One day a few inmates and myself were waiting to get into our classroom for our GRIP (Guiding Rage Into Power) class. We were talking about this and that-the greenery on the hills above the yard sparked me to ask if there were any gardens here at San Quentin aside from the rose gardens in the main courtyard. Two of the guys who had been there a long time told me that they have had gardens in the past, depending on the warden. During one phase they grew vegetables, which they could eat when ripe. Without notice or reason, the garden project was suddenly shut down. During another era, the men grew vegetables but were not allowed to eat them-the veggies were shipped out to the food bank-which the inmate gardeners were proud of, being able to help others through their hands.
One story impacted me deeply. For about 8 years there was a greenhouse. Some of the inmates, including the man who was telling me this, had all kinds of plants in there which ranged from peaches and avocados to rubber plants, from veggie starts to houseplants. He told me that over a period of eight years he propagated one spider plant, resulting in close to sixty healthy smaller spider plants, which decoratively filled the greenhouse.
His intention was to give these spider plants to the staff as an office-warming gift when they moved into the newly completed medical building.
One morning as he approached the greenhouse he was stopped in his tracks. A dumpster was next to the greenhouse, with all the plants uprooted and broken, even the avocado and peach tree. The greenhouse had been razed and gutted with no warning, no reason, and no notice, no chance to save the plants which had been so carefully tended.
As a gardener myself, I felt this story like a kick in the stomach. I recalled coming home one day to find that a crazy neighbor had bulldozed my young nectarine tree, in its first year of bearing fruit. The same misguided person also leveled a memorial garden I had made for a dear friend who had committed suicide.
After hearing this story, I began looking at my spider plants differently. Around five years ago or so I found a spider plant left on the top of an old phone booth near the bus stop in San Rafael. It was just barely alive so was light and dry to carry home. Since then I have propagated it into 14 other fully mature plants. Some I’ve given away, others are here and there in my backyard.
Before finishing this story I asked this man about this incident again, to get the details right.That afternoon after leaving the prison I went to visit a friend who works in those new medical offices at San Quentin. We went for a walk in her neighborhood. As we returned to her home, to my surprise I noticed a seemingly dead spider plant in a pot by her garbage. When I inquired she said “I have no idea what it is or where it came from, I found it in way back in the weeds and was going to throw it away.”
Feeling the hum of synchronicity, I offered to take it home and try to revive it. If it survived, I would repot it. She looked at me as if I was wasting my time, but said “sure-good luck-if it ends up living, maybe I could take some of the baby spider plant into work for some of my coworkers there in the hospital.”
Intention has legs. What a phenomenal example of this. Sometimes in our meditation group with the guys at the prison, we all marvel at the transformation they’ve gone through and wonder if, or how, the ripples of that positive change actually goes out into the world.
This example of the spider plant is just one story out of so many that might go un-noticed. The ripples of intention, the good of the all, the interconnectedness of all beings in this web of life and transformation!
-susan shannon, m.div