Friday, March 4, 2011

Escaping mental prisons

A handful of U.S. prisons have opened their doors to an ancient form of meditation from India known as Vipassana, which means “to see things as they really are.”

Some of the prisoners who practice the technique for 10 to 13 hours a day “finally come to terms with some of the things that they have done,” says Ron Cavanaugh, director of treatment for the Alabama Department of Corrections.

Meditating prisoners at the Donaldson Correction Facility in Bessemer, Alabama, have become more social, says Kathryn Allen, the prison psychologist. “They’re more honest, more open, more genuine, and they want to serve others,” she says, by volunteering in the prison hospice and teaching fellow inmates who are illiterate how to read and write.

Cavanaugh and Allen recently visited Emory, where several research projects are underway on the physical and mental effects of meditation, to discuss the prison programs with Emory faculty and students. Their visited was hosted by Emory religion professor Tara Doyle, who specializes in socially engaged Buddhism, and Elizabeth Bounds, professor of Christian ethics at the Candler School of Theology.

Inmate meditation at a prison near Seattle "really changed the whole facility," says Ben Turner of the Vipassana Prison Trust. “Even officers who were earlier skeptical became really supportive because they saw such behavior changes in the inmates that it made it a more pleasant place for them to work.”

The Vipassana meditation technique is based on the teachings of the Buddha, but is purely secular and designed to relieve suffering through self-awareness, Turner says.

Meditation is path to peace for inmates
The compassionate mind
Elementary thoughts on love and kindness

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