Speaker: Fleet Maull

Waking Up Rather Than Killing Time Behind Prison Walls

Fleet Maull, a longtime student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, is the Founder and Board President of Prison Mindfulness Institute (formerly Prison Dharma Network), with over 175 organizational members and several thousand individual members providing mindfulness-based programs in prisons, jails and juvenile facilities throughout the United States and many other countries. PMI's Path of Freedom programs are now offered in correctional facilities in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Australia, Canada, Chile and Sweden.

Fleet founded Prison Dharma Network in 1989 while serving a 14.5 year mandatory-minimum sentence for drug smuggling at a maximum security federal prison medical facility. He led a twice weekly meditation group in the prison chapel for 14 years (1985-1999). He also helped start the first inside prison hospice program and provided daily care to dying prisoners until his release. In 1991, he founded National Prison Hospice Association, catalyzing a national prison hospice movement that now includes more than 75 hospice programs in state and federal correctional facilities in the United States, positively transforming end of life care in corrections. Together, the two non-profit organizations founded by Fleet, Prison Mindfulness Institute and National Prison Hospice Association, are dedicated to transforming the criminal justice and corrections systems through the promotion of restorative and transformative justice, mindfulness-based programs and training for prisoners and corrections professionals and compassionate, quality end of life care for prisoners.

Recalling his commitment to deepening his practice while in prison, Fleet recalled in a recent interview, “Most prisoners are doing everything they can not to experience being there. They consider their time in prison down time, as if it doesn’t really count. They find a routine: a job, some exercise, a favorite TV program, cards, bed. People are trying to kill time. But I didn’t want to throw away fourteen years of my life. I was determined to be present, to learn everything I could from this, to use this as an opportunity to wake up. And I was determined to keep my heart open.”

Despite the obvious challenges of pursuing meditation in prison—the overcrowded conditions; the violent, chaotic atmosphere; the lack of personal space—he ordained as a novice monk and completed the foundational practices of Tibetan Buddhism, which include over one hundred thousand prostrations. One practice that was of great help to him while in prison was tonglen [the practice of taking on the suffering of others and sending them relief]. “Prison is a world of anger, and I certainly had mine,” Fleet said. “I had a lot to be bitter about: Some close friends had turned me in; I felt that I had been intensely over-prosecuted. But I was committed not to go there. I did not want to end up an angry and bitter person. It was not who I wanted to be. I really worked on transforming all that and on cultivating an attitude of loving-kindness through tonglen practice.”

Fleet is an Acharya (senior teacher) in the Shambhala Buddhist Community. He is also a Sensei (Zen teacher) and dharma successor of Roshi Bernie Glassman in the Zen Peacemaker Order and a senior priest in the Soto Zen tradition. Acharya Maull has written many articles and given numerous interviews on a variety of prison related topics in publications such as the Shambhala Sun, Tricycle, Tikkun, Hospice Journal and Turning Wheel. He has also been a guest on NPR’s Fresh Air program and other radio and television programs. His story was included in Roshi Bernie Glassman’s book, Bearing Witness .

He is the author of Dharma In Hell, the Prison Writings of Fleet Maull, and leads prison programs, meditation retreats, chaplaincy and hospice trainings, activist trainings, bearing witness retreats and street retreats throughout the world. He is also the founder and executive director of the Peacemaker Institute and co-founder of the Upaya Chaplaincy Program.

Acharya Maull has been practicing mindfulness meditation for more than 40 years and teaching mindfulness meditation for 32 years. He is an empowered senior teacher in two meditation traditions, a holder of the Way of Council, and a certified trainer with Partners in Leadership, New Line Consulting, Prison Mindfulness Institute, Center for Mindfulness in Corrections and The Event Training. He leads mindfulness meditation programs and retreats for newcomers and advanced students at meditation centers and retreat centers around the world. He facilitates deep transformation for individuals and organizations through his philosophy and program of Radical Responsibility, and has developed cutting edge mindfulness-based leadership training, consulting and coaching programs, which he delivers in diverse business, nonprofit and government settings.

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