Center for Mindfulness and Justice

Cheri Maples, Co-founder

Cheri Maples

Cheri Maples is a dharma teacher, keynote speaker, and organizational consultant and trainer. In 2008 she was ordained a dharma teacher by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, her long-time spiritual teacher.

For 25 years Cheri worked in the criminal justice system, as an Assistant Attorney General in the Wisconsin Department of Justice, head of Probation and Parole for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and as a police officer with the City of Madison Police Department, earning the rank of Captain of Personnel and Training.

Cheri has been an active community organizer, working in neighborhood centers, deferred prosecution programs, and as the first Director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence. As Past President of the Dane County Timebank, Cheri was instrumental in creating its justice projects – the Youth Court, which is based on a prevention and restorative justice model; and the Prison Project, a prison education and reintegration initiative supported by multiple community groups.

She has incorporated all of these experiences into her mindfulness practice. Cheri's interest in criminal justice professionals comes from learning that peace in one’s own heart is a prerequisite to providing true justice and compassion to others. Her initial focus was on translating the language and practice of mindfulness into an understandable framework for criminal justice professionals. Cheri's work has evolved to include other helping professionals – health-care workers, teachers, and employees of social service agencies – who must also manage the emotional effects of their work, while maintaining an open heart and healthy boundaries.

Cheri holds a J.D. and a M.S.S.W. from University of Wisconsin-Madison and is currently a licensed attorney and licensed clinical social worker in the state of Wisconsin.

Thich Nhat Hanh's Influence

Cheri attended her first mindfulness retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh in 1991, which altered the course of her police work – and her life. Scholar, monk, poet and human rights activist, Thich Nhat Hanh (affectionately known as Thay – meaning “teacher” in Vietnamese and pronounced “Tie”) is one of the best known and most respected Spiritual Leaders in the world today. His key teaching is that, through mindfulness, we can learn to live in the present moment instead of in the past and in the future – only in the reality of the present can we find peace, understanding, and connection with all that is.

Practicing these teachings led Cheri to approach her work as a police officer differently, with more compassion and openness. What transpired over time was a profound transformation in both in her personal and work lives. Motivated to share the benefits of this wisdom with her colleagues, she organized a non-sectarian mindfulness retreat in 2003 with Thich Nhat Hanh for police officers and other criminal justice professionals in Green Lake, WI. Hanh's book, Keeping The Peace, Mindfulness & Public Service, came out of this first-of-its-kind retreat, demonstrating the usefulness of mindfulness practice especially for those in high-stress, people-helping professions.

Breathing in, I know that mindfulness is the path to peace.
Breathing out, I know that peace is the path to mindfulness.
Breathing in, I know that peace is the path to justice.
Breathing out, I know that justice is the path to peace.
Breathing in, I know my duty is to provide safety and protection to all beings.
Breathing out, I am humbled and honored by my duty as a peace officer.
Breathing in, I choose mindfulness as my armor and compassion as my weapon.
Breathing out, I aspire to bring love and understanding to all I serve.

Insight Poem written by Cheri Maples
for her ordination as a dharma teacher