After advocating for human rights for more than 50 years, the last 18 for prisoners’ rights, after publishing a dozen books with prisoners, victims, family members and advocates, and after creating two documentaries, I’ve concluded that America is a MEAN country and getting meaner every day, especially within the prison industrial complex.
There’s a thin veneer holding everything together as everyone feels at some level anxious and fearful of a world that seems to be verging on collapse. These fears feed a culture of cruelty, unleashed without restraint or even an attempt at civility with the emergence radio in the ‘80’s of hate radio and the degradation of the culture epitomized by Jerry Springer and Howard Stern. Cheap to produce reality shows celebrated new depths of meanness and ignorance, making heroes of the crude and uneducated, scorning truth, rational thinking or civil discourse. America is in deep trouble.
The mainstream media, which shapes and contaminates our minds, does all it can to cow the citizenry into fear and mistrust, especially of those with dark skin. This has had tragic consequences, especially in communities of color already enduring centuries of siege by a white supremacist patriarchal structure, a system now crumbling in a dangerous way, polluting the planet with toxic masculinity. Prisoners (and their families) are demonized, our Thrownaway People.A couple of years ago, I was awarded “Peacekeeper of the Year” by the Delaware County, PA Peace Center for my work with over 2,000 prisoners nationally. Accepting, I said, “My vision for peace is that one day, maybe Martians will land, and simultaneously, all over the earth, men will put down their guns, go home and pick up their babies and learn to raise their children for however many generations it will take to breed the war out of them, while we women attempt to clean up this mess.”
Which brings me to Kindness. A couple of years ago, I taught creative writing or what I call “Healing with Words” at the Philadelphia Prison, one class for men and one for women in a successful JOBS re-entry program that the city has since stopped funding. One week I brought in two packs of Thank You” notes that I’d discovered in the wilds of my desk. Their assignment was to observe fellow prisoners and staff for acts of Kindness, then write on the card, “Thank you for your Kindness” and report back to the class what happened. The next week when I returned to the classes, the guards, all females, came up and hugged me, telling me what a difference those simple thank you for your Kindness notes had evoked. They were practically in tears, both the guards and the prisoners, as they described the change in the vibe of the prison, however short-lived.
Later, when I mentioned this to members of the Public Safety Initiative at Graterford PA Prison, they thought spreading Kindness on both sides of the walls as an antidote to violence was a terrific idea. Together we started the Global Kindness Revolution, and created Kindness Cards; more than 50,000, have been distributed globally. Some of the anti-violence prisoners of conscience gathered informally in small Kindness Circles, made posters about being kind, and did all they could to change the toxic vibe of prisons. Now we are redesigning the cards so we can get more of them into prisons, for there is a ban on postcards for some reason, and we are still awaiting a response from the DOC as to what would be acceptable (if anything.)
Realizing that the response to the Kindness Revolution was so much more enthusiastic than responses to my attempts to give voice to prisoners’ writing, I decided to shift my focus to the hearts and minds of voters by creating Kindness Circles, and they are growing each week. .People are curious about the anti-violence prisoners who are part of the Circles. I’m even leading free Community Kindness Circles on the 2nd Saturday of every month in Swarthmore, PA’s town hall, right above the library, administrative offices and the police station. Those who can’t attend are invited to join our “Virtual Kindness Circle” at the same time, 4:00 pm on every Saturday for about half an hour. Those behind bars might find a group of friends to gather with quietly, or even just one other person. Or, join us by yourselves. We CAN change the vibe behind prison walls. Please join us, and spread the word. Step outside your comfort zone for just a little while.
HOW TO CREATE A KINDNESS CIRCLE, WITH OTHERS OR ALONE
Sit in silence either with a small group or by yourself. Imagine that deep within the center of the earth is a giant ball of light, the “Light of Kindness.” Let this Light rise up through the many earth layers, into the building beneath you, into the room where you are, spreading slowly…up your legs…up past your knees…into your torso, flowing up your spine… surrounding each vertebra with Light… letting the Light flow up through your head…and out through the top like a whale spout…wrapping you in Light…then, if possible, connect hands around the circle…and let the Light flow from your right hand into the left hand of the person next to you until the whole Circle is humming with Light…then, one at a time, each participant sits (or stands) in the center and gets zapped with the energy of Kindness…for about a minute each…then bring into the Circle those who dwell in Spirit, acknowledging the ancestors…expressing our appreciation…asking them for assistance…do the same for family members or those with loved ones in prison…
Then imagine the light of Kindness flowing from your tiny Circle to every jail and prison in the country…raining down the Light of Kindness…penetrating, however briefly, the culture of cruelty.
Next let the light roll out in every direction like unrolling a carpet of Light around the entire earth…see yourselves as Warriors of Light…Knights of Kindness…look down upon the earth as if you were an astronaut…seeing the earth glowing with the healing Light of Kindness everywhere…now draw the Light back, gently and slowly back into the circle…filling each with Light, healing what needs healing.. and, giving thanks…let your hands disengage and look at the others with Kindness and caring.
If you are alone, imagine yourself dangling by a thread of Light from a web of life surrounding the planet.
Do this as often as you can, and let me hear from you about how it went or what questions you might have. Kindness raises serotonin levels, the “Happy Hormone” in those who do a kind act, those who receive it, those who see it and those who hear about it or read about it. It reduces stress and promotes peace.
Years ago, scientists studied a mediation group that spent a few weeks meditating in circles in high crime areas; the crime rate dropped in each area that was carefully studied. Another group of scientists studied monkeys living on three islands not visible to each other. Each day, they dropped a load of bananas on the beach of each island and the monkeys scrambled to pick them up. One day, one of the moneys on one of the islands washed his banana in the sea before eating it. The next day, another one did the same. Each day more and more monkeys washed their bananas before eating. On the day that the hundredth monkey washed his banana, simultaneously on the other two islands, every single monkey washed his fruit before eating it even though they’d never seen it done. Good vibes are contagious and as String Theory is physics has shown, there may be as many as eleven different levels of reality going on at the same time, so through the Kindness Circles we are tapping in to an energy level that is an antidote to violence.
That’s why we need a Global Kindness Revolution. KINDNESS IS A STATE OF MIND. BE KIND ALL THE TIME! Won’t you join us?