Photo: Saverio TrugliaBy Susan Hauser
For Cheri Maples, enlightenment began in a chiropractor's office. It was 1991, and the Madison, Wisconsin, policewoman needed treatment for a back injury-she'd been hoisting a stolen moped out of a car trunk; in the waiting room, Maples flipped through a copy of Being Peace, by the Buddhist monk and activist Thich Nhat Hanh. "It was so simple, so no-nonsense," she recalls. "He described what mindfulness and meditation actually look like in day-to-day life. It gave me the desire to know more."
Seventeen years later, Maples had traded her crisp police blues for earth-toned robes when Nhat Hanh ordained her as a Buddhist dharma teacher. As head of the Center for Mindfulness & Justice, founded in 2009 and based out of her Madison home, Maples travels the continent leading workshops and retreats for cops and others in the criminal justice system-where she spent 25 years variously serving as a police captain, head of probation, and assistant attorney general.
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"A cop's life is hard," she says. "There's a lot of stress, trauma, and emotional shutting down. People turn to alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, infidelity-anything to cope." (Maples herself has been clean and sober for 21 years.) "The workshops give cops the tools to examine their own intentions and biases-to approach their job not with anger and cynicism but love and fierce compassion."
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Maples, the mother of two grown sons, has faced skepticism from what she calls "the biggest of the boys' clubs." "Some cops think I'm asking them to drink the Kool-Aid, so I use my own experience as a blueprint," she says. "At my first-ever retreat, I had a chip on my shoulder. I said, 'I can't do mindfulness training-I'm a cop. I carry a gun!' But then a teacher asked me, 'Who better to carry a gun than someone who does so mindfully?'"
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To date, Maples has trained more than 1,000 criminal justice personnel in mindfulness techniques. "It's amazing to watch a guy taking off his bulletproof vest before he meditates," she says. "Police are peacemakers. And you can't bring peace anywhere unless you have it inside your own heart."
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