Saturday, March 5, 2011
Calvin Malone's "Razor Wire Dharma": Book Review
But, he struggles to overcome his own aggressions and attachments. Thankfully, there's no sudden enlightenment into a saccharine feel-good moment or sappy morality tales. Malone keeps as he must his front to survive in a place that as he shows well can be fatal to the trusting, the unwary, or the distracted inmate. Few understand Buddhism in such an environment, although I wondered about what the staff and guards thought--these stories dwell nearly all on those doing time. He writes with clarity and compresses depth into simple prose, a quality common to longtime practitioners who have learned to cut through appearances to peel away lasting substance, it seems.
Yet, his honesty and goodness allow him to serve as a role model and leader of a "sangha" at Airway Heights prison in Washington State. He's preserved his dignity and protected his modesty. He retells the difficulties of those whom he meets and must live with and contend and confront. He appends a brief update on those who he's managed to follow up on, if only for a short time as they too must deal with a return to a very different society.
Since Jesse Kornbluth's "Head Butler" review posted [on Amazon] sums its message up well, I'll just add that from my admittedly limited perspective as one visiting a friend in prison, who struggles to practice and learn about his own ancestral faith in which he was not raised, the lessons Calvin Malone illustrates work well across the ecumenical spectrum. The advice he offers for overcoming frustration and becoming more forgiving, but not more naive, serves to uphold ethical ways of action that put dharma truths into practice, off the meditation mat.
He compiles also a list of contacts for books and supplies, he shares some favorite books, and he sums up neatly the Four Noble Truths. Invaluably, Malone offers guidelines for a wide variety of meditation practices that may fit those who live hectic lives, in or out of prison. I'd recommend this section to anyone, no matter where they find themselves. These examples are tailored for people with short attention spans, by nature or by circumstance. For example, he suggests those incarcerated may time their fifteen- or thirty-minute sessions to end with the shout-outs or bells for thrice-daily guard counts.
By the way, this account, as it deals with the library where Malone worked and where he first found out about Buddhism, will pair up very well with Avi Sternberg's spirited memoir "Running the Books" (reviewed by me on Amazon) about that Harvard grad/ex-yeshiva student's civilian job supervising the prison library in Boston. (Posted to Amazon US 3-3-11.)