Twenty two years ago, I entered Maclaren Youth Correctional Facility for the first time. A terrified thirteen year old, having just spent the last month on the run, I had no clue of the road that lay ahead of me. For the next four years I would bounce in and out of the many institutions that make up Oregon Youth Authority.
For the next four years I would also develop a taste for drugs, crime, violence, and the open road. For the next nine years following, I spent chasing those dragons through depravity straight to the gates of hell. From homelessness, heroin addiction, gang violence, and gay-for-pay prostitution, I never thought I would ever know hope. I never expected to draw a sober breath. I never imagined going to college. I couldn’t comprehend ever becoming a published poet. But today I have done all those things. And today I assisted Acharya Fleet Maull with a meditation retreat for youth residing at my alma mater: Maclaren Youth Correctional Facility.
I have to say I was terrified. My teacher Fleet put me at ease, letting me know what he needed from me as well as letting me know what he was going to ask of me. As we pulled up, I started jonesing for a cigarette. As I stood there and chain smoked two cigarettes, I thought to myself “What the hell am I thinking?!!” I mean, really, who am I to bring meditation to anyone. I went inside and prepared myself as much as I could.
When the guys walked into the space, each preceding to prepare for the retreat, I started to get nervous. I have surmised that my nervousness is due to the esteem I hold for the guys at Maclaren. They are where I was; they hold my seat. They are now the ones to test their limits, and if we’re lucky, one of them will carry on this work of giving back.
I often feel unqualified but then get hit with arrogance. If it wasn’t for my friend and documentary producer and director Sara Barab and Fleet walking me through it, I might get swept away. It is in this space where my practice gets hard. I must watch, every moment, for the scared little boy that used to inhabit this space. And I must tell him “Everything is going to be okay. You’re headed in the right direction. Just keep going. We’re right here when you need us.”