FREEDOM BEHIND BARS: Transforming lives of inmates and guards

Before you read this, take a few minutes to watch this short video about the Transcendental Meditation program in an Oregon prison. Just take the time and watch the video below. Then read what I have to say.

There are few experiences in life comparable to standing in front of a corrections officer at a maximum security prison with miles of barbed wire and massive walls and thick steel gates and then signing your name to an agreement, which states, basically, that if you are taken hostage by an inmate prison officials will not negotiate for your release. Feeling wary does not quite do justice to the emotions. I first had that sense twenty years ago when I taught the TM technique in San Quentin Prison, which sits, almost bucolically by the Bay, just north of San Francisco, in Marin County. Here is the street address for some of the toughest, most hardened criminals in California.

Prison-BarsI had been invited in to teach TM to the inmates and security officers—and the results of the practice on the life of the men were extraordinary. These included the umbrella term of “reduced rule infractions” (big in the world behind bars that includes drug and alcohol use, violent behaviors, etc.) as well as, most importantly, a 50% reduction in recidivism rates among meditating inmates three years after release from prison. Such numbers are, of course, unheard of in the field of corrections, where the notion of rehabilitation has seemingly been replaced by the policy of warehousing prisoners.

There was considerable interest among many top corrections officials to offer the TM technique systemically throughout the prison system, but a perfect storm of politics, state budgetary cutbacks, and a general disbelief among some of the top brass in California corrections that anything could work as well as TM led to putting the program on the back burner.

Meditation-prisonNo more. As you can see in this short video from an Oregon prison, the TM technique is re-emerging as a viable, highly effective tool for inmates to use to reduce the acute stresses of prison life (which fuel substance abuse and violence behind bars), optimize an inmate’s time for constructive endeavors while incarcerated, and inevitably, reduce their likeliness to return to prison once released. (Recidivism rates can be as high as 80 percent.)

The need for something in prisons to do what the TM program does is obvious. The terrifically high cost of crime, heavy cutbacks in prison budgets, and the genuine intent among many in corrections to help the men and women behind bars is driving this upsurge of interest.

But of course, this is all me just talking. To get an inkling of what it is like in prison and how this meditation is transforming the lives of inmates, I hope you can take a moment to watch the compelling mini-doco above, created by DLF.TV videographer, Amine Kouider.

See David Lynch Foundation for more documentary video of TM projects that are currently being funded.