by Veronza Bowers and Pancho
Considering what Black Panther veteran Veronza Bowers has already accomplished in his 47 long years as a federal prisoner, we must wonder how profoundly he could have changed the world had he been free. In this story – made up of several stories written over the years – you will learn of a genuine miracle.
Meditation healing with shakuhachi
by Veronza Bowers Jr., written in 1990
I have lived the past 24 years of my life as a federal prisoner with the Bureau of Prisons number 35316-136 appended to my name. For those of you who have never been inside a maximum security penitentiary, it might be difficult, if not impossible, to imagine it as a place where the plaintive sounds of shakuhachi can be heard. Ah! But it is true.
I am honored and happy to be able to share with you a story about a young man whom doctors had told would never walk again – and a piece of bamboo. This is a story of the human spirit and will at their finest and a story of the healing power that is within shakuhachi.
In 1987, this young man (let’s call him Punchy) was shot in the back in Detroit, Michigan. The shot and subsequent operation left him completely paralyzed from the waist down. Call it coincidence, fate or simply the way things happen, but in that very same year I was introduced to shakuhachi by a man named Monty H. Levenson, shakuhachi maker and now dear friend.
Three years later, on the recreation yard of Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary in Indiana, I first saw Punchy – he, being pushed in his wheelchair around the quarter-mile track; me, sitting under the shade of a lone tree blowing my shakuhachi. I closed my eyes and continued to blow. The song in my heart reflected what I had just seen and my shakuhachi began to cry.
After about two weeks of watching Punchy go for his daily ride, I made arrangements through one of his drivers to meet him. I explained to Punchy that I practiced an ancient art called Hands on Healing. I explained about Touch for Health, Acupressure, Tsubo Therapy, Shiastsu Therapy, Jin Shin Do, Massage Therapy and Meditation Healing using sounds and colors. We talked about Chi and the circulation of energy, chakras, stretching as well as other kinds of physical therapy and exercise. I looked into his eyes and told him I’d like to try to help him. Although he had never heard of such things and was unable to hide his skepticism, he agreed.
Punchy was locked up inside of himself where I could not touch.
Where? How to begin? That was the burning question in my mind as we made arrangements to meet the following afternoon. I knew that I would have to examine his entire body from head to toes and would have to work with him daily for quite a long time. We would both have to be committed to each other and to ourselves. This would involve much work, way beyond physical therapy.
As agreed, we began the following day. After a solid month – six days a week, two and a half hours a day – of breathing exercises, acupressure treatments, stretching etc., we were basically where we were when we started. Punchy was locked up inside of himself where I could not touch. I knew that unless he would allow me to come in, unless he could open up and share with me his deepest pain, no amount of massage and manipulation of muscles, no amount of stimulation of nerves, no amount of stretching, no amount of anything would result in an improvement of his condition.
Were the doctors with their professional diagnosis correct in their approach? Or was Punchy, a young man who had so much energy inside himself, being sentenced to a wheelchair for the rest of his life? Is it true that the solution – if there is a solution – to any problem lies within the problem itself? A breakthrough was needed.
I had recently started conducting meditation sessions with members of our Rastafarian Community in the chapel, during which I blow shakuhachi. I asked Punchy to attend. For this special session I gathered together seven men, all physically strong and emotionally and spiritually well-balanced. The seven men would represent the Sun, the Moon, Mother Earth and the Four Directions: North, East, South and West.
I explained to them Punchy’s condition and what was needed of each man as well as all of them as a collective body. The following is part of a Self-Monitoring Cross-Consciousness account of our first meditation healing session written immediately following the session by Darrell, one of the participants: “A wounded Brother was placed on his back in the center of the room. We were instructed to form a circle around him, lying on our backs with our heads nearest to him and focus upon channeling positive energy so that he might be healed.
“We were instructed to breathe in a rhythmic and harmonious flow, inhaling deeply to the count of five and exhaling deeply to the count of five until we were in perfect unison. A flute began to play. With my eyes closed, I can hear the melody uttering words of transient delight, making it hard to resist complete relaxation. I have given myself totally to the Wounded One.
The struggle of a young man determined to walk again and the never ending mystery that is shakuhachi.
“There was a light. I used it to focus on as I attempted to channel my energy towards the Wounded One. I concentrated on the lower half of his body, for he was unable to walk. The light was drawing near and growing dim, the musical sounds freeing me from anxiety. The light now, ever so near and dimmer still, as the sounds of winds from the flute hovered over my body. I am conscious as my body releases the tension from the controlled breathing and begins to act upon its own to recover its natural pace. The hollow sounds of beauty making me ever so comfortable as the dimness of the light slowly turns to a red.
“It appears that I have allowed the flutist, the tour guide, to take me beyond the realms of my control. I can sense serenity, but the pain. Oh! The pain! And why do I feel as if I’m not alone? The corridor, or pathway, which has turned blue some time ago is now glowing and has a strange aura. The silence broke. ‘Rub your hands together.’ It was the familiar voice of the tour guide, and I made motions with my hands, which was all I could do to make him aware that the command had been heard. I didn’t quite know how to function, for I was distant, incoherent and a slight bit delirious; but I could sense that he knew, for I was still trapped in space. ‘Rub your hands together so that they generate energy, and then rub the warmth over your face. Wash your face with energy.’ I was able to comprehend the fact that this was, no doubt, a command, and I found myself obedient, my body began to respond, my eyes opened. It was over.”
After the session had ended and everyone else had returned to this plane, Punchy was still out. When he finally awoke, he blurted out, “What happened? Where I been?” Everyone laughed.
I was terribly excited and anxious to talk with the Brother who had been moaning and groaning and rolling his head back and forth. I needed to know what he had seen, what he had experienced. He and I got together immediately after everyone had left the chapel. As I blew shakuhachi at the top of the stairwell, he recorded what you have just read.
Ah! The breakthrough! On so many levels. A small piece of bamboo, 1.8 feet long, had opened doorways which had previously been welded shut. Shakuhachi had done in one and a half hours what no human being had done in three years. Shakuhachi had made it possible, via Darrell’s psychic bonding with Punchy, to connect with and to deeply understand Punchy’s psychological and spiritual pain. During our next working session, Punchy and I discussed all that we had both learned, and for the first time he opened up completely.
From then on, we began each working session with shakuhachi. A healthy diet with vitamins; a combination of disciplines mentioned earlier; meditation and circulation of Chi; weight lifting for upper body strength; stretching, stretching and more stretching for leg strength (The strength of the Tiger lies in his flexibility); and a determined will all combined so that by the end of the summer – 10 months after our first meditation healing session, Dec. 10, 1990 – Punchy could do 100 full squats non-stop, walk five steps on his own, walk behind his wheelchair with me sitting in it and push me one full lap around the quarter-mile track on the yard.
I wish I had more space to share with you the details of this inspiring struggle of a young man determined to walk again and the never ending mystery that is shakuhachi. I am deeply thankful to my dear friend Monty for introducing me to shakuhachi, and I am eternally grateful to shakuhachi for so graciously accepting my breath and for allowing me to be an extension through which healing can pass.
In addition to studying and practicing meditation and the ancient healing arts of China and Japan, Veronza Bowers Jr. is an accomplished musician and composer of original pieces for the shakuhachi. This story is reprinted from the Kyoto Journal No. 32, Summer 1996. See also “Shakuhachi: Orthodoxy & Heresy” by Monty H. Levenson, which appeared in the Kyoto Journal introducing Veronza’s work with shakuhachi.
With such good progress going on with Punchy, I had made plans for him and me to enter the upcoming holiday races. We would “run” one complete lap around the quarter mile track. We weren’t concerned about how fast he would run, only that he would FINISH what he had started.
We had never considered the possibility of us being separated. After all, prior to our connecting, Punchy had repeatedly requested to be transferred closer to home (Detroit) so he could visit with his children and family. But he was repeatedly denied, and I knew I’d be stuck in USP Terre Haute until the BOP decided to move me to another penitentiary far from home.
It just so happened that I had a telephone conversation with my attorney and was bringing her up to date on Punchy’s progress and she asked me if he would be willing to do an interview on 60 Minutes. She said, “The world needs to hear about this story. It is so inspiring.” I told her I’d ask Punchy. That was on a Thursday. On Tuesday of the following week, Punchy got snatched up and transferred to “Timbuktu” – an old saying in prison that means “to who knows where.”
I’d never asked Punchy his name, and he knew me only as Daoud. Over the many years of our separation, I often wondered about whatever happened to “The Wounded One.”
Thirty years later – that’s right, I said 30, three zero, 30 years later – on Aug. 5, 2020, I received a letter from Punchy! Talking about a family reunion! And it reaffirmed the TRUTH that bonds of love, friendship, brotherhood and mutual respect endure all of the tests of time !
While it takes a village to raise a child, it takes love and caring for each other for US to take care of us and of OUR communities. The human spirit will always prevail.
Veronza Bowers is a positive force – Free Veronza now!
Interview with Poncho
Q: How did you meet Veronza?
A: We met when I was a young guy when I came to Terre Haute Penitentiary. He saw me a few times and one day I think he came to me or he went to someone else and inquired about me. I was paralyzed from the waist down, so he was trying to help me walk.
We began going to the chapel for meditation sessions that focused on deep breathing, clearing your thoughts and creating positive energy. Later on down the line, he started working with me in the gym. We worked on crawling, stretching my legs, standing and getting my balance.
After our friendship developed, he would come and get me off of the phone. Everyone knows that I stayed on the phone all day and I was not thinking about going to the gym. Some mornings he would go get my toothbrush, stick it in my mouth and tell me to get up!
Q: How did those sessions go after working with him?
A: My sessions were very good. I started getting stronger. I was able to stand up on my own, and I even started taking a few steps. Veronza would always say, “It’s in your mind. … Whatever it is, you can do it. You just have to know it in your mind, that you can do it.”
I think he really took a liking to me and invested his time to work with me and see improvement. He would say, “The doctors can’t tell you that you can’t walk. You have to be strong enough to know that.” He would always preach that to me.
Q: How long did you work with Veronza?
A: We worked together for about a year or so. Then I was relocated to a medical facility.
Almost 30 years had gone by and we didn’t have any communication. I always wondered where he was. I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018. I lost my balance, my legs started to cross and I didn’t have as much strength. It was like I had to learn how to function all over again.
I was reminded of Veronza. I told my girl how he used to tell me about being mentally strong. He’d say, “Stay focused and you can overcome anything.” I even told her about a time when I was so strong from Veronza’s training, that I would push him around the track as he sat in my wheelchair!
I explained that I was included in an article about Veronza’s work that circulated around the world. She began searching online to find any information we could on Veronza. We had all of the hopes that we’d find him released, well and maybe we could even get some training with him!
After finding his website, she discovered the article about Veronza and me. She was inspired and motivated as much as I was. That day was bittersweet because, after further reading, we discovered that he was still incarcerated.
I couldn’t understand this. Veronza is one of the best guys you could ever meet. It’s a shame that he is still locked up for something that I believe he did not do. If you know him, you would know that he wouldn’t do anything like that. He helps everyone no matter who they are. If he was the person that they make him out to be, he would not do the things that he does for people. If you need help, he will be there for you and do the best he can for other people.
My girl wrote a few emails and a letter. One day we finally received a call from Veronza! That was the best call in the world! It was a good feeling to hear his voice. I was able to give the greatest report to him: I am cancer-free. The things he instilled in me all those years ago helped me through some of my toughest moments. Our conversation was as if we never lost touch! He gave great advice on exercises I could do, natural remedies, and foods I could eat to help with my situation.
Veronza should have been home. He is still a positive force that I believe our community and youth could use today. My hope still is to see him home one day. Free Veronza!
Send our brother some love and light: Veronza Bowers Jr., 35316-136, FCI-2, P.O. Box 1500, Butner, NC 27509. Poncho can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.