A Glimpse of Global Liberation at Folsom Prison
by Bill Douglas
Last Monday I had the opportunity to do a Qigong workshop with inmates at the California State Maximum Security Prison known as "Folsom" (made famous by Johnny Cash's song). Thanks to the work of T'ai Chi Chih teacher Judy Tretheway.
I arrived with some trepidation, even though I had spent the weekend preparing by doing my own intensive energy work. My internal preparation came in handy when I arrived, for Folsom is an ancient foreboding looking structure, with endless iron gates and rows of tiny cramped cells, and upon entering I was asked to sign a release stating that "if I became a hostage, the warden would not negotiate for my release." As prepared as I was internally, the endless corridors and heavy steel bars became increasingly disconcerting.
HOWEVER, once I entered into the sanctum of the chapel, which was where, with the help of Judy and several inmate Qigong instructors, a two-year program of Qigong and T'ai Chi Chih had been taking place. This place, in the midst of a yard made of razor wire and gun towers surrounded by massive stone walls, these Qigong students had created a place of calm and safety. Upon entering, four African American Inmates silently flowed through their forms as white, Hispanic, and Indian inmates watched quietly and respectfully.
We began the meditation workshop I had come there to do, and the result was powerful and moving. This group of men in this "intense" situation had created for themselves a real "center" within the chaos. They had found a pathway to peace even through the barbed twisting tunnels of their own pasts and their current lives.
Afterward we discussed the power of energy medicine for healing the pain of pasts that can pull our strings as if we were puppets on a marionette string. We discussed how these tools can provide us a "newness," a possibility for opening to becoming more than we ever were before, to become less an affliction to those around us and more and more to find our flow as a healing force within our world, even when that world is within the iron and stone walls of a life sentence with no parole.
I was moved by the way Qigong can help to empower and transform, enabling these men to find a lifeline to their higher nature, creating men who were determined to heal, to become, and to grow into a manifestation of the life force. I was also moved by how this Qigong project had brought together men of many races and religions, and in fact, had been the only program to bring men of opposing gangs together in Folsom. This Qigong project has shown me the power of what these tools have to offer. The inmate leader of the project informed me that the records show that there has been a dramatic reduction of violent incidents in Folsom since this program began 2 years ago ... for some inmates a 70% reduction in "incidents."
If it has brought mortal enemies together in peace and mutual healing, "What can it do for the world?"
In many of the places where World T'ai Chi & Qigong Day was held this year, little more than 40 years ago, there was a thunderous destruction occurring in the form of the Second World War. I identified with the early tempestuous lives of some of the men I met at Folsom because I too used T'ai Chi & Qigong to heal from the pain of the past. My Father served in 3 years of almost continuous combat, returning home with shattered nerves and a rage that still affects me deeply even though I'm a grown man and he has been dead for many years. The gaping wounds of that war affected us all around the world, through our fathers and grandfathers. We inherited remnants of that absolute violence, and in many ways the world is still trying to heal from that aberration.
Therefore it is a powerful act and statement for our future, as in April of each year the sons and daughters of that past world of pain launch a new campaign, a campaign of collective healing unlike the world has ever seen. We, the participants in World T'ai Chi & Qigong Day, are liberators of the world, as we heal ourselves one nervous system at a time worldwide. And just as the trauma of our fathers affected us, our healing will resonate out endlessly through the concurrent waves of humanity's future. This act of healing we are embarking upon is the highest honor we can pay to our parents. We honor our fathers and mothers sacrifices and pain by our act of deliberate and relentless healing.
Folsom Prison's powerful testament to releasing the past and healing into the future was a microcosmic model to the entire world's need to move past the past and into our limitless future. In that room in Folsom Prison, there were no gangs and no offenders, as they released the grip of their past violence and pain, they self-created a collection of new people who had "redefined themselves" into an event of healing. I was humbled by it, and I was excited by the tremendous possibility that World T'ai Chi & Qigong Day offers us to bring this transformational empowerment to the world at large.
I have invited the Folsom Prison Qigong group to organize a World T'ai Chi & Qigong Day Event within the heavy walls of Folsom Prison on April 8th, 2000 at 10 am. On this one day, men who will never be outside those walls will, in some very real yet indefinable way, be in Hong Kong, Pretoria, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Paris, London, Boston, San Juan, and everywhere that the world is joining together to heal itself.