by Kathy Simpson
One of the foundations of Copper Beech Institute is giving back to the communities that surround us. Our volunteer work with underserved and disadvantaged populations is something we do humbly and with the utmost respect for the amazing individuals we have the honor of meeting. “Mindfulness for All” is not just a hollow slogan, but rather a promise we believe in deeply and one which we reaffirm through our work in prisons, schools serving children living in poverty, shelters, organizations supporting people with disabilities and a spectrum of non-profit partners.
Many devoted Copper Beech volunteers do outreach work in mindfulness at various centers and organizations in Connecticut, both on a regular and one-time basis. Miranda Chapman and her father Brian Chapman are among our original outreach workers. They began offering weekly mindfulness sessions at the Hartford Correctional Center three years ago. One year later, Miranda’s work branched out to include Hartford’s Chrysalis Center, which provides supportive services for people who live in poverty and struggle with mental illness and substance abuse. Most recently, Miranda and her dad began offering mindfulness at the Hartford Transitional Housing Program, a halfway house for former inmates in the hopes of helping them ease back into the real world.
Thursdays are Miranda’s service days. She travels to all three centers, leading one-hour mindfulness sessions that include meditation and discussion. In this interview, Miranda shares about the programs she leads and her experiences with the people who receive her teaching.
Kathy: How do you structure the mindfulness sessions?
Miranda: They’re pretty much the same at all three centers. First, we sit in meditation and then I’ll check in with everyone about their practice: What came up most predominantly for you today? Where do you notice the practice showing up outside of our group sessions? Were there times when you saw opportunities to apply mindfulness after the fact? Then I’ll pull out a thread of their sharing as the basis for a brief teaching. If there’s time at the end, we close with a short practice such as loving-kindness.
At the Chrysalis Center, I only lead guided meditation. The people who join us there are struggling with emotional issues. Some are muttering under their breath or moving around a lot. There’s lots of trauma, and silence can be triggering. Guided meditation is more sustainable — and it’s impactful. I’m absolutely seeing its impact on the people who attend.
Kathy: How many people attend the groups?
Miranda: There’s a maximum of 12 participants at the jail — and there’s a waiting list. The men need permission to join the group; it’s a privilege for them.
The sessions at the Chrysalis Center are drop-in and the room is larger, so there’s an opportunity for more people to attend. A core group of people comes every week and new folks are joining all the time. Some members of the center come from the outside just for the mindfulness group.
At the halfway house, attendance has been spotty so far. The men are former inmates, and are focused on getting a job and a place to live and seeing their kids again so their attention is fractured. But we’ve only been there for six months. It took a while to build confidence at the jail so we’re waiting seeing what will happen at the halfway house.
Kathy: You’ve been at the correctional center for three years now. Tell us about your experience there.
Miranda: We have some guys who have been coming for over a year. The practice of meditation is a huge focus. We sit in meditation for 25-30 minutes. I use the momentum that has built there, and it’s effortless in a way. The group runs itself in terms of getting people in there. The guys talk about the group outside of the group. Generally, if you have enough people in the group who have bought in to the practice and are invested in it, everyone catches on more quickly.
Kathy: Hartford Correctional Center is a maximum security prison. Do you ever fear for your safety?
Miranda: I’ve never worried about my safety. I feel like how hungry these guys are for real love. Most have suffered such abuse, and such hardness has formed around that. It’s so beautiful watching these guys who are so tough softening with the practice. That’s when I know the work is working. One inmate shared, “I haven’t been hugged in two years. All I want is a hug from my mom.” We’ve had guys cry in there. I feel so much love for these guys.
No sex offenders are allowed in the group. Other than that, anyone can come. One beautiful man had an 80-year sentence. I don’t know what he did but in that room, it was so beautiful to be with him and his gentleness, which I know is not how he shows up on the outside.
Kathy: What have you learned from your experience at the correctional center?
Miranda: I go in there believing in the goodness of these men and their capacity to make different choices, like anybody. And I realize that I’m not that different from them. I’m a hair’s breath away from that same situation myself. If I’m going to really live this practice, I have to recognize my capacity for violence myself. That helps me equalize what’s happening in there.
A participant at the correctional center mindfulness program wrote a personal letter to Miranda after he was transferred to another center. This quote from that letter is testimony to the transformative power that mindfulness has had on his life:
“For the first time in forever, I can really sit with myself and be inside my head and with myself on so many levels. There isn’t a battle going on within me. I am calm…. Again, thank you for what you do, and how you have helped me.”
We are grateful to Miranda, her dad and all the others who are venturing forth to offer this powerful teaching where it is needed the most.