national recidivism rate of 68 percent. That means regardless of what we say, there are a lot of babies being born now that will find their way to prison simply because they had a parent who was sent to prison and no one intervened. Maybe I cannot change the world, but it will not be because I did not try to the last fiber of my existence.
And so, this blog is inspired by my experiences in Florida prisons. My hope is that the upcoming Corner to Corner odyssey will address the issues and solutions explored in this blog and eBook and also help raise money to construct a model re-entry center that functions under the umbrella of a residential Zen Center to assist the re-entry process for ex-offenders. My expectation is that other organizations then can copy that model and assist the newly released in their own communities. The model used in this talk was designed in a prison-drafting program by and for women coming out of prison who want to build a stable life and regain their children.
This blog is also a begging bowl to support the summer trip. A companion and I will travel by motorcycles and we will roadside camp, the cheapest way to travel. Even so, the gas expense for 14,000 miles is an estimated $2,000 per vehicle and the maintenance as well as tires, chains, filters, etc. is estimated at another $2,500. If you would like to support this effort and the construction of the residential center, please visit our website at http://www.gatelessgate.org/. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and contributions are tax-deductible.
I am inspired to make the trip this summer and carry the word “corner to corner” about how our prison system can be improved to benefit those incarcerated and their families; the administration and staff members who work in the system; and our society at large. I draw the bottom line from “Pogo”: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Like the House of Usher that Edgar Allan Poe wrote so eloquently about, we have created a decaying edifice that may yet collapse and destroy us all — if we do not remedy the underlying problems. The eBook, this trip and the past 15 years of work have been — and remain — my contribution to finding that solution.
– K.C. Walpole