In Service: Meditation & Prayer behind bars


Our featured topic: The Value of Serving Others

About four years ago, in the latter part of 2007, a friend and I were asked if we were interested in volunteering at the Red Wing Juvenile Correctional Facility (in Red Wing, MN), teaching meditation to young offenders there. We gladly accepted the offer. After a criminal background check and a four-hour orientation, we began our monthly sojourns on Saturday mornings down the St. Croix River Valley to Red Wing. After about one year, we added a poetry workshop to our monthly class, which we call “Silence and Spoken Word.”

We usually have between three and six guys who sign up on a given Saturday. They are all repeat felons, some are gang members, a diverse mix of African-American, Caucasian, Native, Hispanic, etc. These guys choose to be with us rather than doing sports or some other recreational activity, so they tend to be very serious about their interest in meditation and/or poetry. The poets among them are often quite talented in their ability to express themselves from the heart. Most of these young men come from dysfunctional families, some are teenage fathers themselves, and they all seem very interested in turning their lives around and making positive changes.

My friend Mary, an 81-year-old retired schoolteacher and grandmother, leads the meditation. She uses various guided meditation techniques, including a body scan, relaxation, visualization, metta (loving kindness), etc. She encourages them to go to that sacred place within each of us where we are loved and loving, “where we can just be and breathe.”

I lead the poetry. We all spend time writing about a chosen topic, with music playing in the background (Michael Franti, Krishna Das, Enya or Leonard Cohen), then take turns sharing what we’ve written. It’s powerful stuff these guys come up with – painful, hopeful, confused, angry, funny, insightful, often quite beautiful.

The guy who recruited us for this work spent 17 years in prison, and told us of the transformation in his life when he realized the volunteers who came in to see him during his incarceration were not getting paid, they were there because they cared about him, so he must be worth something as a human being. He said that was the beginning of a spiritual awakening that has turned him into a peaceful urban saint dedicated to giving back to society, helping others to realize their true value. His story is what inspired me to enter into this intense process. We are planting seeds in the hearts and minds of these young men. I pray they will also realize they have a chance to become who they truly are. I feel blessed to be a part of these changes that are happening.

This work is sponsored by the Beverly White Foundation. Beverly White was a teacher of meditation and yoga.

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Rick Carlson
Rick Carlson works as a personal care attendant in Minneapolis. He is a poet, peace activist, father, and the Minnesota coordinator of The Love Foundation, sponsors of the annual Global Love Day on May 1 of each year. Email him or visit his website of The Love Foundation.


  1. Hi Rick, I saw your poem in the July/August issue of Jon Mundy’s Miracles magazine. I responded to
    the high coo. I would like a book of your poetry. Jim Zant


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