After 20+ years of teaching, it is a remarkable experience to find your true teaching voice inside a maximum-security prison! Yet at Sing Sing prison in NY and at Graterford in PA, where currently I am teaching history for Villanova University, my experience has been reaffirmed over and over again. Both Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY, and Villanova offer (privately funded) degree programs to the men in both prisons. Consistently the men in these highly selective programs are talented, dedicated and appreciative.
I’m a sociologist and taught at a state college in western Massachusetts for 32 years before retiring in 2010. After working on and completing a documentary film, I moved with my wife Sheila to Philadelphia a little over a year ago. Philly was home for Sheila for many years in the ‘80s and, with a daughter and two of our five grandchildren here, we decided it was the right time to be closer to family. Being retired and moving to a new city brings with it a fair amount of anxiety. What’s my new identity? How will I continue to do the kind of research and writing I want to do? How will I spend my time? How will I make friends? Let me say that all of that is still a work in progress.
I believe that contemplative practices have the potential to help us actualize our deepest desire to be of service to each other.
There is a reciprocal relationship between remaking the world and remaking ourselves, between the courage to be with our own pain and the ability to open to the suffering of others. There is no real separation between our inner spiritual landscape and the systems of power and privilege that operate in the world. When we become more aware of the inner obstacles to freedom and peace, we are more able to work for our ideals without recreating the systems we are trying to change.
I grew up participating in civil rights vigils and peace marches as a child in the ‘60s. To me, that was what democracy looked like. From a very early age, I believed that people had a responsibility to help bring about positive change and that, as Americans, it was part of our civic duty to be informed and speak out. With civil rights laws being enacted and the Vietnam War ending, I dared to believe that human society, while still having a long way to go, was trending in a healing direction.
For most of my life, my focus has been on the human condition. I became an elementary school teacher to help catalyze non-violent conflict resolution, community building, and a generation of educated citizens. As a feminist, I have always believed that the personal is political and I took that to heart in trying to “be the change, I wished to see in the world,” as Gandhi advised. So, I have spent the majority of my adult life attempting to effect change through my livelihood and my personal life, including raising my children.
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