Skip to Main Content

Employee’s Book Uses Black History to Teach Violent Inmates Meditation

Department data analyst Cortez Rainey noticed a rise in violence at the former Baltimore City Detention Center and offered an unconventional way to combat it: meditation.

The 34-year department veteran convinced hardened jail administrators to start a program to teach women and juveniles how to calm their minds and reject the impulses that led to their criminal behavior.

“These guys kept coming back to jail,” Cortez said. “They were like ‘the next thing I know, I’m in the back of a police car.’ You don’t want to react to your thoughts that way, there are other ways to react to your thoughts.”

Rainey noticed that most of those in jail were African-Americans. Among sentenced inmates in Maryland, seven out of 10 are black. The Kansas native and Army veteran also realized meditation wasn’t widely practiced in the African-American community.

Rainey’s work over the next 12 years resulted in writing a national award-winning book called “Free Your Mind: An African-American Guide to Meditation and Freedom.”

After embracing meditation to get through his own personal struggles such as a bitter divorce, Rainey produced a 10-page booklet to share with others how the practice helped him.
His daughter, who earned a University of Baltimore master of fine arts degree, suggested that he weave in a story to capture people’s attention.

Rainey holds a history degree from Paine College and saw Black History, particularly the efforts of Maryland’s Harriet Tubman to lead slaves out of bondage, as a perfect way to guide others out of their personal struggles.

“The journey she took, the Underground Railroad, is just like the meditation practice,” Rainey said. “You begin enslaved to your thoughts. By practicing meditation, you make the journey. Eventually your mind calms and you reach the Promised Land.”

Though he uses Tubman and railroad stops to guide readers, he notes other African-Americans from Muhammed Ali to Martin Luther King to inspire. Rainey quotes King saying: “As long as the mind is enslaved, the body will never be free.”

“You point people back to the sources of wisdom and inspiration,” Rainey said. “If Tubman can do it, you can do it. These people possessed great dignity and you can too.”

Rainey won the national Nautilus Book Award, honoring literary work that improves the world. He was also a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Award and a nominee for the NAACP Image Award.

Rainey donated his book, which continues to be popular on Amazon 2 ½ years later, to state prison libraries and a new version will be coming out by the end of the month on Amazon and Kindle. Rainey also has a website:

Rainey stresses that meditation does not require joining an expensive club or buying special equipment. He sits in a chair for 15 minutes a day clearing his mind by focusing on his breathing.

“That’s what poor people have, a chair,” he said. “You keep it simple. You don’t need money or special cushions.”

Rainey sees meditating as particularly helpful for inmates coming out of jail trying to get their life reestablished.

“Everything an inmate needs to uplift themselves comes from a calm mind whether it’s clarity, focus, patience, compassion, empathy, love,” Rainey said. “We’re more likely to prosper if we have a peaceful mind.”

Rainey, 65, has learned to teach yoga, which he describes as a physical form of meditation. He volunteers in the Baltimore County Detention Center now working with substance abusers and those with mental illness.

“The Governor encourages this,” Rainey said of his commitment. “He supports volunteerism, to make the world a better place. Sometimes help occurs just by showing up because people appreciate you being there.”

Though his work has focused on African-Americans and prisoners, Rainey said meditation provides peace for all races and walks of life.

“The people in jail are not much different than you and I,” he said. “Everyone is in a struggle, everyone needs help and this may help.”