Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Reflections on Life from Death Row

--by Moyo (Aug 08, 2016)

Reggie once told me that we could use these cells like meditation cells used by monks in monasteries.

But prison is not a monastery. And although I may do my best to take advantage of the opportunities I have for genuine practice in the confines of this cell, to lose touch with what the cell is intended for would be a mistake.

It would first be me not seeing things for what they are which is something that my practice encourages me to do at all times: to see things correctly.

It would also not serve my commitment to raising awareness on the inhumanity and destructiveness of the solitary cell. I'm committed to helping keep this conversation going till we see some change. 

Funny how the thing set to kill you is the thing you use to heal you. The solitary cell is the best sparring partner for the prisoner it holds. It is the best guru, the best teacher.

Strange, I know, but it is true.  

In this cell, I have learned the art of patience, the art of silence, and its fruits so sweet. I have learned the art of introspection and what it can do to improve one’s sense of self.

I have learned to wait this cell out with the patience it has enforced on me. I no longer scream out in agony in the grip of the cell’s silence.

I know that if someone came out of here after four decades, I should be doing fine in my decade and half. I’m just getting warmed up.

But so is this cell.


I don’t expect to ever be let out of solitary confinement alive.

I could die next year, I could die this year. I don’t sense an overwhelming anxiety about this.

What I am most concerned with is spending my time in worthy ways. What bothers me is that I am a waste to others here. In the movie The Matrix, humans still served some purpose. They were fuel! Here, my purpose is none.

Stick me in front of a camera and let me talk to some at-risk kids. Teach me to knit so I can make some blankets for the homeless. Let me donate some blood or some organs!

I am a healthy male. When I am executed, I won’t be able to donate any of my organs because at that point they will be ruined by the chemicals [...].

So my protests are my donated organs. My speaking out are my donated organs. My art is my donated organs.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------    At the age of 18, Moyo killed two people. He was sentenced to death and for the past fifteen years, he has been held in solitary confinement on Death Row. There, in his own words, he is working to “polish his soul, clean stains from his heart, and open windows of his mind.” Locked inside a cell smaller than a parking spot, Moyo began a quest of self-discovery. In an effort to understand and reclaim his own narrative, he became an avid reader, delving into books on black history, art, the justice system, psychology, spiritual texts, fiction and more. He began making art as a means to explore his own experiences and emotions. Deprived of nearly every form of social interaction, he began to communicate with people in the outside world through letters. Once, from a neighboring cage in the recreation yard, a fellow inmate introduced Moyo to yoga and meditation. In the years that followed, Moyo committed himself to a regular practice. Moyo (Swahili for heart / spirit) is a brush name adopted by the artist.

The above content is excerpted from Buddhas on Death Row, a project that brings to light a profound journey unfolding in the darkest of places, and a testament to the power of art, inner cultivation, and friendship. The above image is a color pencil sketch on paper by Moyo, titled "Company".

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Previous Reflections:

On Aug 5, 2016 Mariette wrote:

Many of the men I see every week spent years - and several over a decade - in solitary confinement.  The impact to the human soul is astounding.  In their brokenness grows either deeper fuller hate or they find the nourishment for the seeds of positivity and grace we all carry in our hearts.  I spend time with the men who have found and then nourished those seeds and they speak of the moment they realized that they are responsible for their lives.  When that kicks in, the solitary environment becomes a welcome space to explore the unknown world within.  They learn to embrace their alone time and use it to grow and transform.  What lessons I receive from these men!  Just last night, one of them shared deeply about his discovery of listening, how all the answers show up if he just slows down to listen.

On Aug 6, 2016 Jagdish P Dave wrote:

 How to turn a cell into a retreat for deep introspection and transformation? How to be a change agent by  confronting nonviolently unjust and inhuman acts done by powerful forces?  Most of us face such existential and significant questions  to work on ourselves and work for a just cause. This is an inspiring story of an inner transformational process of a young man on a death row.

How I relate to this inspiring story as a mirror to look at my inner landscape and how do I relate to inhuman and unjust acts happening in the world I live in? I firmly believe that in order to see the outer world clearly and comprehensively, I need to continuously keep on working to see and understand my inner world clearly, compassionately, and courageously. It is like a coin with two sides-the inner and the outer. The inner world needs to be cleared and transformed to clear and transform the outer world. Such inner explorations require a cell time, a retreat time to sit, pause, and see. Such retreats can be short or long. I always find time for me from my busy and active life to do mindfulness meditation. This is my time for stepping out of my everyday busy time.This is my quiet time be fully present to my inner world, letting the noisy mind stuff-thoughts and emotions- come and go. I am freeing myself from myself. This practice has helped me to understand and transform myself and relate to the outer world more constructively. I  see myself progressing slowly but steadily. This is not a one shot deal. It is an ongoing  and encouraging self -work.

May we find some time everyday from our busy time to do such  mindfulness introspective  work to heal ourselves and others!


Jagdish P Dave

On Aug 6, 2016 chris wrote:

I find myself surprised and moved by this writing as an Awakin passage.  I relate to Moyo's deep desire to in some way be useful or of service to life; his protest to not have his organs poisoned during a lethal injection process so that they can be donated to others...just strikes at the heart.  Disarming sincerity and heart-cracking volition.

I remember thinking many years back that if I didn't seem to be making much of my life in my standard context, that at the least I could go to any place that had apparent needs and just volunteer, make some use of my life.  That's kind of a strange thought for a college-age kid in some ways, but in others maybe not.  I have since come to see other angles of that thought: that in many ways it is myself that I want to serve, my own sense of peace that I want to find ways to keep cultivating.

Moyo acknowledge an important part of his practice: to see things clearly, as they are.  I recently heard (and someone please correct/amend if you know better) the literal translation of a Pali word "panna", typically called wisdom, is something like "to see things from multiple angles."  Part of what's so touching to me in Moyo's sincerity is his acknowledgement of multiple angles: e.g. his cell as different from a monastery cell but at the same time affording some similar opportunities.  I wonder if he sees/can get the feedback from the angle of his art and writing touching others.

His drawing looks to me like a kind of E.T. Buddha. :) Haha, I like it very much.  Thank you for sharing Moyo.

On Aug 7, 2016 d wrote:

The prison cell of each of us is very different than that of the author, and I wouldn't want to trade places with him -- we are each in our own self created prison cell to find freedom in and become free of.  We each have a purpose which is to become all that we can become and be of help to others doing the same.  I think the author is growing and sharing, so he has that purpose and worth, which are important.  We can stay open by knowing that we are in this world but not of it. I at least sometimes stay open to the present moment with its potential and stay aware of my inner truth while at the same time dealing with the reality of this world.  I often feel in two worlds at once.  Somewhere along the way I learned that there is the inner world of my present experience and the outer world of situations.  My being aware of being in the world and not of it and living from that awareness helps me develop the ability to do it more.  Thank you, author, for your words of wisdom.

On Aug 8, 2016 AJ wrote:

 We all "have cells" (difficult situations) in life!  (Some "cells" more difficult than others, rightly.)   The confines of most things/people we commit ourselves to ... Jobs, study, parenting, marriage, relationships ... Are well defined.  There are rules, requirements, consuming commitments and disciplines involved with each.  "Staying rooted" in the right stuff is key.  Rooted in Christ (His light, way and truth) ...  We stay anchored!  
From my own personal "cells", I can flourish ...  But ONLY by staying connected to my Anchor.  

On Aug 8, 2016 C. Ravindranath wrote:

 Moyo's story is another sad example of our judicial system. When 'Angulimaal' can turn over a new leaf under the influence of the Buddha, why are we condemning those who have erred? I have met many like Moyo in Indian prisons and they were veritable saints, making me wonder why they were inside a prison when many who ought to have been inside were roaming outside scot free. Are we using prisons as 'correctional' institutions or are we mistaking vengeance as justice? What can we do to stimulate and nurture the good that is in each one of us?

On Aug 9, 2016 gumpy wrote:

 As a young man I spent 6 months in solitary in a German prison on drug related issues and that 6 months was the most profound and personally educational period of my life. The lessons learned when one is forced to be with oneself and no others are deep indeed and perhaps may be unattainable any other way.  My lesson was admittedly an easy one at 6 months only and I send all of my heart to Moyo and admire and commend his courage.
This is an important voice (general) that needs to be heard.  Our society is huge and fast, we tend to forget those on the fringes and the fact that they have important lessons we all might do well to share.

On Aug 9, 2016 Mina wrote:

 I am so touched and am in Awe !
What a great spirit Moyo is.

On Aug 11, 2016 Amy wrote:

 Amen!  We are all on the fringe of something!  There will always be those, who by think they have absolutely NO "fringes" ... In this case, their lesson to all of us would be that ... "There are liars in this world ... They're illusions of truth and power .... And that is not OK.

On Aug 11, 2016 me wrote:

 Jesus does not condemn those who error .... He condemns those who error righteously  (without  remorse/sorrow/calling on the Holy of Holies, God, Jesus and Holy Spirit I repentance.). Love and forgiveness nurtures good!  

On Aug 11, 2016 love wrote:


On Aug 11, 2016 a wrote:

 Namaste ...

On Aug 16, 2016 Bob S wrote:

 I commend to your reading Shakespeare Saved My Life Ten Years In Solitary with the Bard, , Laura Bates, an Indiana State English Professor who taught Shakespeare initially taught a group of prisoners in solitary in the Indiana State prison system. Larry Newton was convicted of murder at 17 and given life with no probation. Studying Shakespeare in prison made huge changes in his life.  I communicate with and see a 35 year old prisoner in the Idaho Prison system who was given 20 years at age 17 when the owner of a truck he was stealing while drunk jumped in the back, was later thrown out and died of injuries three months later. He has changed his life through introspection and dog training for the Idaho Humane Society, which is how I met him. He will be eligible for parole 6 months before his 37th birthday. Our prison system is a warehousing system that needs serious reform.  These men and women need educating and training to be productive citizens when they get out so they don't just go back to the streets. My experience has taught me that most are able and willing to change if given the chance and real opportunities to grow as human beings. 

On Sep 28, 2017 Matthew Villarreal wrote:

 What state is Moyo in? I would like to start a petition to get him pardoned. What good will executing him do? I believe he can now be a catalyst for good in the world.