Engaged Spirituality

Hola mi gente,
This February each Sunday I will be giving a series of four lectures at the Upper East Side’s All Souls Church at 1157 Lexington Ave.

The overall theme is what I call engaged spirituality

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Too often, I hear my brothers and sisters talk about their experiences during their incarceration and sometimes I feel some of us doing the world a disservice. Too often, we talk about the horrors of our personal experiences without offering the important systemic analysis that undergirds those experiences. On the flip side, too often I hear people talking about transcending their experiences of incarceration but, again, at the expense of offering our unique perspective on the nature of the moral rot that sustains this society’s obsession with punishment and revenge.

I will be offering just such an analysis during the four interactions at All Souls Church and what I hope is that the interaction with the people in attendance will result in a shift in consciousness — or at least a deeper awareness — of the depraved mindset that is the foundation of the punishment paradigm.

The interactions (not lectures) will take place on the successive Sundays in February (5th, 12th, 19th, and 26th from 10:00-11:00 a.m. each morning). I offer a brief outline of the first interaction below.

Hannah Arendt proposed the thesis that people who carry out unspeakable crimes, like Eichmann, a top administrator in the machinery of the Nazi death camps, may not be crazy fanatics at all, but rather ordinary individuals who simply accept the premises of their state and participate in any ongoing enterprise with the energy of good bureaucrats.

Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on “normalization.” This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and even unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as “the way things are done.” There is usually a division of labor in committing and rationalizing the unthinkable, with the direct brutalization and killing done by one set of individuals or institutions; and another section of society keeping the machinery (sanitation, food supply, etc.) in order; still others producing the implements of brutalization, or working on improving technology (e.g., a more efficient crematory gas, a longer burning and more adhesive napalm, a better prison or isolation cell). It is the function of defense intellectuals and other experts, and the mainstream media, to normalize the unthinkable for the general public. Arendt’s “banality of evil” lends an important dimension to the question of the racialized social control that we call mass incarceration.

What does personal liberation mean at a time when we can no longer differentiate between prisons and jails and the communities that serve as feeders for the prison-industrial complex? In fact, marginalized communities — mostly black and Latinx — are de facto open-air detention centers that differ from jails and prisons only in their degree of freedom of movement. Much of what transpires inside “the walls” of detention centers occur inside the walls of housing projects and surrounding ghettos, for example. Housing projects very much resemble prisons in the way they are designed and policed.

If a spiritual discipline — its ethical principles and cognitive practices — is to have any relevance, then they must address modern issues. Both sections will be informed by my personal experiences resulting from the choices I made while incarcerated at Rikers Island and NY State’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

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